A Mariecurie's PhDing

By Gianluigi Maria Riva
Friday, 30th March 2018
Filed under: ESRBlog

Dublin, March 2018. Waking up knowing that you’re doing what you’re keen about, in a place that you love, with nice colleagues, in a friendly environment, being part of a wonderful European network, with the possibility to travel around the world to discuss your ideas and meet new people that do what you do, and supported by a great supervisor, able to put you in the right direction with constructive criticisms.   Lucky enough!

That’s exactly what I always think when I’m struggling with intensive periods, firm deadlines one after another and night working. Yes, maybe the weather is improvable, but after more than 6 months, I’m getting used to it and, to some extent, I appreciate its strange allure as well as I’ve started to enjoy more the sun, when it appears.

Apart from pleasantness, the work within the TEAM ITN is something serious. We are all working on improving the mental health of young people, each one in his own area. One of the main characteristics of the project is its interdisciplinarity, and this is the added value of our ITN. Indeed, both ESRs and Project coordinators come from very different background and areas, such as Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), Psychology, Programming and so on.

My personal contribution to the project is to assess Privacy and Ethics in relation to new technologies. So, I’m the “legal” part of the overall plan, and this is both hard and exciting. In fact, be the only one to deal with a matter put me in the position to have to explain in precise ways what the Law aims to and how it works. But, on the other hand, this is a beneficial way to sharpen my dissemination skills.

About it, I must confess that the very first three months weren’t so easy to afford, because of the language barriers. Indeed, if you are not a mother tongue, there is always a certain gap between the way in which you can express a concept in your own language and the way in which you can in a different one. So, transforming a technical knowledge in simple words with a language that is not your primary one, it is not so simple. However, I soon discovered that it was, actually, just a personal psychological block, as my expectations were higher than my audience’s ones, as they were aware and comprehensive of this gap. In this, I can claim that Irish people and Irish Academic environments are quite amicable and supportive about it: they understand the efforts of speaking in another language, and they make you feel comfortable with it. Thus, indeed, as long as I realised it, my psychological blocks on explaining legal stuff correctly disappeared and my language skills immediately improved out of the tiny air.  …or at least, that’s my feeling!

Speaking about my research, the fact that it is an interdisciplinarity project that deals with many different and far areas is a very stimulating challenge. My work, indeed, is to address the way in which the consent may be influenced and manipulated in an HCI Health environment, from a legal and ethical perspective, with the aim to provide codes of procedures and guidelines to the relevant stakeholder, as well as Privacy by Design methods and tools for technology designers. Not an easy task, but surely what I really enjoy doing. In fact, bridging different areas such as Law, IT, Ethics, Neuroscience and many more, is something as innovative as hard to do. There’s need to find a common language, a particular method as well as evaluate the different stakeholders’ needs and combining them or solving the conflicts. The final purpose is that this set of outcomes will improve the assessing, preventing and treating of Mental Health issues in young people.

Besides, my research also deals with cutting-edge technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (and, specifically, Speech Interfaces), Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data profiling. This involves that I need to design a big picture of a future scenario in which to frame the general and specific solutions I aim to provide for the right and ethical processing of personal data. Luckily, I’m based at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics and being surrounded by IT engineers is very helpful for both understanding and evaluating these technologies. Yet, sometimes, as a humanist – and especially as a lawyer – I miss someone to disagree with!

However, I also belong to the School of Information and Communication, so my split nature allows me to confront my ideas and findings with colleagues from very different backgrounds and skills. That’s a precious pool of knowledge that helps me a lot in sharping my research. Here the dualistic feature of interdisciplinary research: the more you discover about other fields, the more you realise there are things that you don’t know, and so the more you want to understand.

As the legend tells, the Alexandria of Egypt library’s master curator said to other librarians before dying “so many knowledge and so few time to study it, that one cannot master it all”.  …and that’s the reason why I’m also working nightlong: life is too short to sleep the right amount of hour per night and knowing all you want to know!

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