FEIT staff profile of Elise

Recently, the new home for our Sydney members, the Faculty of Engineering and IT, sat down for an interview with the newly appointed Professor Elise van den Hoven. The following interview was done by Jen Waters of Origami Communications, with photographs by Images for Business. We received permission to publish a copy of the interview, first published internally within FEIT in late March.

Elise van den Hoven, photo by Images for Business
Elise van den Hoven, photo by Images for Business

Elise van den Hoven draws on a range of disciplines when working to improve people’s everyday lives through enhanced recollection of memories.

“My research sits between three fields: design, psychology and computer science,” she explains. “It is about people-centred design and human- computer interaction (HCI), and how we can use or appropriate technology to meet people’s needs, and make their lives better and easier.”

Elise leads the international research program Materialising Memories, which takes a design-led research approach to studying people’s everyday remembering activities and experiences. A key focus of the project is around voluntary and involuntary memory cues, how people are affected by them, and whether they can be purposely created; for example, looking at how people use media, such as photographs, in everyday remembering situations. The aim is to inform and create innovative, interactive media products that help people with both remembering and forgetting.

The impacts of her work are broad, from everyday remembering activities to helping people with conditions such as dementia. “Remembering has different types of functions; for instance, people use sharing memories to build amazing relationships, so there’s a social function. You can also use it to solve problems through recalling how you solved similar issues in the past, or to form opinions about things. People use it all day, every day – but we’re usually not aware of it.”

The project is partially funded by a five-year personal fellowship, awarded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) to give talented researchers the opportunity to develop their own line of research and build a research group. Comparable to an ARC Fellowship, her grant is valued at around AU$1 million over five years, and receiving it was quite a coup.

“For researchers to get funding from a design background is rare, to say the least,” she explains. “I was the second person from a design faculty to get such a grant in the history of The Netherlands. As a personal fellowship, it gave me the confidence that I was doing something right.”

Elise’s initial tertiary studies were in biology, specialising in neuroethology – the science and neurology of behaviour. A designer at heart, she found her place at the nexus of science and creativity, undertaking a post-master in technological design, and then a doctorate, at the Eindhoven University of Technology. It was here that Materialising Memories was born.

She spent ten years as an Assistant Professor in Eindhoven’s Department of Industrial Design, during which time she was a visiting scientist in Atlanta’s GeorgiaTech, the University of Sheffield in England, and the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building (DAB) at UTS. When the opportunity arose for both Elise and her partner to relocate abroad, they moved to Sydney, and she took up a role as Associate Professor in UTS:DAB.

With human-computer interaction as the foundation of her work, FEIT seemed a natural fit for further developing her research and teaching in the field, and she commenced as a full professor in the School of Software on 1 January this year. Her work is interdisciplinary and collaborative, and Elise hopes to build partnerships with the many FEIT researchers working across HCI and interaction design. She is also keen to explore the potential of the UTS Data Arena in facilitating tangible interaction with her research.

“I think there are a lot of opportunities here. I’m always open to collaboration, and would welcome people to contact me if they’re interested in exploring collaborative opportunities, in particular in relation to the Materialising Memories research program.”

A few fast facts about Elise

Elise grew up in The Netherlands in a village called Best, about 10 kilometres from Eindhoven. With Eindhoven as her base, she has been lucky enough to live in a few different places through her research: the Caribbean, while researching her graduation project for her undergraduate biology degree, and sabbatical periods in the United States, England and Australia. She moved to Australia in 2012, settling in the Sydney suburb of Pyrmont.

Reading is a favourite pastime, along with meeting up with friends and getting out in nature. She loves hiking – long-distance walking in particular – and enjoys playing games, both board and computer. Elise has a fondness for travel, especially to islands; she has just returned from Sumatra.

Elise had a range of unusual jobs during high school. She fondly recalls her after-school job delivering mail for the local notary, and the challenge of racing on her bicycle and planning the best routes to deliver all the mail personally in the half-hour allotment. She also spent two weeks working in a meat factory in her village and says she saw some things she would prefer never to share. Consequently, she no longer eats meat.

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