Dr. Cayley MacArthur and the Quest for the Triple E (EEE) Degrees

Monday, November 20, 2023
by Sid Heeg

Dr. Cayley MacArthur is a long-standing name in the Games Institute (GI) ever since the GI opened its physical doors to researchers and students. She’s spent time here working on her undergraduate and Master’s theses, her Doctoral research, and has officially joined the GI as a faculty member. As Assistant Professor, Dr. MacArthur teaches out of UWaterloo’s Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business. But how did she get here? Well, luckily, Dr. MacArthur took the time to answer questions we had for her about her time at the GI and her hopes of continuing on with her research.

Dr. MacArthur's journey starts off in the Knowledge Integration program in the Faculty of Environment during her Bachelor’s degree. She often thinks of herself as a risk averse person, but she’s glad she went into this program as it helped her approach the intricacies of analyzing complex problems. And throughout this time, she wondered what she would pursue after her degree; art history, medicine, or maybe she would go into marketing? She never thought she’d continue on in academia until later in her Bachelor’s when she started taking more English courses and started working on her Knowledge Integration thesis. It was around this time that Dr. MacArthur started to get ideas of what she wanted to do. She was interested in rhetoric, semiotics, and user experience (UX) design, so why not pursue a Master’s degree in the English department's Rhetoric and Communication Design program? Also, why not pursue a double degree while she’s at it?

And that’s part of how Dr. MacArthur ended up pursuing a Master’s degree in both English and Engineering with Drs. Neil Randall (English) and Mark Hancock (Management Science and Engineering) as her co-supervisors. The joint degree kept her busy bouncing between departments to meet both degree requirements. “I don’t have the coding skills to succeed in an HCI program,” she said, so this was a good compromise into delving into the world of technology while not feeling like she needed an excuse to read theory, which she got to do plenty of in the English program.

Dr. MacArthur's MA thesis, titled “The Effects of Ambiguity: A Feminist Study of Human Signifiers in Human-Computer Interaction”, talked about the lack of diversity in STEM fields and incorporate feminist theory in her examination of technology and human-computer interaction (HCI).

Her desire to continue bridging the gap between STEM fields and the humanities is what started pushing Dr. MacArthur to consider a PhD, and after speaking with Dr. Adam Bradley (GI Alum), Dr. MacArthur realized that if she wanted to, she could continue to forge a path in this area of research without having to choose one discipline over the other. And this would take her to her third degree at UW: a PhD in Systems Design Engineering (SYDE).

Around this time, Dr. MacArthur started to get more interested in virtual reality (VR) and cyber sickness. Eventually, she published “You’re Making Me Sick: A Systematic Review of How Virtual Reality Research Considers Gender and Cybersickness” in May 2021, which, later, would be incorporated into her dissertation. During her time in SYDE, she started thinking about more of where she was going with her research in UX, and continued to make English based theory arguments as it applied to work in HCI contexts and honing her skills in rhetoric to make these arguments in a language commonly used in HCI disciplines.

By the end of her degree, the teaching position at Stratford opened and Dr. MacArthur was encouraged by many to apply. The job talk she delivered gave her one last push to hone in on the narrative that would eventually feed into her dissertation. She knew she needed to get it done, so she sat down, and a month later, her dissertation was finished. “Making Spaces: Mapping Opportunities for Improve Equity in Makerspaces and Virtual Reality” would cap off Dr. MacArthur's education and she successfully defended in 2021 in time to start her new job at the Stratford Campus.

Having completed her quest for the Triple E Degrees (Environment, English, and Engineering), Dr. Cayley MacArthur is looking forward to no longer being limited to publishing in just one field. She can continue to expand her research horizons, and we’re excited to see where that takes her.