Skip to main content
School of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Focus: Winter 2017

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Bridge that Builds Tufts

Professors J. P. de Ruiter and Kareem Khubchandani

by Kristin Livingston, A05

As the world is interconnected in countless ways, so are the courses, research, and ideas at Tufts. Here, on the Hill, collaboration is second nature. From symposia that span departments and clubs to late-night conversations between students from every program, when it comes to interdisciplinary opportunities, the sky's the limit. Take it from two of our professors.

Thank You, Siri
When iPhone users ask Siri a question, she doesn't answer right away. The pause can be frustrating—even causing doubt in the user's mind that Siri is even…smart. But J. P. de Ruiter, Tufts' first Bridge Professor in psychology and computer science says Siri isn't necessarily dumb: she's simply waiting for her turn.

J.P. de Ruiter,
Tufts' first Bridge Professor

"When you talk to a computer, there is always a slowness, a rubbery feeling as if trying to walk through mud," de Ruiter says. "But it is because the computers are not human. They don't gesture and have intuitive turn-taking skills. It's like Skyping with someone when there are large time delays, and the sound and image are not in sync." As we rely more heavily on artificial intelligence, he adds, social robotics research has never been more important. "A robot will never be completely human, but the more they're like us, the easier we will find it to accept them and interact with them."

De Ruiter doesn't believe in disciplinary boundaries. His specialty, psycholinguistics, defies the idea. "If we have questions," he asks, "why not seek different perspectives when researching the answer?" He's excited to work with Professor Matthias Scheutz, whom he calls an "absolute genius", in the Human-Robot Interaction Laboratory. Coming to Tufts from Bielefeld University in Germany, where he founded the Natural Communication HD Lab, de Ruiter aims to bring his background in psychology, linguistics, and computer science to bear on robotics projects.

Connections in Technicolor

Kareem Khubchandani
Mellon Bridge Assistant Professor
Kareem Khubchandani

If you look up @queerstudiestufts on Instagram, you'll find all kinds of connections: of race, gender, sexuality, pop culture, history, self-expression—ideas turned on their heads by the students in Kareem Khubchandani's Queer Studies course. If a user clicks on #arianagrande, they may find a selfie of the singer—or stumble upon one of the student's artistic posts about National Coming Out Day. "They're taking the conversation beyond the classroom, even beyond Tufts into corners of the world we can't physically reach," Khubchandani says.

The Mellon Bridge Assistant Professor in the Department of Drama and Dance and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program, Khubchandani comes to Tufts from the University of Texas, Austin, where his research focused on the theatricality that characterizes all kinds of human interactions, specifically the performance of gender and sexual orientation in emerging LGBTQ South Asian communities.

Khubchandani has been to more bars, nightclubs, and house parties than he can count, observing the inequalities and hierarchies; how displaced people join communities and build new lives far from their families, religions, and roots; how communities respond to hate crimes and aggressive behavior; how bodies literally move through the world—and express themselves on the dance floor. "The goal is to think across the social sciences and humanities in a pragmatic way," he says. "How can a study of performance help us track the larger implications of the political and economic circumstances affecting our everyday practices?"