Dr. Gloria Opoku-Boateng Osardu is a PhD UX Researcher/ Scientist at Northrop Grumman, a leading global aerospace and security company. She received her PhD in Information Systems at UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) with a dissertation research investigating brain fitness games as an intervention for the age-related cognitive decline in healthy older adults.
In English, her research looked into how certain games that need a lot of thinking through can be used to help old people who tend to lose the ability to reason. You know when they say old people think like babies? Yeah.. she doesn’t want old people to think like babies… if you didn’t get this explanation too, then please track her down yourself.
Gloria, who is just 27 years old, completed her first degree at Valley View University and later relocated to the United States to further her education. Coming from a family that is keen on education and excellence in life, Dr. Opoku-Boateng Osardu finds great joy in the pursuit of knowledge and its application to understanding human cognition. With a vast interest in technology and research, she’s worked with the likes of IBM, Google and other high profile tech companies as a User Experience (UX) Research Scientist.
Throughout her time at UMBC, Dr. Opoku-Boateng received scholarships and grants from IBM, Google, LinkedIn and Xerox, and participated in several conferences, including the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society conference, AMIA conference for informatics professionals, engineering-focused Global Students Forum, and Latin American and Caribbean Conference for Engineering and Technology.
Here are excerpts from her interview with Techpreneur Magazine.
Techpreneur Magazine: You have chalked quite a number of academic laurels at such a young age, what has been your greatest motivation and why UX.
Gloria: Well thanks for thinking 27 is such a young age to have a terminal degree. I am flattered. Not to sound narcissistic but my greatest motivation has been intrinsic (self). I have experienced a lot of rejections, self-doubt, and I could tell you all about it some other time when we sit to talk.
My path into UX has not been as clear and direct as it seems in hindsight. It rather is convoluted. As you may or may not know, I started and completed both my High school and College degrees back home in Ghana. Yes! Aggrey Memorial (AME Zion) Secondary School with a General Science diploma and Valley View University with a computer science degree respectively. My last year of college introduced me to Health informatics when a guest speaker from Germany came to my department to give a talk. I got interested and decided to apply to graduate school for a health Informatics degree.
I applied to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s Applied Health Informatics program, got in and started to understand the current state of Health IT in America, concerns, standards and federal regulations surrounding Health IT in America. Towards the second year of my master’s degree, I was accepted into graduate school to work on an interdisciplinary PhD program where I can combine Human-Computer Interaction with Health IT. This started the path to getting the PhD whiles acquiring meaningful extra-curricular internships with tech companies and research labs. That basically summarizes my motivation and path to UX.
Techpreneur Magazine: What do you do as a Senior UX Research Scientist and what has been your most rewarding or inspirational experience as a female UX practitioner?
Gloria: As a Senior UX Research Scientist, what I do is similar to a UX practitioner or UX analyst. However, UX Scientists usually have a PhD and do a lot of abstract research and design on concepts and theories that have not yet been implemented or applied. We usually work in a lab space and patent our work. Sometimes we take concepts from academia that have been under-applied or never implemented and incorporate them into what we are working on.
Techpreneur Magazine: What do you consider as one of the most difficult challenges you have had as a researcher?
Gloria: For me, I will say the most difficult challenge I have had as a researcher is forging my path forward when it is extremely hard to eliminate possibilities across various research domains. What do I mean by that? In deciding to be a UX researcher, you have to settle yet not settle in one expertise.
Techpreneur Magazine: How do you think women contribute to the UX field at large, given that there are quite a number of them in the field now?
Gloria: I think women’s contribution to the UX field is as significant and diverse as their contribution to any other field. Whereas most of their contributions are downgraded, rejected and not recognized, the field, just like any other has benefited significantly from contributions of women. I think women’s contribution to UX, in general, is reflective on the sheer number of women in the field. A focus on design only may prove otherwise but in general, there are more women in the field. That being said, I really do not think contributions should be weighed in terms of gender lines. This is because we both know that men are more likely to receive credit for work that women do. Personally, I think women’s contribution in the field delves deeper into the amount of volunteering they do, the amount of training they provide, the amount of mentoring they give to other women in particular, and their sheer innate soft skills which the field desperately thrives on.
Techpreneur Magazine: What was growing up like?
Gloria: As a middle child of three girls, I was not the most exciting or extroverted person around. Growing up, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with my life. All I knew was that I wanted to be in a career that was challenging, yet fun, and required minimal interaction with people. My parents openly encouraged my sisters and me to pursue college/grad school degrees and careers that fit our personality and what we wanted to do. My dad, a pastor and theological professor, did not particularly have any bias towards the sciences or arts. He also did not particularly encourage us to pursue a particular career. My mom (aka superwoman), a Human Resource Executive, was more of an unseen force that gently pushed and encouraged all three of us in life while playing the role of a self-appointed career psychologist who check-in on us to make sure we were each thriving in the paths we had chosen.
My dad did not get all of his degrees back to back; however, as a go-getter, he made a plan, followed through, and received his PhD. My mom, on the other hand, got married and had all three of us before she started her college and received her MBA. My sisters and I all have advanced graduate degrees in computer science. By now, you may have an idea where my drive to push harder and strive to be better each day comes from.
I think it matters for readers out there to know and understand the influence my background, support systems, and Ghanaian culture played in shaping the life I live today. I always like to compare my life (both growing up and now) to two groups of contemporaries; those who have made more impact than I have, and those who have not. For example, considering all the people around my age that I grew up with, there are others who have gone on to make huge strides in life (professionally or personally) than I have. There are others who are struggling to reach where I am and thus made little to half as much impact as I have. The answer lies in the opportunities one has. Growing up, I was fortunate to have so many opportunities in life which I quickly grabbed. My first somewhat real job was in a library where I read most of my life away. I was fortunate to know more about applying to grad school and preparing for life after college. I was blessed to have parents who understood the importance of education and also supported my ambitions that were rather too large sometimes. I can go on and on but you catch the drift. My childhood is summarized in the opportunities I had and the risks that I took in grabbing them.
Techpreneur Magazine: What should we expect from Dr. Opoku-Boateng Osardu in the next 3 years?
Gloria: Hmmm… I am not sure what to expect myself. I honestly pray for life till then. Let’s see… As you may or may not know, I barely started working full time as a UX Researcher (now Senior Researcher). Let me see… in 3 years expect me to be in a management position where I can do managerial work as well as technical. Ultimately, I want to be able to create opportunities for others. I currently volunteer; support Women in Technology with experiences and opportunities that are available. The idea of harnessing resources to come back to Ghana and host a UX hackathon that both empowers others and teaches critical UX research methods is not far-fetched. 3 years is a short or long time to make that happen depending on how you look at it. For now, I know both mentoring and planning or hosting a hackathon is on my radar. Basically, I want to be useful and make an impact!