måndag 28 oktober 2013

Katarina Elevant's Ph.D. defense

I attended Katarina Elevant's Ph.D. defense Friday last week when she presented/defended her thesis "'Share weather': Design and evaluation of a new concept for sharing weather information" (available online here).

The opponent was professor Lore Olfman (profile here) from the School of Information Systems and Technology at Claremont Graduate University (US). The grading committee consisted of three persons; Lise Kofoed from Aalborg University (Denmark), Mikael Lind (Victoria Institute and University of Borås) and Inga Britt Werner (KTH).

The primary reason I write this blog post is because I have had a small role in this process too - I was the opponent at Katarina's "final seminar" back in December last year when she presented a draft version of her thesis. I should have written a blog post about it back then, but was very busy at the time and so it just didn't happen (as apart from when I was the opponent at Jorge Zapico's "final seminar" earlier this year and did manage to write a blog post about it).

The fact that I was the opponent at the final seminar means that I have read a previous version of her thesis (including the seven articles that were included) very carefully. I had lots of opinions at the time, but my main concern and my main advice concerned the "kappa" (literally "the coat" but actually referring to the "summarizing chapter of a compilation thesis" according to The Swedish National Agency for Higher Education).

I felt that the "kappa" was too compact and difficult to understand and that it was written primarily from the point of view of what Katarina wanted to have said, rather than according to what a reader wanted/needed to know. My suggestion was to shorten and streamline the "kappa" and to take things away that were less relevant in relation to the main arguments of the thesis (rather than to try to cover "everything"). I also suggested that including seven articles might be a little to much. While each article did add something, some of the articles overlapped a little too much. Perhaps one or even two articles could be taken away in a general effort to streamline and shorten the thesis?

I instead estimate that the final version of the "kappa" was 50% more voluminous than the version I read back in December (i.e. 200+ pages), and instead of taking one or two papers away, another paper had been added to the thesis. I didn't have the opportunity to see or read the thesis before the defense, but I got the distinct feeling that some of the persons in the grading committee (above) had objections similar to the ones I expressed back in the day (a quote was "it was very very long and had many many words").

I on the other hand also think that that several of the papers were very interesting. I especially like the very first paper that gives an historical background and that outlines the field that Katarina has worked within. With a background in meteorology, I think that basic idea of crowdsourcing weather observations through an app is brilliant as an alternative to setting up an ever more fine mesh of really expensive weather stations around the world. The flip from top-down expensive, cumbersome, government-run systems to bottom-up, nimble, social media/media technology-mediated systems is a game-changer and a really interesting development. Having developed and ran the shareweather app/website, I do believe Katarina might be one of the few persons in the world with a dual competence in both meteorology and media technology and that being located in the intersection of these two fields might be a very good place to be situated.

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