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Melissa Cefkin August 2013

August 13, 2013

Melissa Cefkin,  IBM

Melissa Cefkin is a well known professional in the field of corporate research, specializing in workplace ethnography and services research. She holds a PhD in Anthropology, and is currently working as the Manager of Work Design Innovation at IBM’s Almaden Research Center. In addition to her work at IBM, Melissa is also president of the board for EPIC (Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference), the premier conference for ethnographic practitioners involved in business.

Melissa was already acquainted with the individuals from Intel and Microsoft who spearheaded the development of EPIC, so when they prepared to launch the first conference in 2005 and needed folks to help out, Melissa happily volunteered. Her interests already coincided greatly with those of EPIC, having worked in applied corporate contexts for over a decade, and her involvement with the organization only grew from there. EPIC, now entering its eighth year, is described by Melissa as an excellent opportunity for researchers to come together, discuss key issues within the field, and contribute to knowledge building.

The conference draws individuals with a variety of backgrounds and skill level; from seasoned professionals at big name companies like Intel, IBM, and Apple, to recent graduates and students from various universities.  Melissa explains the many new practitioners who arrive at EPIC with a traditional anthropology background arrive with an understanding that ethnography is core to their field, and will see that reflected in the conference. What EPIC may show them that is more novel and unfamiliar, is the vast array of applications for this kind of research in corporate and business settings. Melissa feels this can be eye opening, introducing these individuals to the variety of applications for ethnography outside of academia, while still addressing issues of a social/cultural nature.

For practitioners like Melissa who come from a traditional anthropological background but have interests beyond Academia, EPIC offer a great opportunity for exposure to alternative work environments. She strongly encourages students and newbies to the field to participate in the conference, which for some could be a first time glance at how much work goes on in corporate and business contexts. It can expose individuals to the different ways ethnographers apply knowledge, and if your goal is to be active in these kinds of business settings in the future, this is a great place to find out what the issues are and where the challenges lie.

EPIC 2013 is being held in London at the Royal Institute of Great Britain from September 15-18. More information can be found at:http://epiconference.com/

“The Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference (EPIC) illuminates social phenomena through theory and practice.  We explore, debate, and engage knowledge production in the digital age. While business is a primary context for this activity, the effects of ethnographic work are far-reaching. EPIC is committed to the view that theory and practice inform one another, and that through our work in a range of settings, we transform industry and the world.”

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