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Finding what she needs: Poppy Riddle

Posted by Kim Humes on May 20, 2022 in Students, Alumni & Friends
Poppy Riddle, a white woman with long grey hair that falls over one shoulder, smiles at the camera. She is wearing a floral dress and glasses.
Danny Abriel photo

Poppy Riddle is far from where she started. The leap from industrial designer in California to grad student and information researcher in Nova Scotia is a big one. But dig further and commonalities can be found. “What I really like doing is discovering things and sharing them with others,” Riddle says.   

That natural curiosity and the desire for a career change fueled the leap, which landed her in the Master of Information (MI) program at the Dalhousie School of Information Management in 2020 with the goal of becoming an academic librarian. She was also seeking a breadth of skills that are valuable in many fields and to be part of a research institution. “I wanted to understand how science communication is distributed to the world. That seemed really fascinating to me.”  

Fueling a passion

It’s as if she has been preparing for graduate studies her whole life. Growing up with an artist mom instilled in her a need to create. Her family’s frequent moves––they lived in Taiwan and Germany as well as the US––and her background as a bike racer and messenger taught her the importance of exploration and challenging her ways of knowing. The craft community gave her a mindset of sharing knowledge, techniques and materials. These experiences informed every career choice. As she began to focus more on teaching industrial design, she discovered the importance of knowledge creation and management. More specifically, she discovered a passion for creating, finding, storing and making information available to others.

The MI program fueled this passion. It also provided Riddle with access to many opportunities to create and publish research, participate in conferences, and work as a research assistant. Her thesis, “Visualizing keyword co-occurrence from two queries to aid exploratory search”, is the culmination of these opportunities. Her study presents a method for comparing commercial database queries and a visual aid to mitigate information seekers’ uncertainty during the search process. Her design background helped inform the interpretation of results, proving the benefits of interactive (as opposed to static) visualizations to users.  

Riddle clearly relishes a challenge. She had to write code for her analysis, which pushed the limits of her skills. Sometimes it did not work but she saw this as an opportunity rather than a barrier, using it to inform the next round of edits. Who knew that years spent designing and manufacturing bicycles would provide the persistence and technical mentality required to create a search aid for academic librarians?

Deep Learning

Dr. Philippe Mongeon (Assistant Professor, School of Information Management and Riddle’s thesis supervisor) confirms this: “Poppy possesses the interpersonal skills, the knowledge and the technical skills to lead ambitious projects to fruition,” he says. “Her passion for learning shines through her engagement with others and the projects she takes on. Poppy doesn’t do the minimum; she goes deep to make sure she fully grasps all the pieces and theoretical underpinnings of the problem.”  

Her thesis work has provided her direction for future research. Riddle will continue her studies in the Dalhousie Interdisciplinary PhD (IDPhD) program in the fall, where she will explore the intersection between library and information science (LIS) and human-computer interaction (HCI), with a bit of cognitive science sprinkled in. “In short, looking for information is hard and messy, and I want to develop tools that enable us to explore information in new ways.” The range of topics under the information management umbrella provides endless opportunities for exploration—the perfect fit for an investigative personality.

When asked what her biggest challenge was during her studies, Riddle cites her thesis, describing it as “exhausting and amazing at the same time.” Not surprisingly, she remained excited, curious and industrious. “I knew how to find what I needed.”