Time is Marching On: A 4 Q 2021 Update

While the original intent of this blog was to catalog the first years of my PhD Distance Learning Experience, I have returned now well into my penultimate year to provide a much-needed update. If not for any other reason, I needed a break from statistical analyses and am now prepared to take stock of what’s been accomplished during the last 18 months…

  • A little more than a year ago, and following my MPhil/PhD Upgrade, I accepted two posts at UCL including a PGTA to the Digital Media Masters Students Programme and a Content Developer for the EdD Education Programme. Both were incredibly gratifying and I was able to contribute, particularly leveraging my previously honed at-distance skills that came in handy when helping others migrate to new ways of learning and instruction online. After all, no one knew in 2018 of the coming pandemic.
  • Both PGTA and CD roles enabled me to pursue and receive Associate Fellowship in the Higher Education Academy (AFHEA, Advanced HE) from February, 2021.  Since that time, I’ve been fortunate to be welcomed as a Full Fellow of the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) and an Impact Fellow at UCL’s Institute of Healthcare Engineering (IHE).
  • On the research front, I’ve completed the design, pilot, production and data collection for the SensorAble project. I am “well down the road” regarding data analysis and have started to author my materials, including both the Methods and Results section for both my Dissertation and Journal Articles. I’ve also presented my findings at both UCL’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience Development Diversity Lab and at the University of Cambridge Cognition Education and Emotion Lab.
  • I am motivated to begin helping shape Public Policy by contributing on both sides of the Atlantic. This includes building upon my recent appointment as Chairperson for the Center for Autistic and Related Disabilities (CARD) at Florida Atlantic University, and in authoring forthcoming POSTNotes on invisible disabilities to Parliament. I’ll be making applications for various grants (small pots of money!) to help contribute to shining a light on neurodiversity issues relating to sensory, attention and anxiety at both HEI, employment and social venues.
  • Last summer, I began shifting my focus from doctoral training to cognitive and human computer interaction (HCI) knowledge building. The latter is now begin to catch up to the former as my research was decidedly less technologically oriented in the earlier phases. I am now happily exploring Open Learner Models, artificial intelligence, machine learning, multimodal learning analytics, etc.
  • As I look to publish my first journal article, I have participated in numerous conferences and continue to increase my communication and dissemination skills. Four OSF Pre-prints are now registered and available on GoogleScholar, ResearchGate, UCL Explore, and elsewhere.  I even managed to complete a peer review for an  article on behalf of my supervisor Sarah White, and also assisted my other supervisor Joni Holmes in editing her journal article.

There’s much more planned for the remainder of the next phase of my journey (i.e., the upcoming 18 months prior to defending my dissertation). It is my fervent hope that I will include these benchmarks in coming posts. For now…stay safe, healthy and enjoy the holidays!

Happy New Year!

It certainly seems a bit hollow using the title above given all that many of us face in our world today. Whether you’re affected by the pandemic, political, racial re-awakening, climate issue, etc., I can only hope that we are all nearing the end of troubling tunnels and heading into lighter and more positive times.

As with our lives, one chapter closes and another begins. So it is with the SensorAble project.

As 2020 came to a close, my research is nearing completion of phase one (the Public Participant Information study–PPI) and the second phase (Sensory-Attention-Anxiety experiments–SAS-II) commences.

black vintage typewriter

I am hoping to begin publishing some emerging outputs and statistical results from the PPI in the coming year. I will be identifying the lived-experience data obtained from my study participants (N=196) along with the statistical analyses and implications this has in relation to a development of a solution to address multimodal distractibility, anxiety and attentional focus.

Further, one of the labs I participate in (UCL’s Development Diversity Lab–DDL) will be extending my PPI beyond neurodiverse individuals to include neurotypical (NT) participants. Stay tuned to this space if you’d like to be considered for this upcoming study.

SAS-II is already well underway having moved into coding and pre-test mode. I intend on further testing throughout the next 90 days and launching a recruitment strategy for both autistic and NT individuals. Likewise…keep your eyes on this space if you’re inclined to help design and test the future of sensory technologies.

cup of aromatic cappuccino with thank you words on foam
Photo by wewe yang on Pexels.com

I’d like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who has helped out thusfar with my research including my esteemed supervisors Professor Kaśka Porayska-Pomsta, Drs Sarah White and Joni Holmes. There’s not a better trio of rock-stars on the planet, and I am honored to retain your guidance and friendshop. My two research assistants (Anushay Mazhar and Oonagh Coleman) have been incredibly kind and are beyond brilliant! Of course, my lab colleagues at UCL’s Knowledge Lab (KL), the aforementioned DDL and University of Cambridge’s Cognition, Education and Emotion Lab (CEE) which is part of the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit. I wish all 0f you, along with my dearest family and friends, a bright new year filled with health, happiness and prosperity.

Peace and love,


Upgrade Done!


Since enrolling as an MPhil/PhD full-time, distance learning, research student at University College London (UCL) way back (?) in June 2019, every day has been in service for this moment…the Mini Viva or Upgrade to full PhD status.

I have been brilliantly guided by my tutors, lecturers, administrators, colleagues, lab-mates, family and of course supervisors along this path and I feel well prepared for the moment at hand. Too, I feel relatively calm and eager to share my progress to date; however, I am more interested in learning and receiving guidance from my illustrious panel with regard to modifications, corrective measures and recommendations going forward.

In many respects, my primary supervisor, Prof Kaśka Porayksa-Pomsta, has all but telegraphed the primary concerns related to my proposed research from the very beginning; that is:

  • My metamorphosis from entrepreneur to academic (researcher) is something that must be contended with, as the two camps are both decidedly different and must be respected.
  • My desire to develop prototypes in favor of harvesting theoretical and computational underpinnings in support of an assistive technology must be well-tempered.
  • The scope of my research is enough to fill multiple doctoral thesis and thus must be narrowed, and then narrowed again (and again, and perhaps again a few more times).

As such, both Kaśka and I fully expect the Upgrade Panel to quickly discover these point, hone in on them, and help me “tease out” those important concepts of my last year in hopes to convey my understanding, appreciation and preparation to complete my thesis within these boundaries and within the ascribed timeframe.

Over-engineering my responses

From the onset of my presentation, which Kaśka later reported was the most concise, comfortable and compelling she has heard me convey, I felt a level of authenticity from my panel. They too indicated that the slides well-attended to my rationale, methods and data collection and that my training, preparation and desire to contribute to academic knowledge was noteworthy.

The panels questions and comments were incredibly thought-provoking, so much so, that I had to ask for clarification on two separate occasions due, not to an error in listening-skills, but to a confusion about how to best address the answers to meet the query.

In one particular example, and largely because I had spent so much time preparing my defense relating to ontological, epistemological and theoretical positioning and frameworks, I almost over-engineered my response when a considerably more simple answer would have sufficed. I fear I may have tripped over my delivery in this section only (!), as I could feel my brain shifting from a considerably higher gear at tremendous RPM, into a considerably more comfortable transmission mode that allowed me to relax into the matter at hand.

I told you so…

And as we neared the apex of the defense, both panel members gently guided me to my state my resolve around the scope of the project. From the onset, I stated my appreciation for shifting from entrepreneurial to academic positioning, toward eschewing a randomized control trial of a prototype to a more theoretical/computational approach and to continually narrow the breadth of modalities to half a handful of study.

And this was the primary lesson…my understanding of the narrowing and how I would go about this was still, perhaps, not direct and concise enough (yet)! In addition to several poignant examples of how my design methods could be further simplified (e.g. considerations of Wizard of Oz methodology were brought to light), the permission for me to select one modality (borne perhaps of my currently concluded data gathering/research/PPI) might enable me to effectuate study of one type of stimuli (e.g. sonic, optic or interoceptive GSR)…but only one!

And with that, I nodded again to my supervisor who was (up until this point) silently taking notes, camera and microphone off, and–no doubt–wagging her finger at the camera knowing all the time that she had “told me so”.

Once I had finished acknowledging that I had been advised of this, Kaśka gently (magically!) appeared on camera with the widest of smile and stated the same. It was actually a very lovely and touching moment…one that I shall not forget…as it placed a cherry atop of the whipped cream of my now fully assembled and soon to be complete upgrade.

The next best thing…

And while I had been longing two carry this process out face-to-face in Bloomsbury, this would not be the case owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the end, and despite some of the technical glitches I had heard transpired from other friends and colleagues with their upgrades and presentations, I was grateful to have had this unique, online mini-viva. My panel was generous with their time, effort and genuine interest and I was pleased with the outcome.

That is: I passed!

Funny how in the entrepreneurial world, the words “passed” connote a pejorative meaning. I much rather prefer the academic version and am pleased to be jumping into the deep end now of scholarly work.

As Kaśka mentioned whilst we were awaiting the panel’s decision: “We will make a researcher out of you yet. I am quite proud of you!”

And that was, of course, music to my ears.

Pre-Prints For Your Consideration

Research Gate - David Ruttenberg Pre-prints
Four initial pre-prints offered for your review and comments.

Since late 2019 and through the more recent months, I have had the pleasure of finally memorializing some of my research and resultant studies in four (4) pre-print articles.

And while these articles have not yet a home in a peer-reviewed journal, I am offering links to them here for your reading pleasure. These drafts are, of course, subject to edit and modifications, so please be gentle with your comments (which are, of course, encouraged).

You can access the articles here. Please feel free either reading these online or downloading them at your leisure.



End 2Q 2020 Update

Greetings from the laboratory (stateside that is)! There is much to report regarding my PhD research. I will use this blog post to provide a “laundry list” of items that describe how I have been spending my time:

I. Training

A. Amazingly, all doctoral training has been completed! Mind you, I am still enrolling for many additional courses; however, the core requirements for the degree are “in the can”! I am thrilled to have been putting much of what was conveyed to good use.

B. I recently enrolled in a variety of support modules ranging from formatting your thesis to manipulating qualitative software to overcoming COVID-19 issues. All have been incredibly informative and I look forward to leveraging these techniques in the coming weeks.

II. Data collection

SensorAble Image

A. A huge thank you to each and every participant who contributed to the SensorAble focus groups and/or online surveys. Though I was sad not to be able to meet with you face-to-face (owing to the pandemic), it was wonderful to meet, greet, smile and converse online. I have made many new friends in the process, learned so much from all of you, and want you to know that you are appreciated beyond measure!

B. Transcriptions of all online videos, scrubbing of both qualitative data and quantitative data is now complete. They have been safely and securely archived and stored away on the UCL’s servers, whilst analysis is now just commencing and the data looks incredibly interesting. There are indeed many surprises, particularly those that break gender boundaries with regard to distractibility, focus and anxiety! I am looking forward to sharing everything, once I have confirmed the results.

III. MPhil/PhD Upgrade

A. I am delighted to report that the my first, annual progress report has been filed. A special thanks to my Primary Supervisor and Head of Knowledge Lab Departmental Research Director Professor Kaśka Porayska-Pomsta for her keen guidance and suggestions).

Thanks also to my UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience Secondary Supervisor Dr Sarah White for her continued support relating to my preparation for the forthcoming upgrade.

I had a delightful online chat with my esteemed supervisor from University Cambridge Neuroscience, Dr Joni Holmes. It was wonderful finally meeting her face-to-face, albeit through the camera lens. We are synchronized with UCL and looking forward to a four-way meeting in early June.

B. And speaking of which, I am thrilled to announce that that upgrade will take place sometime on 15 July 2020 with Drs Sveta Mayer and Manolis Mavrikis comprising my panel. I have received final edits on my Upgrade Report and am finalizing my Presentation as I type this. I certainly look forward to communicating the outcome and results in a future blog post.

III. Conferences

A. And speaking of communicating, I am delighted to have made three attempts at submitting abstracts to discuss my research at forthcoming virtual conferences.

For now, I can report a variety of successful presentations at both the Developmental Diversity Lab (DDL) at UCL’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience (actually my third presentation since enrollment). Tomorrow, I will have completed my first presentation detailing my Participant Public Information studies to the Knowledge Lab (my other home away from home laboratory). I am looking forward to having the opportunity to let everyone know what I have been up to.

Finally, I am delighted to report that I was the lead-off speaker at UCL Centre for Doctoral Education’s Summer 2020 Conference. Whilst this was an online conference, the recording of my and other speakers presentations was delightfully received and the ability to speak to an online audience and participate in questions, answers and comments was most welcoming.

Signing Off For Now

I will be in regular communication this summer once Upgrade, Presentation and Conference season winds down. In the meantime, if you have any comments or questions, please do get in touch. I would be delighted to hear from you.

SensorAble Participant Public Information Studies Now Closed

Thank you
I am pleased to report that both the SensorAble Online Focus Group and Surveys are now completed. Thanks to everyone who provided their incredible participation, guidance and kindness.
SensorAble Online Survey
Your support may lead to the development of theory and research that just might make the world a little less distracting and anxiety-producing for the neurodiverse.
SensorAble Focus Group

Stay tuned to this space as I continue to scrub the data, and provide updates on what the research yields. Baby steps initially, leading to the development of my PhD thesis and hopefully some tangible results that provide autonomy, greater participation and comfort at both school, work and other venues.

Thank you and please stay safe and well during these most unusual times.

SensorAble Online Survey Now Open!


For those of you interested in taking part in the first phase of the SensorAble Study…

If you’re ages 15-54 and have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder or identify as Autistic, the Focus Group portion of enrollment is now completed. However…

limited number of paid positions in the online Survey are still available by clicking here.

This project is co-produced with other individuals like you in order to understand their/your lived experiences and then create a wearable prototype. The prototype aims to limit and filter unwanted sensory-stimuli and deliver early-warning alerts of distracting and anxiety-producing events.

To join, you will need to confirm that you are:

  • 15-54 years of age and have access to the internet.
  • Able to complete an online survey.

I look forward to hearing from you!

A portion of the SensorAble Focus Group is funded through Facilitation of Participant Public Information (PPI) under the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) in conjunction with a partnership between UCL, University College London Hospitals Biomedical Research Centre and the NHS Foundation Trust (reference: BRC743/DR/104990). The remainder of the study is not associated with any external organising and/or funding association and is self-funded by the researcher.

NHS Logo UCLH and NHS Foundation Trust.   UCL Logo

MPhil to PhD Upgrade

Nothing marks the first year of doctoral training quite like one’s preparation for The Upgrade. It actually sounds like a made-for-television special or even an independent film. Needless to say, it is more assuredly neither.

From my perspective, it has been business as usual. I have been preparing for upgrade wholeheartedly for no less than six months. Now that I am approaching my twelfth month, an having completed three years of required training last month (in one year no less!), I am fully devoting my energies to all things upgrade.

In actuality, this is not completely true. For the past two weeks, I’ve also been knee-deep in starting my  research from a data collection via multiple online focus groups, transcriptions and starting to tag text within my qualitative software application for analysis. Oh yes, literature searching continues unabated as well.

However, for the purposes of this blog post…I shall pretend that I have only those concerns relating to casting of the MPhil shackles and becoming a full-fledged PhD…all made possible by The Upgrade.

And what of these shackles, anyway? Depending upon whom you speak with, the MPhil process is shroud in much mystique and sine qua non. There are others, considerably more experienced than I who will tell you that “the Upgrade is nothing but a formality, a bunch of tick-boxes put in place to prevent the University and student from failing one another”.

Wait a minute…failure?!?!

“Not to worry!” my informant suggests. “It merely ensures essentials such as your ability to speak English, write appropriately, ascribe to a timetable, and produce research that is not underwhelming in scope or unimaginably impossible to complete. You’ll have no problem…I wouldn’t worry.”

Which, of course, sets worry in to motion.

Being the A+ type multiplied by infinity personality-type that I am (e.g. aggressive, ambitious, controlling, highly competitive, preoccupied with success, workaholic and lack of patience), I begin to sweat even more of the details of something that I have been preparing for…seemingly for…for…forever!.

It was with great desire, then, that I obtain guidance from my supervisors in order to best develop an upgrade roadmap avoiding, at all cost, a road to perdition. So with that, I await feedback regarding my Upgrade Report, so that I may carve out a compelling Google Sheets Presentation.

And yet, I am already aware that there is a good portion of my Upgrade Report (that will appear within said presentation) that will now likely never become actionable.


Owing to COVID-19, those myriad face-to-face focus groups, surveys, questionnaires and trials of pilot technologies requiring in-person activities must now all be (and some already have been) migrated online. In fact, the overall tenor of the proposed research has taken on less of a prototyping, engineering vantage point. These modifications have occurred in favour of those that are considerably more scientific and proof of concept/research.

In modulating the original plan, the idea now is that a post-doc may result in a more engineering-funded objective leading to prototype development. All of this hinges upon a PhD with substantial research that is compelling  to attract funding and sponsorship. And the road to PhD, at least today, travels through…you guessed it:

The Upgrade!

At least this is what my esteemed supervisors are suggesting. And that which I am completely trusting in as the end-game result. So with keyboard in hand, I await my monthly supervisory meeting taking place in less than one week. I’m hopeful that my Upgrade Report meets with approval, that my presentation may reflect that which is within the report, and that my Upgrade Panel, Upgrade Appointment and all associated departmental paperwork is “in the works”.

Fingers crossed. We shall see within a week’s time.

Research in the Age of COVID-19

While the rest of the world contends with migrating from their classrooms, laboratories and offices to their residential “stand-ins”, academia in my environment has remained largely consistent.

In particular, my doctoral research has culminated into the production of four draft reports, all of which are giving way to a shift from coursework to purer research outcome. These last two weeks, for example, have been spent provisioning focus group (N=15) and questionnaire/survey (N=150) for the SensorAble project.

Face-to-Face…no longer

However, what were once intended to be a series of face-to-face appointments both in the United Kingdom and here in Florida, all data collection has now migrated fully to the ether…whereby all meetings and research occur online.

The transition has been a rather smooth one, owing in large part to my 14-month immersion as an online doctoral student. While working fully “at distance”, my familiarity with deploying and collecting information via the internet has been rather customary; moreover, I am delighted to say enjoyable.

Online, group-think

Too, and as a board of governance member, post-graduate research instructor, Student Trustee, and member of two academic laboratories at University–all have embedded the requisite know-how and confidence to carry out online, group-think and administrative sessions.

So with that, SensorAble research commenced today with Focus Groups split into smaller, manageable sessions of 2-3 participants max. The next two weeks are nearly fully booked, and if today’s session is any indication…there are many surprises, confirmations and wondrous relationships to be developed.

Participatory Co-Design In Action

Thus far, co-design, candid conversation and critical exploration of the lived-experience, thoughts and opinions of at-risk individuals autistic adolescents and adults have gone extremely well. Activities including recruitment, ethics consultations, consent, authentic involvement and post-mortem dialogue– all have yielded superlative feedback.

As these days pass, I will be scrubbing videos for pertinent and instructive moments, transcriptions and coding data that bear fruit in support of research questions and hypotheses…all in order to analyse, uncover trends and discover proper languaging and designs of the follow-on survey/questionnaires. The focus group participants have been largely responsible for providing exemplary “pearls” and I am eager to begin sharing their incredible insight with others.