Tuesday, 2 September 2014


Associate Professor Atreyi Kankanhalli thinks ‘Oblivion’ is probably the worst film she’s seen recently (she couldn’t make out what it intended to convey!). Her pet peeve is messiness and she doesn’t like crowded or confined spaces (Ed: I sure hope she doesn’t have to use the MRT during rush hour!). And, for her, the best hawker food in Singapore is the roti prata at the Jalan Kayu Prata Stall.

Atreyi (centre, in all black) with her IS colleagues

Where did you grow up?
Not a lot of people may know that I spent a large part of my childhood in Turkey. Although I was born in India, I spent close to 11 years of my childhood in Ankara (capital of Turkey). My father was working at the State Planning Division and later as an academic at Hacettepe University (I guess pursuing an academic career runs in the family!). It was an interesting place to grow up. Turkey is quite a modern country and the people are very friendly – in fact they would invite you into their house for a meal at any time of day. Also, Turkey has a unique geographical position serving as a bridge between Asia and Europe. There is a rich history drawing from the early Greek civilization (there are interesting ruins to visit) to the more recent Ottoman empire (Istanbul has some of this rich heritage). So it was an interesting country to live in and to travel around. 
For my schooling though, it was quite challenging! I first studied at the British Embassy School for my primary school as there were very few options for education in English. For my middle school, I went to the Ankara Kolej and studied only English, Maths, and Science. This is because these were the only subjects taught in English and all the other subjects were in Turkish! Subsequently, I had another set of challenges when my family moved back to India when I was in Grade 9. I had to learn an Indian language (Hindi) at that level and adjust to a new education system – I suppose all these changes help to make one adaptable!

Describe your work and its significance.
My research work examines issues around knowledge work, collaboration, and innovation supported by information and communication technology. My early work during my PhD examined the core motivations and barriers behind employee’s knowledge sharing behaviours using knowledge management systems (KMS). This was at the time when organizations were starting to introduce KMS in order to facilitate knowledge sharing, storage, and reuse. My thesis work helped to shed light on the key drivers for KMS use, and was one of the pioneering works in this area. As a result, it produced a significant impact in the field and garnered a large number of citations – and continues to be well-cited currently as well.
Subsequently, I have studied knowledge contribution and participation behaviours in various forms of online communities and ICT mediated contexts such as virtual teams. Here, too, the underlying objective is to gain a better understanding of the antecedents and consequences of these behaviours. I typically use objective, survey, and interview data to test the theoretical models that I have developed with my collaborators and students. 
I believe that if one can do work that is theoretically novel i.e., brings a new perspective, to understanding a phenomenon that is of practical interest, then such work is meaningful and will have a lasting impact. That is what I strive to do in my research.

Describe your SoC experience.
I came to SoC after working for 9 years in R&D in I2R (then known as ISS). Fresh with a Masters in Electrical Eng. from the US, I had joined ISS and worked on image processing, computer vision, and multimedia projects (including some pioneering work in video processing). After that I had a change of heart to move to academics and also change my field to a more socio-technical one rather than a purely technical subject. That is why I ended up signing up for a PhD in Information Systems. 
Following my PhD, I was recruited in the Dept., which made it easy for me as the work environment was familiar. Though it was a bit strange that my previous professors now became colleagues! 
But even during my PhD I had found the Dept., SoC, and NUS in general to be a very conducive environment for doing research. So I was happy to be able to continue my academic career here. In terms of challenges, there is always the issue of being away from the US which is the perceived centre of cutting-edge research. But in the years I have been here, this has become less and less of a limitation with the increasing internationalization of research in my area and other areas as well.
My teaching experience has been quite smooth and pleasant so far. Students in Asia and NUS in general are quite motivated and respectful of their professors. If you prepare your materials well and are helpful in promptly answering their queries, then they are very appreciative of your efforts. I am particularly impressed by those conscientious students (we have quite a few) who take the initiative to find out more and ask questions to master the subject.
Probably, if at all there is something I would like to change about SoC/NUS is to streamline some of the processes around teaching e.g., moderation. While there is plenty of flexibility in doing research, possibly we can do a bit more in terms of teaching.

What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
A couple of things probably:
  • I studied Biomedical Engineering for a while and even had to cut up animals for my experiments
  • I have recently started to learn Mandarin! I am not very proficient right now, but hopefully I will get there!

What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
Travelling and watching movies are my hobbies. Other than travelling for work, I do enjoy visiting new places and finding out about the culture and history of those places.
With respect to movies, I enjoy both Hollywood and Bollywood films – particularly biopics. One of my favorite movies is ‘A Beautiful Mind’ about the American economist John Nash. I also enjoyed the ‘The Iron Lady’ that came out a few years ago.

Quick-Fire! Most interesting use of or development in technology this year?
Self-Driving vehicle technology that many companies including Google are researching. I am particularly interested as I’m not the biggest fan of city-driving.

Most annoying word?
“Whatever” – I get annoyed when my kids use this!

Three ultimate dinner party guests
  • Agatha Christie.
  • Any one of the Beatles
  • Isaac Newton 
I grew up on Agatha Christie’s mystery novels and Beatles’ songs. Also, I’m amazed by the breadth and depth of Newton’s contributions – there’s hardly any branch of classical Physics that he hasn’t made significant contributions to.

Tell us who we should we talk to next. Email tien@nus.edu.sg

No comments:

Post a Comment