Farewell Interview: Postdoctoral Fellow Eureka FOONG - Tokyo College

Farewell Interview: Postdoctoral Fellow Eureka FOONG

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We conducted a farewell interview with Dr. Eureka FOONG, a Postdoctoral Fellow who graduated from Tokyo College in July.

Could you recap your activities and achievements at TC for us?

Since my first interview, I’m proud to say I’ve accomplished some of my goals related to studying online work! First, I received generous funding and mentorship from the UTokyo Graduate School of Information Science and Technology (Dr. Hideaki Kuzuoka) and NTT Communication Science Laboratories (Dr. Naomi Yamashita) to run my own cross-cultural experiment with 180 participants looking at the impact of virtual agents on the experience of leaving online video meetings. I found that virtual agents can help both Japanese and US users appear less rude to others when leaving online meetings early, but need to be designed to be less disruptive by using visual cues only. We will be publishing the results hopefully by the end of next year.

I also received funding and mentorship from Carnegie Mellon University (Dr. Laura Dabbish) to manage my own team and study female freelancers’ online negotiation struggles. After talking with more than 30 female online freelancers in 13 countries, we learned that women hesitate to negotiate for higher pay rates online because they would rather see how others have approached similar situations first and are worried they aren’t able to communicate their value well online. Hence, we developed GigPrep, a web app that guides freelancers through their proposal writing with examples, making sure they are communicating their value to clients. The website is still in its beta phase here: gigprep.herokuapp.com. We will also be publishing these results by the end of next year.

Besides that, I also accomplished my goals related to outreach within the academic and Japanese communities. With the help of Shiori Shakuto, Michael Facius, Yoshie Udagawa, and the lovely TC Events Team, I hosted a total of 6 public talks with academic and industry speakers for International Women’s Day, attracting hundreds of viewers from Japan and abroad. I’ve also had the great pleasure of mentoring Japanese and foreign students as a UTokyo lecturer (“The Earth and Human Society” BA Seminar), as a speaker for the UGIP Global Workshop, and as a member of the Cyber-Interface Lab at the invitation of Dr. Hideaki Kuzuoka.

Your next stop is a job with YouTube in Zurich. Could you briefly describe your responsibilities there? How did your time at the College prepare you for this position?

Yes! I will be joining YouTube as a User Experience Researcher in August in Zurich, Switzerland. I’ll be working with their Copyright team doing research to improve online creators’ experience with using copyrighted content. My time at TC has been critical for getting this role — all of my work to date has been focused on understanding and improving online, non-standard work. The practical experience I gained doing this research and managing complex design projects also made me a stand-out candidate. I’m very excited to have the opportunity to lead research that will impact not only thousands of online creators, but billions of viewers.

Could you say a few words about your experience at TC? Any words of advice for future potential postdocs?

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed the freedom Tokyo College has given me to pursue my own research agenda and the exposure to so many fascinating new topics from areas outside of my own. It is also such a unique experience to be able to live in Japan during the pandemic, with a group of scholars who are at the cusp of an interdisciplinary paradigm shift at UTokyo and in academia more broadly. The administrative team have been absolutely a life-saver in helping me live in Japan. Outside of work, I've experienced a lot of personal growth as well, learning Japanese, adapting to Japanese culture, and even climbing Mt Fuji! These experiences have been invaluable.

Now that the College is slowly establishing itself, I encourage leadership to take an active role in protecting researchers’ time and freedom to do their research, as this is the key feature of this position. Without enough time, researchers may become overworked or lose focus on their own goals. I also encourage the College to continue being open to many different forms of collaboration, as not all fruitful collaborations need to result in publications (e.g., formal and informal feedback sessions have been very helpful, too). Finally, leadership must strive to be even more transparent as to what its goals and expectations are of postdocs and recognize postdocs regularly for their achievements, through transparent promotions and also meaningful 1-on-1 feedback. As an online work scholar, I am hopeful that one day, Tokyo College will be a pioneer in academia for being able to recognize the labor and contributions of a diverse and interdisciplinary faculty.

My advice to incoming postdocs, particularly those who don't speak Japanese, is to also be open-minded and kind to yourself. On top of managing a new position and research agenda at TC, this role will challenge your ability to adapt to life in Japan, which takes energy. As you’ll be working rather independently, be prepared to learn how to recognize your own achievements and ask for feedback, too. Good luck!


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