Heather O'Brien

Associate Professor

Research Classification

New Technology and Social Impacts
Public Communication
Media Influence on Behavior
Right and Access to Information
Impacts of New Information Technologies

Research Interests

user engagement
user experience
community engagement
information seeking and retrieval
information access
cognitive processes related to information searching and evaluation

Relevant Degree Programs


Research Methodology

questionnaire development and evaluation
search behaviour
participatory design


Doctoral students

User engagement with search systems; learning outcomes of engagement with search systems; Knowledge mobilization; community engagement; lay audience engagement with research

I support public scholarship, e.g. through the Public Scholars Initiative, and am available to supervise students and Postdocs interested in collaborating with external partners as part of their research.

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Great Supervisor Week Mentions

Each year graduate students are encouraged to give kudos to their supervisors through social media and our website as part of #GreatSupervisorWeek. Below are students who mentioned this supervisor since the initiative was started in 2017.


Heather O'Brien always makes time in her schedule for students. The best thing about her: she views our mistakes as opportunities to teach us something new. She's always positive about our work and ideas. I'm so grateful to have such an incredible advocate. #greatsupervisor #UBC


Graduate Student Supervision

Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Exploring the information contexts of young fathers in two British Columbian cities (2018)

No abstract available.

The design process: designing information technology for the public sphere (2010)

No abstract available.

Recent Tri-Agency Grants

The following is a selection of grants for which the faculty member was principal investigator or co-investigator. Currently, the list only covers Canadian Tri-Agency grants from years 2013/14-2016/17 and excludes grants from any other agencies.

  • Search as learning - UBC Humanities and Social Science (HSS) Research Fund - Faculty of Arts HSS Conference Travel Grants (2016/2017)
  • Antecedents and learning outcomes of exploratory search engagement - Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) - Insight Grants (2015/2016)
  • Antecedents and outcomes of user engagement with digital libraries - UBC Humanities and Social Science (HSS) Research Fund - VPRI Bridge Funding Program (2015/2016)
  • Evaluating user engagement with information technology - Project: AFEVAL; NGAIA; SENSE-I - Graphics, Animation and New Media (GRAND) - Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) - Research (2013/2014)



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