You are thinking about applying to the HCDE PhD program...

Are you accepting PhD students?

I am always open to working with PhD students during rotations and exploring if there is an advising alignment. For admission into the fall 2025 cohort, I anticipate committing to advising at most one new student, with a focus on (1) design for mental health and (2) designing for the use of personal data in supporting multiple goals.

Admission decisions will depend on current my capacity, research group composition, applicant alignment with my group's research direction and with the department, specific project needs, and anticipated funding.

You can also see other HCDE faculty members' plans for advising new doctoral students.

What do you look for in a PhD application?

Speaking for myself, I look for:
  1. Is there research alignment? Are there at least two faculty members with whom you might find a research match, both topically and with respect to methods you want to use / that the faculty use in their research groups?
  2. Is there departmental alignment? There are several departments at UW that do great (and, at times, very similar) HCI and design research, so we try to admit students to programs where they will benefit from the coursework. Students can apply to multiple departments if you see multiple potential matches (and sometimes students get admitted to multiple departments if we each see matches).
  3. Do you know what you are getting yourself into? A PhD is long, and so we want it to be a good investment for you (and for us!). Evidence of past research experience — to the extent you could get research experience, since opportunities are not always evenly distributed — can be evidence of this, but it is not required. We also use personal statements, recommendation letters, and (as needed) interviews to evaluate this.
  4. Are you someone who will contribute to the culture of the lab, department, and university? Everyone who joins us influences us, and so I try to admit people who will contribute to our collaborative culture and who have a healthy respect for balance between work and other aspects of life.

Beyond that, there’s — to be honest — a lot of variability. Based on how funding is going, I may recruit fewer students or more students. Based on who else I’ve admitted, how current students’ interests and projects are evolving, and who is graduating, I may recruit to fill certain niches with respect to interests or skills.

Also, everybody brings their own idiosyncracies to application reviewing (despite rubrics and other things we do to promote equity). Please do not take my opinions as representative.

What should I look for in a PhD program?

My advice here aligns with what I look for when reading applications – the match between you and the program and potential mentors is key.

To that, I'd also add living somewhere that you can be happy. The PhD is long, and your context matters. As someone who loves to hike and who loves the combination of city, mountains, and water, I'm happy in Seattle. But I also want to be realistic with you: our summers are great, but our winters are dark and Seattle's cost of living is high (though we are working on this!). There may also be advantages or disadvantages to being close to family support.

UW has a lot of PhD programs. To which should I apply?

You should apply to all departments in which you could imagine yourself thriving. As noted above, despite good intentions and practices, there is variability in the review process. We also often have to say no to many of our strongest applicants, just based on advising capacity. Multiple applications increase the chances of finding a match (even though multiple application fees are not great). If you end up with multiple offers, we're happy to help you navigate among the options (the culture at UW is great this way).

Similarly, if you end up with one offer but see mentoring matches across departments, I've experienced UW to be wonderfully cross-disciplinary and supportive students finding the right overall advising and mentoring team regardless of program. If, however, the availability of mentors affects your decision of whether to matriculate, I recommend having conversations before you make the decision. Sometimes faculty may not be available to add mentees or advisees, even with a strong research alignment, due to existing commitments or plans such as leaves of absence or sabbaticals.

How do run your research group/lab?

You can read the research group guide that my lab and I update.

Can we meet?

I try to respond to / meet with potential applicants with questions that cannot be answered by my website. However, these meetings are a lower priority for me than my commitments to my current students.

Because I cannot meet with every applicant or potential applicant (~80 applicants expressed interest in working with me in the 2021 cycle; arranging and conducting those meetings would be two full work weeks out of my fall), it is often most expedient for you to send an email with specific questions and we can then figure out if it's faster for me to write out some thoughts or to arrange a short meeting. If you have asked specific questions and think I may have missed your message, it is okay to resend it!


Should I reach out during the application review period?

No. There's no need to send me an email expressing your interest, especially after the application deadline, when my response can no longer inform your application. HCDE's application review process is systematic, so an email restating your application's highlights will not result in your application getting any more consideration than anyone else's. Additionally, because multiple faculty may be reviewing and considering you for admission, I am unable to comment on your application status outside of the formal process.

Will you read and provide feedback on my personal / research statement?

No. That introduces a potentially harmful feedback loop in which I pre-review your materials and give feedback about what I'm looking for in admission, and then your materials become about what I'm looking for rather than about your goals.

I make an exception for current or past HCDE students, especially when you are applying to work with other mentors or to other programs—mentoring you is a part of this job that I love!