Hannah Pelikan received the University of Twente Graduation Award for her thesis in 2019. In an interview she talks about her experiences at the University of Twente (UT) and what she is doing now after graduating.
Hello, my name is Hannah Pelikan and I’m originally from Munich, from where I came to study at the University of Twente before going to Sweden for my PhD. My passion for computer science arose during my school days and so I embarked on my Bachelor’s programme in Cognitive Science in Osnabrück. During my exchange semester in Sweden, I came into contact with Human-Robot Interaction and wanted to specialise in this topic. As the University of Twente combines both the human aspect and the technical expertise very well, I decided to study Interaction Technology in the master's programme.
Interaction Technology combines the best knowledge from fields such as computer science and electrical engineering and we as students should learn how to combine this knowledge into innovative projects that have an impact on society. The programme at the University of Twente is so special because high-tech is seen as a force that can only develop its full potential if it is also combined with a human touch, which is why I was particularly fascinated by this relatively new course. New technologies are all the more successful and meaningful when people with a clear understanding of human needs and desires – and the desire to combine both – are involved.
Since the course of studies and the subject area have experienced a real boom in recent years, there are many opportunities to strike out in different directions after graduating. Like me, many go into research to work on their own projects or want to work in the field of design and maybe even establish their own start-up.
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I have to admit that I had a bit of culture shock at first. I already had some experience of going abroad and knew what I was getting into, but when I was actually in the Netherlands, it took me a while to feel comfortable. On the one hand, I had to get used to the very direct way of the Dutch – Dutch people rarely mince their words and express exactly what they’re thinking, which isn’t always easy, but you learn to deal with it quickly.
On the other hand, the grading system is different compared to Germany. The grading scale ranges from 1 (failed), to 5.5 (passed) to 10 (full score), but it is almost impossible to get the full score. I had to struggle with this in the beginning because I was always a very good student and here, too, I was stimulated to always achieve the best possible results.
I think that studying in the Netherlands educates students to be more independent, compared to Germany. Self-realisation through courses and one’s own ideas for projects are appreciated and also demanded. My Interaction Technology progamme is very practically orientated, so that we students can also work a lot on our own projects in the various laboratories and research buildings.
Compared to Germany, there are flatter hierarchies in the interaction between students and professors, as they often challenge us to think laterally and to question things instead of simply accepting them. Here in the Netherlands, people often work together in groups consisting of very different students. This was a big learning curve for me because I now understand that there are other ways of working and achieving goals.
The freer choice of subjects is another aspect that I have always found to be a plus, as it has also allowed me to immerse myself in other subject areas – for example, I took a philosophy course that was completely different from my previous courses, but in the end I learned a lot and was able to take that away with me.
But it was also important to me to have enough social activities beside my studies, so that I can find a balance to university life – for example, I danced jazz dance in the student association "Chassé". The campus of the University of Twente is so large and the range of activities, from sports to concerts, is so varied that there is something for everyone.
In September 2019, Hannah was awarded the "Graduation Award for Theses" for her master's thesis ("What's going on there?" Negotiating common ground in robotic vs. open surgery), which she wrote in collaboration with Cornell University in the USA.
My Master’s in Interaction Technology at the University of Twente prepared me very well for my current PhD position at Linköping University in Sweden. During my master’s studies, I learned to work proactively and to plan and organise projects by myself, but also to ask for help if I can't get by on my own and can't find a solution. Through the many projects and lectures, I have developed my own sense of how realistic and feasible my ideas and plans are.
In addition, the course has given me the necessary technological know-how as well as a creative and interdisciplinary understanding of human behaviour in connection with new technologies, which is particularly important in research.
In my PhD thesis, I am concerned with how humans talk and interact with robots and how we can design robots to communicate in a "human-friendly" way (i.e. simply and intuitively from a human perspective). I mainly do observational field studies, so I don't work in the lab that often, but go to participants' homes, for example, and film them playing with a robot. Based on the observation that humans do not always use words but often non-lexical expressions such as "huh?", "aha" and "yippee", my focus is on beeping sounds (similar to Wall-E and R2-D2) and I’m investigating the extent to which robots can communicate through such sounds (alone or in combination with verbal statements).