2006.05.16: The following is what I submitted as the statement of purpose for my application to the University of Toronto. It's not actually what I ended up doing, and even my goals have changed since then. It's here for historical purposes and to promote transparency. Yes, I usually have some idea of where I'm going, but sometimes totally cool new paths open up. =)
I would like to work with the Interactive Media Lab under the guidance of Professor Mark Chignell. I am planning to join the bullet round PDA project headed by Dr. Sharon Straus. My initial goal is to obtain a master's degree. I am passionate about learning and teaching, and I see graduate studies as essential to a life of research and education. I plan to eventually earn a doctorate degree.
My background is in personal information management and wearable computing. For my senior project, I put together, demonstrated and documented a laptop-based wearable computer for everyday tasks such as reading mail, browsing the Web, and taking notes. My research won the BPI Science Award and was featured in several local magazines. The project introduced me to the challenges of mobile interfaces, and I hope to be able to apply those lessons to the mobile medical informatics projects.
I also have experience in managing a user community and customizing software for their needs. I maintain a programmable personal information manager used by more than 150 people around the world. This has taught me to consider not only software but also people's processes: how tools fit into the bigger picture, how people currently work and how they would like to work.
I believe I can handle the challenges of graduate studies in another country. I am currently in Japan on an IT industry scholarship, and have adjusted to life on my own in a foreign country. I believe that the difficulties I encountered adjusting to college have taught me how to face and overcome academic obstacles. Indeed, my dismal first-year grades in English have been superseded by high marks in writing-intensive classes such as Philosophy as well as standardized proficiency tests, and I have written a number of articles and essays cited by others in my field.
Although my university is one of the best in the Philippines, I knew the curriculum might be inadequate for graduate studies abroad. I took advanced courses in mathematics and computer science. I also participated in programming competitions and open source development. I understand that the University requires a master's degree from students coming from the Philippines, but I hope you will consider my extracurricular studies. I would be glad to answer questions in order to help teachers gauge my level.
The University of Toronto is my first choice because of its active research groups in personal information management, mobile computing, and wearable computing. I hope to learn a lot and be of service.
If people could tailor their personal information manager to their needs, what would their personal information managers become? How would the evolution of better software support also cause people's ways of planning to change?
I am interested in personal information management, focusing on how people manage their day and current set of working information. In particular, I would like to explore custom personal information managers, investigating how people use and alter extensible personal information management software that explicitly supports user programming and customization.
My senior project was a laptop-based wearable computer that could be used to perform everyday tasks like Web browsing, e-mail, tasks, notes, and appointments, all through keyboard input and speech synthesis. I put together an Emacspeak-based environment and simplified the menu interface. My project earned me the BPI Science Award, a national award for student research.
I became interested in personal information management when I realized my needs as an audio-based wearable computing user were very different from my needs as a desktop user. Mainstream personal information managers like Microsoft Outlook and Ximian Evolution were not sufficiently customizable for my project. I had come across a text-based organizer called Planner which offered me the flexibility I needed. Because of my contributions to the project, I became its maintainer.
Over the past two years, the Planner project has expanded to a richly hyperlinked environment that can get context-sensitive annotations from Websites, e-mail, newsgroups, Internet Relay Chat, instant messaging, and files. At present, over a hundred people are subscribed to the project mailing list. Users often request new features so that Planner can fit their needs more closely. They have also contributed source code and tools that support their particular way of working.
As I documented not only the technical use of the system but also investigated the different ways people used it, I realized that people have very different mental models of planning that I had not initially taken into account. The extensibility of Planner made it easy for them to evolve software support for their method. Although people's ways of planning changed over time, being able to modify their personal information management tool meant that it could grow along with them.
Some other open source personal information managers offer their users the same amount of customizability. Because development is directed by users who have the power to modify the behavior to suit them, usage has gone far beyond what the developers had initially anticipated.
Although people have supported different mental models with less customizable software before, user-programmable software allows personal information management to become truly personal. I would like to explore this area further, investigating how people build software support for their way of working and how this allows them to improve their process. Because of my explorations into wearable computing, I am also interested in new interfaces and customized information access.
Computer science is my passion, and I greatly enjoy teaching it at the university level. I received high evaluations from both students and co-teachers, but I feel there's still much room for improvement in my teaching methods. I want to earn a doctorate in order to receive the best preparation for a life of research and teaching. I would also like to help my students gain the skills and critical appreciation they need to innovate in both the industry and the academe, and for that I need a strong research background. I would like to continue my open source work while deepening my theoretical background and gaining more experience in teaching.
You may also be interested in my teaching philosophy.
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