Looking back over my experience studying occupational therapy, I’m coming to accept that I am not going to be a standard practicing OT. What I found most interesting were things like assistive technology and educational technology, and I had two placements that encouraged these interests. I also really enjoyed learning and developing new skills in the academic (but ‘practical’) setting. In school, I enjoyed conducting experiments and writing up reports. So it seems fitting for me to combine these interests and work with technology, potentially in a research and development role. It is something I’m repeatedly drawn to, so why fight it?
Something else that comes naturally to me is my ability to spot things that could be better. In my current job, I’m always suggesting improvements to the way my team works and how our environment is set up. In my final placement, I watched a presentation in which one of the OTs demonstrated a new programme to help the students (with dyslexia) construct sentences, and I felt almost disturbed towards the end, as the software was not in any way intuitive. I sat there just thinking about how this or that could be improved, and I even talked to the OT afterwards about her experience trialling it. She had to spend hours exchanging emails and phone calls with their support team just to learn how to use it in the most basic sense! (Apparently, once you know how it works, it’s great.)
I’ve been thinking about where I want to go in life, particularly what to do a Masters in. I know that I’m going to one day get a PhD – this is one of my life goals – but I just don’t know what exactly to focus on, as my interests range from education to AT to virtual reality to anthropology and so on.
And I think I’ve found my Masters area: Human Computer Interaction. The name is pretty self-explanatory – it involves studying how humans interact with technology and designing technology so that it better meets the needs of the intended users. It combines behavioural psychology with computer science, among many other fields. This is where I hope you all go, “But wait, this is totally relevant to occupational therapy!” Don’t occupational therapists also try to match technology (low and high-tech) with the needs and abilities of the user, just on a smaller scale with one person at a time or a very specific population?
I think occupational therapists are entirely qualified to study human computer interaction. We understand people, both psychologically and physically. We have the skills necessary to observe and analyse the behaviour of people in an environment completing a task, and we can modify the task or environment to improve the success rate of the activity. So it seems perfectly natural, if I want to work with technology, to study human computer interaction and apply it to creating and/or improving technologies for education and/or disabilities.
My next step is to continue reading and learning about HCI, as well as looking into the differences of the various universities that offer it as a MSc. I found out that I have two weeks worth of holidays to use before the new fiscal year, as does Flan, so we might take a few day trips to Bath, UCL, Brighton and so on over the coming months. It’s not a cheap venture, so I’ll also be seeing what funding options I have; there may be a companies or organisations out there willing to sponsor a potential HCI expert! Who knows?