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The comforting warmth of logic – Professor Jessica Hsiaofen Chen

publish date : 2022/11/24

In Taiwan, mobile coverage is so prevalent that one can humble brag on social media about "just conquered the nation's tallest peak today ✌ 🚩" upon scaling the 3,952-meter Yushan, or Jade Mountain.

In the ever-interconnected Taiwanese society, people are only one moment away from sharing something new through apps and social networks. This "mobile moment" is what intrigues Professor Jessica Hsiaofen Chen (陳小芬), an expert in the practical and predictive applications of information management with National Chi Nan University.

Her 2018 study proposes three types of mobile value – hedonic, utilitarian, and sociability – to use for measuring users' perceptions of image-based apps. Her report on what impacts user satisfaction and long-term behavior, including specific strategies for payment methods and operation models, was published in "Electronic Commerce Research and Applications (ECRA), " a scientific publication with an impact factor (IF) of 6.014.

After being named "Best Reviewer" in 2019 by ECRA, Chen accepted the position of deputy chief editor of the magazine. The NCNU professor has extensive editorial experience, including a concurrent position as deputy chief editor of the "Journal of Information Management (資管學報) " published by the Taipei-based Chinese Society of Information Management (CSIM, 中華民國資訊管理學會). She enjoys working with such editorial communities and the insights gleamed from reviewing the latest research reports.

Human-centric technology

"No social issue is one-sided," she explains. When it comes to arguments between engineers and management, Chen believes that book-based theories aside, it all comes down to "the human factor" at the end of the day. Knowledge has always been wealth, but in this era of information overload, the real challenge is the smart consumption and correct evaluation of data.

"Integration may be important, but the information itself remains paramount," stresses Chen, adding that information systems are essential tools for corporate and public governance, as such systems were established to help resolve issues in society.

The "mask map" that reflects real-time face mask stocks in pharmacies and convenient stores across the country, as well as the national vaccination booking app that allows users to choose their preferred vaccine type and time on a phone, are both stellar examples of how well-designed systems accurately deliver information to user-end and maker-end, she states.

At NCNU, the Department of Information Management falls under the College of Management because of its humanistic focus. The professor stresses that "our philosophy prioritizes people over technology." Because of the demands and trends identified by data, everyday items like washing machines and point-and-shoot cameras were invented to simplify tasks and make more tools available to the public.

Moreover, "technology is shaped by human nature." In decision-making, strategy is formed through the evaluation of each step and unit involved. So information management studies actually encompass courses from the NCNU College of Management in sales and marketing, business and political studies, and accounting, as well as information technology and programming classes from the NCNU College of Science and Technology.

As for her teaching philosophy? "Do the right thing, do the thing right." The professor greets new students each year with an introduction to the importance of identifying that right thing before decisions are made, because otherwise all the effort and resources that come after will be devoted to, well, the wrong thing.

Work-life balance
As a research-oriented individual, Chen explains that she has been the overthinking type since childhood, guided by an almost obsessive personality when it comes to exploring her areas of passion. She completed her doctoral track in information technology at an urban Taiwanese university, enduring a high-stress environment for six years. Upon starting a new stage in life on a different, greener campus, the professor has remained with NCNU since. It's the scenery, she says, the people, and their collective vision for the future.

"There is a critical component when it comes to work: you have to like the place you're working at, otherwise the arrangement won't last." At the start of her NCNU appointment, she commuted between Taipei and Puli, spending only the weekends in the northern capital city with her husband and kids. "That was exceptionally hard, to not be there for my kids each step of the way." Hers is a common story among Taiwan's women professionals.

Those days burdened by the bureaucratic and tenure pressures of being an assistant professor were accompanied by late-night research, culminating in 24-hour workdays and equation-filled restless sleep. She combated fatigue with sheer determination.

Time strengthened her resolve and she now moves at a tempo compatible with both career and family expectations. At Puli, she has carved out her own space, independently facing students and colleagues. At Taipei, she is daughter-in-law, wife, mother. These roles no longer clash now that she's in command of herself.

Passion-driven education

To maintain a heightened degree of passion over an extended period of time is hard. Chen was full of dreams when she began her career in public education at NCNU, but the twin duties of research and classroom instruction were fraught with challenges.

"To an athlete, the Olympics represent the ultimate honor, goal; the research equivalent is the Nobel Prize." In her foray into institutional economics, Chen acquainted herself with the text of masters, and avowed to begin her own odyssey in attempt to reach that Norwegian altar. She couldn't help but fancy that perhaps one of her students could attain such caliber after much strenuous training and nurturing, of course.

Alas, dismay at the quality of student reports received one month into her teaching position sent her tumbling through a night of doubt. She still remembers how the frustration drove her to reflect upon her own conduct, overshadowed by the feeling of inability to reach her students.

"It's not like I lose sleep over them anymore," Chen says with a chuckle. Instead, she goes on hiking trips and food expeditions with them. As a mother, her maternal qualities carry over into her teaching. Yet she feels the NCNU spirit fosters a close kinship among most students and their instructors. She recalls one incident where her students comforted her with dinner after a proposal was denied; it's that kind of genuine interaction and care that makes a career like hers rewarding.

"We often say, mothers have the right to be themselves, to possess themselves. But a lot of time, our 'self' is just a construct molded by those it was created to please." Job passion is hard to sustain, and all teachers now have to compete against games, mobile apps, Netflix, and other worthy distractions. This led her to ponder: what is the true value of a university professor in times like these?

Online resources largely aggregate knowledge from databases of past examination records, succinctly summarizing themes and concepts and ranking questions from intermediary to advanced. How does one differentiate teaching from reviewing?

Professor Chen believes that a teacher's role extends beyond disseminating knowledge, that the end-goal is to promote independent thinking and self-driven learning, because the road past graduation is lined with unsolicited and unexpected challenges. "No matter my age, I will always want to bring the best educational experience to all students who choose to spend four years with us."

Evoking the saying of "it takes a good horsemaster to train a gifted stallion," the professor concludes that since serendipity has paired teacher with student, the time shared should be used to support each other's academic development and personal growth.



Professor Jessica Hsiaofen Chen
Professor Jessica Hsiaofen Chen
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