Welcome curiosity: Meet Pollie Barden

Pollie Barden is a researcher in Design and Creative Technology with a focus on social issues: working with digitally disenfranchised communities through participatory methods – solving real problems that benefit real people in their everyday lives. Pollie will be at Soapbox Science Brighton on 29th July, 1-4pm, presenting “Firefly – A game of dark intentions”.




SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?

PB: I am working now to design for our future selves and lay the foundation to democratize our digital tools for all communities. I work with older people, people with disabilities and economically disadvantaged communities to identify failings and solve issues with our digital tools as well as the social and cultural behaviours that contribute to isolation. My work is grounded in participatory design methods. I am currently challenging our love affair with screens by developing e-textile/materials interfaces with people who are visually impaired. My stance is “interfaces should bend with us and we should not bend to our digital tools”.  Through my game design research, I am taking back “gamification” from its current perversion to market goods and apply it developing engaging “serious” games that promote activism, change and collaboration in the real world. I am putting the human connection back into the development of the “internet of things”.  The way forward is a focus on human to human connection with technology as a mediator.


SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science? 

PB: Red Burns, the founder and former head of the Interactive Telecommunications Programme at New York University. She started the programme to be a place that anyone whatever their background could come and learn current cutting edge technologies. Through her work, she has provided a space that has empowered 100s of people like me to create our own path and design our destinies.



SS: How did you get to your current position?

PB: I was in the 2nd cohort of the Media and Technology Doctoral Training Centre at Queen Mary University of London. It was an incredible experience to do a PhD in a diverse and community-based environment. During that time, I also took opportunities to teach at Queen Mary, University of Creative Arts and Ravensbourne. Prior to my PhD work, I had a varied career in industry from web development, game design, and social art. The combination of my career experience, research and teaching gave me the background and skills for my current position at a lecturer in Product Design and researcher in the Creative Technology Group.


SS: Research in STEMM is becoming increasingly multi-disciplinary. Which STEMM (science, tech, engineering, maths, medicine) subjects do you use in your work?

PB: Digital technology, engineering, science and maths are incorporated in my work. I found my love and skills for maths through my physical computing work during my master’s programme at NYU. I found that I learn through application rather than abstract theory. I think the way in which maths are taught needs to be reconsidered as there are a vary or avenues to understanding of formulas and applications.


SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place? 

PB: I am always looking for opportunities to share my work and learn from others. Soapbox provides opportunity to not just demonstrate the work but have critiques and feedback from the attendees.


SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – Excitement? Fear? Thrill? Anticipation?

PB: I am very excited. I have run Firefly in a variety of setting and groups and it is always fascinating to see what people do with it.


SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it be? 

PB: The breakdown of silo mentality both within fields and from funding bodies. Right now, mutlidisplinary is popular catchphrase but not really embraced in culture. I look forward being part of that change.


SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?

PB: Pursue what you are passionate about and have the courage to invest and own your convictions. Always speak up and ask questions, anyone who does not respect and welcome curiosity and the desire to learn is not worth your time, attention or respect.


SS: What words of encouragement would you give to children who might be interested in a career in science?

PB: If your desire is to be able to make play your career, then that is what research provides the opportunity to do. We are creatures driven by curiosity who always ask what if and experiment to see what happens.

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