Milestone 3: Personas

10/30 Update:

After taking a step back from our project, we realized that we needed a more concise way to present our personas. We focused on two issues: level of experience and level of trust.

Download a PDF of the updated personas now.


For this milestone, we looked to the information we gathered from our initial interviews as well as the results of our affinity diagram to help us brainstorm our fictional personas.

Step 1: Initial Brainstorming

For our first meeting, our goal was to define the general themes we wanted to portray in our personas. We brainstormed many themes we encountered from our interviews. Here are some of the characteristics that we thought about incorporating into our personas:

Brainstorming at Rackham

In result, we drew out the main themes and subthemes that we felt were key to integrate into our personas.

Step 2: Shaping our personas

With our key themes in mind, we met in Design Lab 1 in the AAEL to utilize the plentiful whiteboard resources for our next brainstorming session. Now that we had defined our general themes, we needed to brainstorm more as to how they would affect our personas in “real” life. We grabbed a whiteboard for each key theme (4 in all), and then another whiteboard to brainstorm the most important categories for our personas. Once we decided what themes would go for each person, we started to develop general personalities for each person. The main themes for each persona are:

The team hard at work

After a very productive brainstorming session, we decided each of us would take one of the broad personas we created as a group and give it a bit more personality and background. After editing and finalizing our personas, here’s what we created:

Prasad Challa

Prasad's Photo


Prasad graduated from the University of Mumbai in 2006 with Bachelor’s degrees in biology and chemistry. He came to the U.S. for the first time when he began his doctoral studies two years ago. Since then has gotten settled into his new home in America, but still has close ties to his family and native culture in India. His lab work is the primary focus of his life right now, and he doesn’t have any added commitment of being in a relationship: he knows that his parents will be matching him in an arranged marriage within a few years time.


As a relatively new researcher in his lab, Prasad is focused on establishing his own identity amongst colleagues and peers. He desires to build rapport with the other graduate students that he works with and to gain a firm foundation of methods for future, post-doctoral research. Currently, Prasad wants to have his name published alongside the senior researchers for his project, however, he also knows that publishing his own work will be necessary to complete his Ph.D. He expects to graduate by 2011.


Much of Prasad’s work is done as part of the over-arching research group for his lab. He is often working on experiments that are simply a sub-component of a principal investigator’s research. In addition to completing research tasks, he is the general lab manager in charge of ordering new communal supplies and maintaining the lab’s inventory database. When researchers need to order something, they put in a request to Prasad. He then handles the ordering process, directly contacting suppliers. In conjunction with this task, Prasad is supposed to update the lab’s inventory database that it keeps on record for federal regulations. Unfortunately, his time is almost entirely consumed with his research tasks, making regular updates impossible.

Working Style

Because he is at an early point in his research career, Prasad looks to other, more experienced researchers for guidance. He often asks Paul Mischkowski, a post-doctoral researcher in his lab, for suggestions for certain procedures. Prasad looks up to Paul as someone to aspire to, and highly respects Paul’s opinion. When learning a new protocol, Prasad utilizes many published resources as well. He likes investigating what protocols other universities have posted online and will often utilize them as a starting point for his own iterations. Prasad also searches a lot of published research for buffers & procedures that he might try to re-create in his research. Oftentimes he gets frustrated because the procedure descriptions and ingredient lists can be incomplete or confusing. When this is the case, he’ll try to contact the author directly for clarification. However, he still has to re-iterate the protocol several times before getting it just right.

Prasad’s daily tasks are typically very repetitive. Many of his basic duties, like making buffers to grow cells in, are shared with his lab partner, a 2nd year Ph.D. student. He also does a lot of work alone. While running an experiment, he often does simple calculations on-the-fly, jotting down notes on whatever is laying around the workspace: paper-towel, Post-It notes or, on a rare occasion, in a notebook. He knows that the information he is gathering is valuable, so he tries to record it all. However, he hasn’t found a good system for maintaining his notes yet: sometimes when referencing his previous notes Prasad finds interpreting them to be difficult. When he finally has success with a particular iteration he types it up and adds it to the lab’s community protocol book.

Tyrika Jones

Tyrika's Photo


Tyrika graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in 2001 with Bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry. She continued in school and received a master of science degree in biochemistry in 2003. She found that her interest was stronger in the biophysics realm and made the move to pursue her Ph.D. in biophysics with a research focus in mitosis. Tyrika is single and spends much of her time in the lab and her office. When she is home she continues summarizing and reviewing her databases. She spends a lot of time in the lab conducting experiments. Periodically she will go to conferences or a local university to pick up biological samples.


Tyrika has now been in graduate school for 7 years. During that time she has invested countless hours to establishing her research. As a senior ranking Ph.D. student, her main goal is to graduate and get out of school. She keeps her cell phone off and requests that people only contact her at her office in cases of emergencies, which she breaks down on her voicemail. Interestingly enough her voicemail says, "Hello, you've reached Tyrika. Please leave a message only if you are giving birth, on fire, or dying. Mom that means none from you". Once during a firedrill, she was still found in her office working. She stated later that if it were a real emergency, she had a window in her office, which is located on the second floor. She is also trying to finish her dissertation for publication as well as developing major reports for conferences and journals. She experiences stress thinking about computer breakdowns and interruptions from her younger colleagues. She is constantly making backups of her work, using external drives, CD's, flash drives, and an online repository. She worries about data security and has been heard by some saying, “If I lose my data, I'm quitting. Maybe taking up a job at Target." The placement and order of her name on shared publications is also a concern to her. She expects to graduate this winter (2008), if she completes her dissertation.


Tyrika works in a small lab, pursuing her research in biophysics and mitosis. Increasingly, her research competes with what she now considers her main focus - teaching as a graduate instructor in Biology, which keeps her incredibly busy. Apart from running experiments, she is responsible for picking up biological samples from a local university, cleaning, conducting lab meetings, and checking the calibration of equipment.

Working Style

Tyrika works whole days in the lab, either setting up chemical solutions and preparing for experiments or conducting experiments. She takes her notes in a word document and does her complex calculations in Excel, though she does not store them. She is not very comfortable using technology and tends to do smaller calculations in her head. She does not mind using technology to double check her work. Sometimes she records on the fly on whatever she can find. Some of her everyday research tasks include: protocol development, protocol tweaking, running experiments, and prepping for publication. She would love to have an assistant to help her with her smaller tasks.

Tyrika is at the ending point of her research career. She doesn’t care to share her protocols. Sometimes she will help others create bases, but she always works independently. She also passes some knowledge to the lab protocol book. When she is in search of knowledge or protocols, she only trusts longstanding peers, high ranking researchers and faculty.

Bruce Doherty

Bruce's Photo


Bruce graduated from Harvard in 2003 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Engineering. Bruce currently is a Ph.D. Candidate specializing in Biological Systems, working in one of the many labs within MIT’s large lab system. Bruce also spent a semester rotation working in the biological lab at Dartmouth, which is a smaller more informal lab. From that experience he realized how much he appreciates the organization of projects at MIT, which is a bigger and more formal lab. The lack of organization at Dartmouth made him consider tearing his hair out. Aside from working in the lab all day, Bruce is currently engaged to his fiancé Emma, and they plan to be married in the summer of 2010. As Emma is also spending long hours finishing her degree, Bruce mostly spends his sparse spare time at home with his cats Eleanor and Triscuit.


As a 3rd year researcher, Bruce is mainly focused on eventually getting his work published. His mantra is “got a project, need to finish, damn everyone else!”.


Bruce works primarily for two principal investigators (PIs), in two different labs on campus. At MIT, there are many labs on campus with a total of about 65 researchers. Bruce primarily works independently; he does not trust anyone less experienced with his work.

Working Style

Because of the large lab system at MIT, the labs have a formal atmosphere and the researchers do their work mainly independently - Bruce appreciates this. Generally, the researchers share information and protocols through a wiki, although the wiki does not have a robust version control system as Bruce would prefer. It would be quite helpful for Bruce if the protocols were even more standardized, so he could easily adapt them to his research. He would also prefer that the common protocols are authored by more senior researchers, as then he would more likely assume that the protocols are correct.

If Bruce repeats an experiment many times, he will take the time to make an Excel sheet for the protocol. Bruce tends to do many experiments the same way, with subtle variations. He is capable of figuring out stoichiometry on the fly, but would prefer to use Excel spreadsheets if he already has them set up. Also because of the large lab system at MIT, the labs utilize a standardized inventory database called “ChemTrackers” established by Stanford University. In addition, there are many specialty instruments available to Bruce, but they are located in different labs around campus. He has to frequently visit other labs to use these instruments, then download the data from them and take the data back to his “home” lab.

Paul Mischkowski

Paul's Photo


Paul graduated from the University of Cambridge’s School of Biological Sciences in 2001 where he met his wife Alice. After they were married, they packed up and headed across the pond to Boston University’s Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Biochemistry Program (MCCB) where one of the lab’s principal investigator’s shared his research interest. 2006 was a big year for Paul, as not only was his thesis published and Ph.D. granted; his wife Alice gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Eliza. He opted to stay at Boston and continue his research into the delicate proteins involved in cell mitosis as a post-doctoral researcher.


Paul has found his passion. He knows that his interest lies in this unique niche of cellular biochemistry, and he’s looking for a tenure track position at a top research university in his field where he can continue his work. In the meantime, his position as a post-doc allows him to uncover and publish more of his findings about the inner workings of cells. Hopefully, this work will set him apart from others in the field and yield a position soon.


Paul is the lead (and most senior) researcher in the lab and is in charge of setting goals and structure for the experiments and making sure that they align with the overall research goals of the lab and the lab’s principal investigator (PI). He takes this very seriously, and performs it with little oversight from the PI. He sometimes runs the experiments (especially in new work), but will often delegate repetitive tasks to more junior Ph.D. candidates so he can focus on the bigger picture.

Working Style

Calling Paul a workaholic would be something of an understatement. He logs over 80 hours a week, and has even been known to stay in the lab for days on end, grabbing what sleep he can in one of the lab’s adjoining offices during down time while waiting on his experiments to process. As the most senior researcher, new Ph.D. candidates often look him to for advice. Paul, remembering those who helped him in his early days in the program, offers it whenever he can. He is methodical and precise – often spending a good deal of extra effort to make sure the protocols he uses are well documented and in the lab’s protocol book. Paul noted that he would prefer a more standardized way of sharing protocols. He also is likely to set up his complicated experiments (or those requiring significant tweaking or multiple runs) in Excel, which allows him to reuse and alter them more easily. He acknowledges that Excel is not the best tool for the job; it would be better to have a something that shared information easily and exposed potential errors.