Electric Dreams with Holly Witteman

We’re delighted to welcome our next curator, Dr Holly Witteman (@hwitteman ) to Real Scientists! Dr Witteman is an Associate Professor in the Department of

Dr. Holly Witteman enjoying a Canadian winter (C)

Dr. Holly Witteman enjoying a Canadian winter (C)

Family & Emergency Medicine, Université Laval (Laval University), Quebec City, Canada. Quebec City is traditional territory of the Huron-Wendat, Abenaki, Wabanaki Confederacy, Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet) & Haudenosaunee peoples. She directs the research unit within the Faculty of Medicine’s Office of Education and Professional Development. She is also a scientist at the Research Centre of the CHU de Québec-Université Laval, at the new Institute of Primary Care Research affiliated with Laval University, and an Affiliate Investigator at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Ottawa, Canada, traditional Algonquin territory. Holly’s research is about the design and evaluation of digital and other media in health decision making, specializing in human-computer interaction in health education, risk communication and decision making, including design methods to support inclusive user- and patient-centeredness. So, if you have questions about the interface of tech and patient care, this is the week to ask those questions you’ve been waiting to ask! Here’s how Holly ended up in science.


I never planned to become a scientist. My undergraduate degree was in mathematics and mechanical engineering because I liked math and I thought an engineering degree would help me get a steady job. I discovered human factors engineering while working as an engineer in industry. One of my assigned projects at work was to help design and build a switch actuator that mimicked the motion of a human arm. This would allow us to test large switches more accurately. As I took part-time courses at night, I found that human decision making was even more interesting than the human arm, and I set off to learn more about human-computer interaction. I finally decided to jump into the deep end by leaving my job and starting graduate school full time. It was a very big, very scary gamble.


My work is extremely interdisciplinary. It sits at the intersections of human-computer interaction, human factors engineering, social sciences, and health services research. I study how to better adapt digital health education and digital health decision support tools to the people who will use them. This brings together a lot of different fields.


My work is about figuring out how to design digital health tools that are adapted to the people who will use them, rather than expecting people to adapt to tools. Tools can be things like ways to present health risks or websites to support health decisions.


My work is about helping people make the best possible health decisions for themselves, their families and/or their communities. The best decisions are those that are informed by the best available evidence (presented in a way that intuitively makes sense to people) and aligned with what matters to the people affected by the decision. I think the lay public should care about my research because nearly all of us make decisions about our health at some point in our lives.


Extra curriculars? I have two kids and a time-consuming chronic illness (type 1 diabetes) so those are about all the obligations I can handle right now!


In the winter, my ideal day off involves being outside in the snow doing some combination of snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or downhill skiing. In the summer, swap those activities for hiking or canoeing.


Please welcome Holly to Real Scientists!



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