Milestone 2: Contextual Inquiry


For the research phase of the project, we completed a whirlwind of interviews in five days. Collectively, the interviewees have had extensive research experience in labs around the world, including: The University of Michigan, The European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Massechusets Institue of Technology and Dartmouth College. After interviewing 5 different academic researchers and taking a tour of Allen Hunt's lab in the Lurie Biomedical Engineering Building we had a better understanding of lab research culture (not to mention a crash course in chemistry!). Unfortunately, we are unable to visually document our lab tour here because of confidentiality reasons.

Download our interview questions.

In addition to interviews, we had several crash courses in basic experiment development taught by our client, Henry "Trey" Schek. During these sessions, we went through recipe development, protocol (or procedure) development & iteration, and stoichiometry calculations. This introductory knowledge gave us an overview of what tools - from calculators to scales to timers to spreadsheets - a typical researcher may use on a daily basis.

Interpretation Sessions

During our week of interviewing, we had 2 very intense interpretation sessions. While discussing the results of our interviews, we began to build a complete picture of what working in a lab is like. This first glimpse of the culture & methods of an academic research lab was fascinating! By the time we completed our interpretation sessions, we had amassed several hundred notes to include in an affinity diagram.

Affinity Diagram

To wrap up the contextual inquiry phase of the project, we organized all of our notes into one large - approximately 90 square feet - affinity diagram!

The team hard at work

We ultimately organized our diagrams into the following primary categories: research culture, sharing research work, calculation of data, preparation and observation, and material and physical environment. Now we are able to see clear patterns in the knowledge management, data collection and communication issues that hinder researchers!