Industrial Engineering

Student Spotlight: Amal Ponathil

What is your title?

I’m a Ph.D. Candidate with Clemson’s Glenn Department of Civil Engineering (Graduate Researcher and Teaching Assistant)

How many years have you spent at Clemson?

With my Master’s and now my Ph.D., I’ve been here for five years and counting.

What do you do at Clemson?

I’m a teaching assistant! I help professors grade and develop courses and attend meetings — things like that.

What do you love about Clemson?

First of all, obviously, football season. Right now though, I’m living in Greenville, and I do miss the silence of Clemson, how peaceful it is. I do love the fun of downtown! The research is big for me, especially working with Dr. Kapil Chalil Madathil.

What has been your defining moment at Clemson?

It would probably have to be making the decision to start my Ph.D. work with Dr. Chalil Madathil. That has been the most important moment for me.

What is the accomplishment you’re most proud of?

I would say last month successfully defending my thesis for my Master’s was a huge accomplishment, and it was followed this month with the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) Student Member with Honors Award. In the future, I will probably be most proud of getting my PhD.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Well, right now I’m working as an intern, so I’m hoping to continue my work in the industry! I am looking to turn my internship into a more senior position within our industry, hopefully at the same company.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Honestly, it’s just sitting on my phone and going through things like Instagram and Facebook!. I feel like these days you can’t really do anything else.

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?

I’m a pretty open person! One thing people may think is that I’m an extrovert, but I’m very much an introvert. It’s something I’ll tell them, but maybe they don’t believe me!

If you had to give an elevator pitch on your research emphasis, what would you say?

My research is primarily based on how people make decisions and how we can better develop systems for users to make more effective or efficient decisions. For example, if you develop these systems or tools and people can’t even use them, then what’s the point of developing? My research is focused on developing functional and efficient systems for the user.

Can you tell me a little bit about how you became interested in this type of research?

When I came to Clemson in 2015, I didn’t really have it in my mind to do a Ph.D., but I had a course with Dr. Greenstein, who at the time was Dr. Chalil Madathil’s mentor. That is how I got introduced to human factors and user experience (UX) research! Then, I started working with Dr. Chalil Madathil, and he makes you fall in love with what you do. I enjoyed what I was doing and slowly realized this is what I was wanting to do long term.

The user acceptance and the sensemaking research both center around human bias and thought formation when interacting with software systems. Would you say that this is something of greater interest to you?

I would say that more of the user experience as a whole is what interests me. When a user interacts with a system, user acceptance and sensemaking are both small concepts and small parts of this larger experience. Sensemaking is how they perceive the information, and user acceptance is the debate of preferring one particular tool over the other. Those are smaller aspects of the bigger system that is the user experience. I would say UX is definitely what I’m interested in, especially the research aspect.