Posted by Rob Knies

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Each year, SIGCHI, the international society for professionals, academics, and students interested in human technology and human-computer interaction (HCI), announces a short list of individuals who have been elected to the CHI Academy.

You might wonder: How are the recipients notified? Oscar winners get the drama of a famous celebrity who tears open an envelope, bends into a microphone, and intones a name. Nobel laureates get an early-morning phone call with a Swedish accent. I checked with John Tang, Ken Hinckley, and Richard Harper of Microsoft Research to find out how they learned of their 2014 election to the CHI Academy.

As it turns out, the notifications vary, from the prosaic to the personalized.

Richard HarperTake Harper, for example. A principal researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge, he learned of his election to the CHI Academy—joining principal leaders of the HCI field whose efforts have shaped the discipline and led its innovation—via email.

“They send a private email before the announcement,” he explains, adding, tongue in cheek, “It felt a bit awkward. It’s nice, indeed—but it also means you are old.”

Tang, too, got the word via email.

“I was in my office when I received the email informing me that I was inducted into the CHI Academy,” says Tang, a senior researcher based in Silicon Valley, although he works in the neXus group located at Microsoft Research Redmond. “I would say I was joyfully honored upon reading the message!”

Ken HinckleyHinckley, a principal researcher at the Redmond lab, enjoyed a more tailored experience.

“Saul Greenberg—himself an Academy member and current chair of the SIGCHI Achievement Awards Committee—copied me once the Academy vote was official,” Hinckley says. “It took me by surprise, because it looked like routine correspondence from the journal editorial board we both sit on, but then, suddenly, my name was on the list.

“It was great fun to hear about it from Saul, whom I’ve collaborated with on a few papers and is someone in the field whom I really look up to and respect—as well as being a great guy who shares my fondness for ribbing Bill Buxton whenever we get the chance!”

Microsoft Research’s three 2014 honorees were among eight named to the CHI Academy as individuals who have made substantial contributions to the HCI field. The criteria for selection are fourfold:

  • Cumulative contributions to the field.
  • Impact on the field through development of new research directions and/or innovations.
  • Influence on the work of others.
  • Remaining a reasonably active participant in the Association for Computing Machinery’s SIGCHI community.

“To be honest,” Hinckley says, “I haven’t gotten past the impostor-syndrome aspect of receiving such an award.

“It doesn’t seem real. What the heck is my name doing on a list with all these other all-time greats in the human-computer-interaction field: Stu Card, Douglas Engelbart, Bill Buxton—and, of course, my Ph.D. adviser, Randy Pausch, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2008. I really wish this is something I could have shared with him, as well.”

Joining the CHI Academy is, as Harper observes, recognition for achievements over the course of a career.

“Election to the CHI Academy amounts to an act of encouragement by the academic community for demonstrating a history of research contributions,” he says. “Getting this award means that others recognize that your career has included repeated transformations to the discipline of human-computer interaction.”

John TangThe careers of those thus recognized have proved inspiring to many—as will those of Harper, Hinckley, and Tang.

“I’ve admired all the people in the CHI Academy and the level of accomplishment that it stands for,” Tang says. “As I looked over the list, it struck me how diverse the members are in terms of research interests and backgrounds across academia and industry.

“Reflecting on the breadth and diversity of the HCI research community as represented in the CHI Academy, I’m honored to be included this year and look forward to continuing to work for the future growth of our field.”