Tag Archives: smart careers

When a Members Voice Counts

In many membership based organizations, especially in the non-profit and non-profit charity organization, the members who remit an annual fee for the benefit and value of the membership as well as to support the mission of the organization may feel left out in the decision-making process. Of course that is why there is an elected board of directors in place, to, on behalf of the membership, guide the organization according to the mission, vision and values.

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Power To The People: Community Solar Power

As renewable energy costs continue falling, the rise of people owning their power is growing.

Whether its developing nations are tacking a more sustainable path to meet their needs, or homeowners looking to diversify their energy use, we see a substantial shift towards solar power as a real important option.

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Students create technology for the future at HCI Lab

Robot close-upBy Brenlee Coates

Stepping into the Human-Robot Interaction Lab is a bit like seeing a miniature Facebook office operating inside the Engineering and Information Technology Complex at the University of Manitoba.

Desks are arranged with openness toward the room, inviting interruptions or collaboration from other students. There is a shared work table, a cozy couch, and a projector they use for staging presentations – always seeking feedback and suggestions from their peers. But much of the time, they are coding.

There are three labs that comprise the HCI Lab at the U of M: two Human-Computer Interaction Labs, and one Human-Robot Interaction Lab, each supervised by a professor of the Department of Computer Science.

Research projects are instigated by the students, and vary greatly from developing software and more user-friendly computer interfaces, robotic innovations, and conducting studies on the perceptions of these technologies.

One such project is a study on robots in a position of authority. The human subjects were asked to complete a menial and unappealing task, then prompted to move on to another, equally exasperating task. The subjects were either instructed by a human in a lab coat, or the Nao robot, to proceed.

The study found that twelve out of fourteen people completed the work for the human in charge, while approximately half saw the tasks through for the robot.

While the study points to more reluctance to obey a robot, the Nao robot in the study is a pretty unintimidating and small robot, with a youthful voice. Results could vary depending on the appearance or perceived dominance of the robot.

The students chose to test humans’ performance for a robot because they can conceive of a future where robots may replace humans in certain jobs, as they are already being used in the military, hospitals, and elsewhere.

Another project that was particularly impressive was a project that recalled Spike Jonze’s recent futuristic film Her – or not-so-futuristic, as a little time in the HCI Lab conveyed. A fourth-year PhD student, Barrett Ens, has come up with a multi-screen, 3-D interface that functions as a touch screen projected in front of you. It can be shrunken down to a smaller, globe shape when on the move, or transformed to a fixed view on a wall to be used comfortably at the office or at home. You can also grab the screens or apps to move them.

The device works in conjunction with a set of 3-D glasses and small projectors secured onto your chest and arms. Up until now, these types of spatial interfaces have had fixed screens, meaning they projected one 2-D screen and you couldn’t change the size of the screen or easily switch applications.

Ens predicts it won’t be long until these on-the-go, spatial interfaces are widely used, and so far their fixed screens limit the usability of the technology. People will be used to the ease of smart phones and will expect the same user-friendliness, or better. He anticipates it is only a matter of time before the head-worn devices, or 3-D glasses, become completely unobtrusive as well.

While these types of projects are exciting, they may sound intimidating to an undergrad. However, students of the HCI Lab range from post-doctoral fellows to undergraduate students, and are surprisingly interdisciplinary. Though many of the projects require students to invent new technology, psychology and sociology students sometimes contribute to the lab, as the technological projects always have a sociological component.

Often the studies focus on the sociological aspects while “looking at it from the position of a computer scientist,” says Dr. Andrea Bunt, co-director of the lab.

The technology is also always created with an ease of use in mind, which means bringing in test subjects.

“A large aspect of our work is running experiments with human subjects,” says Dr. Bunt, “we (all) like to hire psychology students from time to time.”

“You’re looking at a technology that is so close to humans. Bringing in people, having them use your program, and having them react to using your program” is a priority of the lab, she says.

Students of the lab become accustomed to giving presentations, as well, as they have the opportunity to travel to present their findings. Many students also get their research published or co-author research papers.

Dr. Bunt iterated that alumni of the program are well versed in defending their projects both verbally and in writing, as both are major components of the lab.

In order to join the HCI Lab, students must be accepted into a co-op program, or enter the graduate program with the equivalent of an honours degree in computer science. Interdisciplinary students and other undergraduate students usually gain work during the summer at the lab. Some undergraduate students also work or volunteer as research assistants in the lab throughout the year.

The co-op, five-year computer science program allows undergraduate students to take part in the lab throughout their studies and participate in three work placement opportunities. The work experience led some of its students to attain credits on the movie Avatar, though Dr. James E. Young , another co-director of the lab, concedes the movie has an enormous credit list.

The work placements often lead to job offers, however, and the students are compensated well for their term positions at major companies like Amazon, IBM, and Electronic Arts.

Students that work in the lab are funded by scholarships and grants. Dr. Young says they earn enough to cover tuition as well as live debt-free. Many international students work in the lab, with students that entered the program from Egypt, India, Bangladesh, China and Japan.

Dr. Bunt thinks that being able to see a project through from start to finish is what makes grads of the program so employable. They are able to work independently and collaboratively to accomplish their goals.

Recent grads have gone on to more studies at world-renowned schools like the Georgia Institute of Technology, or have been hired to work at local game development companies and technology companies. Others have been hired at a variety of companies that have a technological component – a trend that is becoming increasingly commonplace.

Welcome to the first issue of SMART Tab!

SmartTab_Dec13Since 1996, we have been publishing first a tabloid then a magazine to support the career aspirations of young people in Manitoba and Canada. The publication has always appeared quarterly.

Given the recent concerns about employment mismatch, we have taken the decision to move away from the glossy format to a tabloid in order to increase frequency.

SMART Tab will be published every month on the 15th of the month preceding.

We will continue to bring readers the same quality advice and information that have always populated our pages. This will track heavily in the area of job and career information: what kinds of careers are out there, where they are, what they entail, what they pay and how to get them. Every once in a while, we will throw in a quirky job or a niche career.

Working closely with the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and the Assiniboia Chamber of Commerce, we will present the employer’s point of view. What skills and people do they need? What are they looking for in an employee? Who are the best employers? What makes them so good?

Schools, colleges and universities are also on our radar: who is offering what and why and with what success in the job market?

All this will be tempered by a healthy dose of lifestyle information and advice. Just how do you go about getting a mortgage? How do you juggle a job, plus school, plus a social life and stay sane? How do you get a job in your field with no experience? What easy-to-prepare meals can you cook with limited resources?

We hope you enjoy the ride with us. We have also expanded our circulation so you can find us in more places and, if you are a subscriber, then you will get much more for your money.


Conservation Officer: safeguarding the planet and its creatures

conservationBy Scott best

Do you want to make your province a safer place to live? Do you also love nature? Are you trying to determine the kind of careers that would suit these natural inclinations and interests?

Law enforcement may seem to be at the opposite end of the career spectrum from work in the natural world. A career as a conservation officer, opens the opportunity of combining these interests. Conservation and fishery officers enforce federal and provincial regulations established to protect fish, wildlife and other natural resources. They also collect and relay information on resource management.

Summer employment is a great way to get your feet wet in this type of work. The more experience you have, the better your chance of progressing to more senior positions. Conservation and fishery officers are employed by the two senior governments.

A large number of positions are in rural and northern areas.

To work in that field, you will need to complete a one- to three-year college program in renewable resources management. The governments provides on-the-job training as well as law enforcement and resource management courses. Depending on where you want to work, you may need a Class-5 driver’s licence, pesticide applicator’s licence and explosives licence.