Editor’s note: This story is part of ‘Meet a UChicagoan,’ a regular series focusing on the people who make UChicago a distinct intellectual community. Read about the others here.
Marshini Chetty wasn’t always sure what she wanted to be, but she knew she wanted to see the world.
“Travel broadens my worldview and makes me appreciative of different perspectives,” she said. Now an assistant professor in the computer science department at the University of Chicago, Chetty grew up in South Africa and attended college at the University of Cape Town.
Originally, she had planned to study medicine, but the spark just wasn’t there. “Computing sounded really interesting,” said Chetty, “and I knew that I could travel with it, so I tried it out.”
Despite not yet knowing how to code, Chetty found natural passion and talent as a computer science major. “I liked it a lot, and I was very good at it,” she said. “So I thought: how can I do more of this?”
It was then that she found what would become her life-long academic endeavor: “I was introduced to human-computer interaction, and that’s when the fire was really lit in me. Human-computer interaction is the art of designing technology that can integrate well into people’s everyday lives.”
A nomadic journey
That fire served as fuel for her to chase this newfound passion around the world. After graduating from the University of Cape Town with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science, she won a Fulbright scholarship to study in the United States, a ticket to a land of new experiences on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Chetty enrolled in a computer science Ph.D. program at Georgia Institute of Technology, where she continued studying human-computer interaction. During her time as a doctoral student, she also explored research in the tech industry. “I interned three times at Microsoft Research in the UK, in South Africa, and at their office in Seattle. I also had the opportunity to intern at IBM Research in New York,” she said.
Not only did this provide Chetty with more chances to travel, it exposed her to what human-computer interaction research looked like in a different setting. “I really enjoyed it, but I just liked academia more,” she said, noting that she values working with students and having the freedom to pursue a research agenda of her own making.
After earning her Ph.D., Chetty continued on with postdoctoral research at Georgia Tech, then back home in Cape Town, before joining the ranks at the University of Maryland as a faculty member. She moved to Princeton a few years later and, in the summer of 2019, finally found a home in the UChicago computer science department.
A self-proclaimed “unintentional nomad,” Chetty’s travels have shaped her identity as a computer scientist for the better. “I can appreciate different ways of doing things,” she said. “That makes me a better collaborator, as well as a better colleague.”