Faculty Snapshot: Brian Smith
Tell us about your work.
I direct Columbia’s Computer-Enabled Abilities Laboratory (CEAL), which develops computers to grant people new abilities — abilities to better experience the world. Assistive technologies are a major part of our work. One of our projects is to create audio systems that make video games such as racing games and adventure games blind-accessible. Another is to help visually impaired people navigate using wearable cameras. I am also a research scientist at Snap (Snapchat), where I develop new ways to connect with other people using augmented reality (AR) and smartglasses.
What are you looking forward to right now? What are you excited about?
It will be great to have everyone together in the lab. We were just moving into the space when the pandemic started, so we never got to throw a “labwarming” party. It will be time to start building up our board game collection. :) I’m excited about the space—we’ll have free desks for undergraduates to use whenever they come by, and, and we will be able to host user studies and practice talks right in the lab.
What advice would you have for a potential mentee about succeeding in academia?
There is so much I’d like to say here, and learning about these things is what a PhD is all about. If I had to give some advice to start, it would be to make your PhD *yours*. Ultimately, a PhD is all about cultivating a new researcher—developing a new perspective and a new voice for what humanity should strive to know. That new voice is you, and so much of the PhD is about learning how to become a better version of yourself and not just learning a craft. Most of my own PhD was me learning how to deal with uncertainty and failure, how to overcome impostor syndrome, how to fight my fear of writing, and how to have more confidence in my own ideas and stop comparing myself to others. It’s quite an endurance test not a sprint or a race—and your prize at the end will not be your research. It will be your new self.