Vivian Liu is a third-year computer science PhD student and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow at Columbia University. She spent this past summer as a human and computer interaction (HCI) intern with Autodesk Research, which explores new ways for technology to be applied to emerging design and make challenges.
While honing her skills as a science communicator, Vivian was able to participate in key research projects exploring new methods in generative design. Vivian’s work encompasses the arts and computer science. We recently caught up with Vivian to learn more about her internship experience and her future career plans.
How did you learn about the internship opportunity with Autodesk Research?
Autodesk Research usually has a presence at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST). During the virtual symposium in 2020, I connected with Autodesk team members through Discord, and the next year, I reached out to the team again and was able to meet with them via Zoom.
What have been some of your key takeaways from this experience?
Soft skills are important! I was able to connect with a lot of people in the company – for example, just telling someone where the ice machine was and having a water cooler conversation led to me being able to present my work virtually to teams in London. Being curious and unafraid to reach out helped me work across teams within the AI Lab and figure out how to navigate my industry. I also got to contribute to papers beyond my own.
Learning how I work was also valuable. I discovered ways to streamline meetings with my managers by sending small agendas and keeping visual documentation of my progress through slides. These tactics made me stronger at communicating my research outward and helped me establish professionalism with people outside of Autodesk Research.
What was your favorite part of your internship?
My favorite part of the internship was connecting with so many intelligent and down-to-earth coworkers. I was able to meet product managers, researchers, research engineers, executives, software sales folks, technical solution executives, workplace staff, and so on. Everybody made me feel welcome and encouraged me to grow as a researcher. There was so much momentum around me – so many people trying out cutting-edge ideas within the HCI & Visualization team in Toronto and the AI Lab in San Francisco and Toronto. There is something special about being able to engage with theory (research) and practice (products) every day at work – and to do it with brilliant yet humble people.
I got to work out of the beautiful San Francisco office and take my relatives to the Autodesk Gallery! I am so grateful for the flexibility of working in a global company.
Also, I got to hold an actual Oscar — just one of the many Scientific and Technical Achievement Awards given to Autodesk employees by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I think that may have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
What do you plan to do with what you learned at Autodesk Research?
I learned what industrial research was like, and how to build myself into an even more polished researcher who can present their results to the public with confidence. I hope to strengthen my presence online and within the HCI community as a science communicator. I also hope to keep conversations going with Autodesk Research and AI Lab in the future, because it’s a place with wonderful minds and deep industry expertise in everything from media to the built world.
Learn more about Autodesk internships and early career opportunities here.