Published 10 August 2020

An interview with Evelyn Tan

Tell us about your link with the University. What course are you doing?

I’m a PhD research student at the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Intelligent Games and Game Intelligence (IGGI) at the University of York. 

Prior to starting my PhD I worked at a number of HR/technology companies specialising in VR training and AI-guided team coaching. Most of the companies were start-ups and it was a really exciting, cutting-edge environment to be a part of but I felt there was so much more that I needed to know. I decided to do a PhD because I wanted to learn more and develop my skills before going back into industry.

I chose to study at the University of York specifically because of the IGGI programme and the calibre of supervisors on the course.

What do you like most about being at the university as a PhD student?

I like the freedom to explore and to feed my curiosity without having to perform to anyone else’s expectations. 

I really like that I get to decide what ideas to investigate. The risk of failure is high but the consequences are low and the support of my supervisors and peers at the University provides a great environment in which to learn.

The University also has a really good range of skills and expertise especially when it comes to games research and psychology, which is where my PhD research sits in between.

Tell us about your PhD research project?

My research focuses on team dynamics and what makes teams work well together. I’m specifically interested in where the team is both effective and enjoyable for members to be a part of.

Most of the time, when people talk about team success they talk about what the team was able to achieve. People don’t tend to talk about how the team members feel. For example, do they enjoy being a part of the team, are they satisfied, do they want to return?

I’m interested in how we create a team that people want to come back to, not only because the team performed well, but because the members enjoyed interacting with each other.

My research examines digital games teams in competitive esports including Dota 2, League of Legends and Overwatch. These are all highly team oriented games with all the stresses and challenges of working together. When good teamwork happens in those contexts it’s something quite beautiful and rare.

I want to find out why a bunch of strangers with no prior relationship and who won’t see each other again, come together and do really well.

And what about life as a PhD student? What does it entail? 

Unsurprisingly, I play a lot of games! As I’m doing games research I play with a different view to how I played before starting my PhD. I subconsciously test my own assumptions about how a team should work.

I also do a lot of reading and enjoy delving into literature and papers to find out more about a question I’ve thought of, such as how a team communicates.

I have a lot of meetings because I think that conversation is good to stimulate and develop ideas. Life as a PhD student provides such a free reign environment that it’s good to gain other people’s perspectives on my ideas, some of which can seem quite crazy! 

I enjoy talking to lots of different people including my supervisors, my PhD peers, people from other institutions and also people from industry. I think it’s really important to stay relevant to both academia and industry.

What advice do you have for incoming PhD students? 

Remember your PhD is what you make it. You’ll never get this time again to decide what you want to do with each day and explore so many new ideas. Make sure you really enjoy what you do! And if you don’t like what you’re doing, change topics!