HCDE 541: Introduction to PhD Studies in HCDE (Autumn 2023)

Teaching Staff & Office Hours

Sean Munson
smunson at uw dot edu
Office hours: by appointment

Course Description

HCDE 541 the skills needed as a doctoral student in the field of human-centered design and engineering, including communicating about research, preparing for PhD milestones, identifying mentors, and establishing work practices.

As a PhD student, the ways you learn and work will be new—and quite different from!—the other student and work experiences you have likely had before. As a group, we will discuss some of these differences adn identify and practice some of the approaches for successful scholarship as a doctoral student. In many ways, you might think of HCDE 541 as an extended orientation.

Topics included learning the ins and outs of research, the Ph.D. life, Ph.D. milestone documents, writing papers, writing peer reviews, giving oral and poster presentations, selling yourself and your research, and professional communication. We will also cover additional topics important to career development such as work-life integration, self-care, time management, and career options.

The course consists of reading reflections and several individual assignments. There will be a significant amount of in-class discussion and peer review that will count toward an overall participation grade. Finally, this course has the goal of helping to establish a cohort among first year Ph.D. students in HCDE. To make the most of the course, you should bring in your own questions and observations for group consideration.

Learning Objectives

At the end of HCDE 541, you should:


Slides and notes

I plan to use relatively few slides; when I use them, they will be made available via the Canvas site (under files), after our class meeting.


Unless otherwise announced, papers will be posted on the Canvas site and/or linked to from this syllabus.


There is one required book for this class: a book on writing of your choosing (examples to be discussed in class). You can acquire the book either digitally or physically by purchasing or borrowing through a library or by borrowing from other students. Other readings will be provided as PDFs on the course Canvas site.

Course discussion site

One of the best ways to get help during the course will be via the course Slack channel we have created. You are encouraged to respond to (comment on) other students' messages. Don't worry about giving wrong information: the instructors, or your peers, will post corrections if necessary.

If you have something private nature that you don't want to share with the other students, feel free to send a direct message to instructors.

Class policies

Collaboration, academic honesty, and integrity

This quarter, you will be asked to contribute to the success of your peers' work by providing them with feedback, both formally and through in-class discussion.

If you receive assistance on an individual assignment, please indicate the nature and the amount of assistance you received. If you have more experience with some of the material and are willing to help other students, please feel free to do so. Just remember that your goal is to help teach the material to the classmate receiving the help.

The essence of academic life revolves around respect not only for the ideas of others, but also their rights to those ideas and their circulation. It is essential to take the utmost care that the ideas and expressions of ideas of other people always be appropriately attributed, and, where necessary, cited. For writing assignments and anywhere in print, when ideas or materials of others are used, they must be cited. Any direct quotes must be cited. In any situation, if you have a question, please ask. Such attention to ideas and acknowledgment of their sources is central not only to academic life, but life in general.

Course conduct is governed by the University of Washington Student Conduct Code and the College of Engineering Academic Misconduct Policy. You should also acquaint yourself with the HCDE Plagiarism Policy. Failure to properly cite or attribute an idea will result in a zero on that assignment and a report to the College of Engineering; severe or repetitive instances may result in more severe consequences.

To reiterate, the collaboration policy is as follows. Collaboration in the class is encouraged — you can get help from anyone as long as it is clearly acknowledged. Use of work — yours or others', from this course or similar courses — from previous quarters is not allowed. The authorship of any assignments must be in your own style and done by you, even if you get help. Any significant help must be acknowledged in writing; any use of others' words or ideas must be cited and attributed appropriately.

Classroom Rules

I find learning happens best in a relaxed classroom environment where everyone feels comfortable You are welcome to bring drinks or snacks to class. You can bring your laptop to class, but please use it for course related activities. As a courtesy to others, be sure to put your phone on silence/vibrate. Coming late to and/or leaving early from class is okay, as long as you don't disturb your classmates. Ask questions at any time, and if you have some expertise in a particular topic, share it with the class. If you aren't comfortable doing so, you should also feel free to post it to the Slack channel or discussion board.

Our primary purpose in the classroom is to interact and learn from each other. In a course of our size and format, it's better for the group's discussion and learning for you to be absent rather than partially present. I reserve the right to ask you a question to try to reengage you if you seem to have checked out, but will try not to do this in an embarrassing way. If you have something else going on in your work or life that keeps you from being fully present, I'd rather you excuse yourself from class rather than try to attend to two concerns or places at once. If, however, you find that you are regularly excusing yourself from class, this will have negative conseqeunces for your learning and we may need to discuss strategies for balancing commitments.

Contacting the instructors

My prefered method of contact (for quick questions, to let me know you will miss class, to schedule a meeting, etc.) is Slack or email. I don't check my voicemail or Canvas messages regularly. When emailing:

I want to emphasize that your feedback is welcome. I may adjust the course based on what you say, I may save your comments for next year, or I may disagree, but in any case, your thoughts are appreciated.

Course modality

HCDE 541 is designed as an in-person course. To faciliate a free and open discussion, I will not plan to record disucssion sessions (but may make exceptions for more polished content, e.g., if we have a guest speaker). If you cannot be present, e.g., due to travel or illness, I encourage you to focus on being there (e.g., participating fully in the conference, resting and getting well) rather than dividing your attention. You can participate in discussions asynchronously and check in with peers or me when back.

In the event of my illness or necessary absence, we may either designate a peer discussion leader among students, solicit another faculty member to join for the day, or potentially switch to a remote format---but I will generally try to follow my own advice and be engaged with wherever I am.

Work in the Course

Each assignment is designed to test your achievement against one or more of the learning objectives. Different assignments emphasize different learning objectives. Please note that some grading will be subjective in nature.

There are three categories of assignments:

Late assignments

It your responsibility to make sure that each assignment has been turned in on time. For personal emergencies, we will work out an alternative plan with you and your team if you contact me before the due date (or as soon as practical).

Over the years, I have noticed that sometimes new doctoral students can hold on to (good!) work in pursuit of perfection, and consequently miss out on getting the feedback and interaction that supports your learning. The Credit/No Credit grading of this course is designed to facilitate comfort with turning in work for feedback - please use that feature!

Quality of Assignments

While I discourage you from seeking perfection in turning in assignments, all communication assignments should be of high quality: thoroughly proofread and reasonably organized/ Clear communication will help others engaged with and give feedback on your ideas.

Graded components

The graded work in the course will be weighted roughly as follows to determine credit or no credit.

Reading reflections (50%)

Along with each collection of readings, you will also receive a set of questions and things to think about while you read. Your typed answers to these questions should be both concise and thoughtful. You will also be asked to provide 2-3 discussion questions for class as part of your reflection. Responses typically will be about 300-500 words and/or contain some practice from concepts in the readings. Grades are either complete or incomplete. The descriptions reading reflection prompts will be posted on the course Canvas site. Each component must be conducted and submitted online on their designated due date via Canvas.

Individual assignments (30%)

Throughout the course, there will be a set of mini assignments due on certain days to help you practice additional skills of research communicated, as designated on the course schedule on Canvas. These assignments are due online on their designated due date via Canvas’s discussion feature.

Class Participation (20%)

By actively participating in class, you can develop your skills for research, networking, design, and critical thinking. Here are some examples of how you can participate:
  1. Treat all with respect – be constructive in all discussions
  2. Come to class prepared – read carefully prior to class meetings
  3. Be an active listener – be attentive, be engaged, use in-class technology with discretion
  4. Ask challenging questions
  5. Comment, build on, or clarify others' contributions
  6. Conduct peer assessments of others’ assignments
  7. Help your classmates use course technologies or skill share
  8. Post useful or interesting information to the class discussion board or Slack channel
  9. Visit the instructor during office hours to chat, to ask questions, or to give feedback


In this course, learning comes primarily from practicing the skills and from qualitative and constructive feedback from the instructors and peers, and the skills that you learn from both of these will benefit you much more than any numeric grade in this course. Thus, all grading will be done as complete / incomplete so long as the instructor perceives that you are putting in their your effort and are engaging in the learning process.

Also see the HCDE grading policy.

Course Outline

In this course, we will discuss PhD life, doctoral student milestones in HCDE that provide structure to your overall trajectory academic reading and writing, and proposal writing and peer review. We will also discuss academic CVs, websites, social media, and engaging with journalists. As a group, we will discuss practices for managing time and balancing your work as a scholar with the other parts of your life. At the end of the course, we will conclude with a module on PhD careers and advice.

Success in the Course

While I have not taught HCDE 541 before, from prior experience mentoring and advising early stage PhD students, the biggest missed opportunities are: (1) Not asking your questions, (2) assuming that being a PhD student is like other kinds of studenting, and (3) believing in the myth of the individual scholar.

As you continue to adjust to your work and life as a doctoral student, you will have many questions. HCDE 541 is designed, in many ways, as an extended orientation and to create a place to ask those questions and learn from me and your peers. You may at times feel that others have things figured out -- they may have (in which case asking supports learning frmo them) or they may just not have yet thought to question a particular work practice. Additionally, while there are some successful practices that seem to be reliable tools for success across people (e.g., establishing a daily writing practice), there are other practices that do and do not work for different folks or the ways that people implement good practices vary. Asking and learning from many so that you might consider what's right for your circumstances and priorities, is valuable.

Also, I have noticed that some students come in with beliefs in an idea of an individual scholar. My experience in academia has been that even people who publish individually are on regular conversation with others for feedback on ideas. Many others find joy, accountability, support, and opportunities for continued learning in collaborations with other researchers. Succeeding in develping these connections requires sharing what you are working on with others, often before you are comfortable with sharing or confident in the work. I encourage you to use this course as space for building that practice.

Good luck and welcome aboard!

Course Schedule and Important Dates (view on separate page)

This is tentative. It may change based on your interests, class discussion, or guest speakers' availability.
Week Dates Topic Readings Assignments due
1 28 September

Course overview

  • Introductions
  • Course goals and outline
  • A few reminders from orientation
None None
2 5 October

PhD Life



Self care

3 12 October

PhD Milestones



Self care


4 19 October

Academic Reading & Writing

Reading - Required

Writing - Required

Writing - Optional

Self care

5 26 October

Proposal Writing

Peer Review

    How to write reviews
    How to read reviews

Peer Review - Required

Peer Review - Optional

Proposals - Required

Self care

  • Tips for Saying No
    6 2 November

    Academic CVs, Personal Websites, Blogs, & Social Media

    The Press

    Academic websites


    Professional blogs & social media

    The press

    Self care

    7 9 November

    Time Management & Work-Life Balance

    National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (NCFDD) resources

    You can create a free account with your UW email.



    Self care

    8 16 November

    Posters, Elevator Pitches, & Presentations


    Self care

    • R7
    • Peer comments on CVs
    • Attend at least three prelims on 17 November
    -- 23 November

    No class - Thanksgiving!

    9 30 November

    Advising & Mentorship


    Read at least two of...

    10 7 December

    Ph.D. Careers & Advice



    Additional course and instructor policies

    Student rights

    Please read the HCDE statement on student rights.

    Acccess & Accommodations

    Your experience in this class is important to me. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please communicate your approved accommodations to us at your earliest convenience so we can discuss your needs in this course.

    If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), please contact DRS at 206.543.8924, uwdrs@uw.edu, or disability.uw.edu. DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or temporary health conditions.

    Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process between you, me, and DRS. It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law. It is my hope that the course is already designed with many features that create an inclusive learning environment, and I am happy to work with you on adjustments that would even better support your participation.

    Religious Accommodations

    Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities.

    The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available. Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the request form.

    Student Conduct

    The University of Washington Student Conduct Code (WAC 478-121) defines prohibited academic and behavioral conduct and describes how the University holds students accountable as they pursue their academic goals. Allegations of misconduct by students may be referred to the appropriate campus office for investigation and resolution.

    Harassment will not be tolerated, and consequences will include immediate removal from the Slack channel and other course tools. I also emphasize the importance of respecting your classmates' (and teaching team's) boundaries around how and when they wish to be contacted.

    Student Mental Health and Safety

    Being a graduate student can be a stressful experience. While this course has high expectations for student work quality, we have explicitly included features of the course to reduce stress and encourage self-care where we can.

    If you need support or are feeling overly stressed, you are welcome to reach out to me at any time. I will do my best to listen and support you, but you should also know that, despite conducting consideral mental health research, I am not a trained professional in counseling and my listening and support is not a substitute for engaging with someone with appropriate expertise. The UW Mental Health website provides a number of options for receiving support, including self-help, workshops, remote therapy, and short-term and long-term counseling. If you are experiencing a crisis situation after hours and cannot wait until the UW Counseling Center is open, please call the Crisis Clinic at (206) 4613222 or toll-free at 1-866-427-4747. If you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, dial 911. If you feel unsafe, please contact UW Safe Campus at (206) 523-7233 (SAFE). In addition, these are some resources available to you at UW.

    Title IX

    UW, through numerous policies, prohibits sex- and gender-based violence and harassment, and we expect students, faculty, and staff to act professionally and respectfully in all work, learning, and research environments. For support, resources, and reporting options related to sex- and gender-based violence or harassment, visit UW Title IX’s webpage (https://www.washington.edu/titleix/), specifically the Know Your Rights & Resources guide (https://www.washington.edu/titleix/2022/10/21/title-ix-rights-and-resources-for-uw-students/).

    I am not an official required to report under UW's Title IX plan. This means I am not legally required to report misconduct or crime; if you share a problem with me, I will work with you to determine next steps and connect you (or the person who experienced the conduct) with resources and individuals who can best provide support and options. You can also access those resources directly:

    Please note that some senior leaders and other specified employees have been identified as “Officials Required to Report.” If an Official Required to Report learns of possible sex- or gender-based violence or harassment, they are required to call SafeCampus and report all the details they have in order to ensure that the person who experienced harm is offered support and reporting options.

    Connecting via Social Media

    Social media offers new opportunities for interacting with instructors. You are welcome to follow me on Mastadon (smunson@hci.social), as I use my Mastadon account for primarily professional reasons (e.g., to post links to new research, comments on professional conferences, etc.). I am happy to accept a LinkedIn request from a student (& generally try to connect wtih all HCDE PhD students who have a LinkedIn presence, as it can be a great resource for sharing and learning about opportunities). Due to concerns about free speech, harassment, and data security, I am no longer active on the platform that was formerly Twitter.

    I generally reserve other platforms for personal use and will only accept connection requests after the quarter, at my discretion.


    In this version of HCDE 541, I extensively draw from and/on materials developed by Julie Kientz. While, my views on PhD student success have been shaped by countless conversations and collaborations within HCDE and beyond, several folks deserve particular acknowledgement: Kathleen Rascon, Pat Reilly, Paul Resnick, Geraldine Fitzpatrick, Jennifer Turns, James Fogarty, Daniela Rosner, Gary Hsieh, Kate Starbird, Alexis Hiniker, Elena Agapie, and Joyce Yen.