Faculty profile: Professor Kelly Lyons
Professor Kelly Lyons teaches and conducts researches at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information (iSchool). Her expertise lies in the area of information systems, media and design. Among other things, she is currently studying ways in which social media can support human‐to‐human interactions in service systems.
Lyons was initially attracted to the computing and information science field because it allowed her to do two of the things she greatly enjoys: problem-solving, and traveling the world.
Kelly is currently studying ways in which social media can support human‐to‐human interactions in service systems.
“Writing and debugging really hard programs in my second year was the most fun for me. The harder the problem, the more satisfying it was,” she says.
Lyons holds a BSc, MSc, and a PhD in Computing and Information Science from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
The IBM years
Kelly joined IBM after her undergraduate degree, and worked there in various capacities for over two decades. As Program Director of IBM Toronto Lab Centre for Advanced Studies (CAS), she was responsible for roughly 60 applied collaborative university research projects, 100 visiting academic researchers, and CASCON – a major international general computer science conference hosted in Canada, attended by over 1500 people every year.
As Program Director of IBM Toronto Lab Centre for Advanced Studies (CAS), she was responsible for roughly 60 applied collaborative university research projects, 100 visiting academic researchers, and CASCON.
Her collaborative projects were in areas such as data management, collaboration, distance education, privacy, social computing, and service science. Other projects included the Virtual Workplace for Multidisciplinary Education, Privacy in e-Commerce, and Self-managing Management Database Systems.
Under Lyons, CAS Toronto won the prestigious NSERC Synergy Award for Innovation, Leo Derikx category, for “an established innovative model of long-standing university-industry partnership in pre-competitive R & D that has improved the general well-being of an industry”.
Moving to academia
"I joined IBM right after my undergrad, but I knew I wanted to be an academic,” says Lyons. She left IBM several times while pursuing her MSc and PhD, and after having children, returned and remained there for the next 13 years. One day, she realized that “I had spent half my life with IBM! I decided academia was now or never.”
In January 2008, she accepted a position as associate professor at the iSchool.
Kelly explains that most of her career has been spent bridging the gap between industry and academia. “The most important thing is to bring people together to define problems that are important from an academic perspective and interesting from the perspective of industry” she reflects. “It is a challenging but rewarding activity to define problems that satisfy both.”
Women in technology
Throughout her industry and academic careers, Kelly has been a strong advocate for women in technology. Most recently, she was co-chair of the regional Ontario conference – Ontario Celebration on Women in Computing (ONCWIC 2011), held at the University of Toronto.
"We must ensure that the gender balance of the scientists making and influencing these transitions reflects the gender balance of the population."
“When I was an undergraduate computer science major, 40% of my graduating class were women. Now these numbers are less than 15%,” she says. She attributes the decreasing numbers to the fact that “few female role models exist in the field, making it difficult for young women to imagine themselves in these positions”.
She continues, “We must ensure that the gender balance of the scientists making and influencing these transitions reflects the gender balance of the population.” Efforts to create a gender balance in this field have occurred through outreach and mentoring programs where women technologists “share their passion for their work with young people.”
In addition to being an advocate for women in this field, Kelly uses her role as an instructor to motivate young people, and stimulate their interest in information systems careers. She has given several presentations to young people and teachers on this topic.
Teaching philosophy & practices
Kelly has several teaching goals, ones that she deems necessary for ensuring student success.
She states, “My goal is to build on my mentoring, leadership, practical, and research experience; ground my teaching in learner-focused values; and, provide learning experiences for students that take advantage of the multi-disciplinary aspect of the Faculty, the diversity of the student interests, and the fact that they are in a professional masters program situated within a research Faculty.”
She challenges students to set their own learning objectives, learn how to articulate their goals, and reflect on their learning outcomes, in order to help develop future work strategies.
She sets out to provide students with meaningful lectures and readings, and includes hands-on activities, in order to ground theory in practice. Kelly places value on independent as well as collaborative learning in her courses. She challenges students to set their own learning objectives, learn how to articulate their goals, and reflect on their learning outcomes, in order to help develop future work strategies.
She believes that it is important for her students to “see and respect the different perspectives of classmates” , and to understand how “the diverse backgrounds that students bring to the program, and the different goals they have professionally, [can] enhance their own learning”.
Kelly recognizes that pedagogical methods continually evolve. She looks forward to consulting with experts in order to review and update her teaching philosophies and practices.