Name: Nicole Husain
Field of Work: Educational Technology
Place of Birth: Toronto
Your job title: Educational Game Designer, Spongelab Interactive
Have you ever heard of an educational game designer? Do you love playing video games? Perhaps this is a career for you!
What is an Educational Game Designer?
I work with a team of people to create online interactive educational products (games, simulations, animations) to engage students in learning about science. We focus on the high school, college, and university market, but our products are available to anyone online. I start by taking different science concepts and figuring out how to make them scientifically accurate, stunning and beautiful to look at, and fun to play!
What is a typical day like for you?
I work for a pretty small company, so one of the things I enjoy most is how different every day can be. Part of my job is managing the different projects and the people involved as we work with programmers, animators, and illustrators, to create our games. This can include: answering and sending emails, attending meetings, writing reports and budgets, as well as some sales and marketing. The main part of my day usually focuses on the different games we’re building. In any given day, I could be brainstorming ways to bring different science concepts to life, researching and creating the written content, or testing our final products.
Did you always want to be an Educational Game Designer?
No – but that is only because I didn’t even know it existed. This is a relatively new field and it wasn’t a career that existed even a few years ago. But I have been playing computer and video games since I was a kid and that turned out to be an important skill that I was able to combine with my science background.
What courses in high school prepared you for this field?
The sciences, particularly biology and chemistry.
Where did you go to university/college?
I went to the University of Toronto at Mississauga for my undergrad and then did my PhD at the St. George campus.
How did you decide where to go?
At the time, I wanted to be a forensic scientist, and UTM had the only forensic science program.
Was there extra training required for this career after you finished college/university? If so, what?
After completing my BSc I went on to do a PhD. I really enjoyed research and spent many years studying fruit flies that had vision defects. During my PhD, one of my hobbies was volunteering to do hands-on science activities in schools with the Let’s Talk Science Partnership Program and I realized that I really enjoyed talking to people about science and finding different ways to explain complicated topics in science. I would often take in little vials of different kinds of fruit flies to explain genetics to students – and one of my favourite accomplishments was having a room of 4 and 5 year olds understand my PhD research.
What is the coolest part of your job?
I think the coolest part of my job is when I get to be a ‘creative scientist.’ I get to brainstorm ways to take a science topic that is often hard to get excited about when you read about it in a textbook, like photosynthesis, and turn it into something that is fun, engaging, and interactive. Sometimes that could be a simulation or a virtual lab and other times it could be an arcade-style game.
What’s the worst part of your job?
Sometimes trying to find a bug during the testing phase of our games can take a long time and requires a lot of patience!
What’s the salary range for this particular job and field?
This ranges a lot depending on what you do, what other skills you have, and what your responsibilities are. I’d say it starts at $45,000 and goes up from there.
Ooooops! Everyone makes mistakes so what was the dumbest thing you've ever done at work?
As all of our products are online, I have to make sure that I’m uploading the correct files to the website, because once it’s live, the whole world can see it. I only uploaded the wrong file once, but luckily noticed it right away and was able to fix it ASAP.
Any advice that you would give others seeking a similar career?
This is a great career for someone who likes science and has another skill they enjoy doing. I love talking to people about science and explaining to them how science is a part of our everyday lives. Playing video or computer games is a very useful skill to have as it helps me design challenges that are fun to play – they can’t be too easy or too hard.
I also work with animators and illustrators who combine their love of science with drawing. All of our content writers have science backgrounds as well as strong written communication skills and even our sales and marketing team can have a science background. As more and more technology is being used in schools, more careers like these will become available.
What was the last book you read? Jam it or can it?
“The Hunger Games” – Jam it! It was so good I had to read the whole series right away.
What are the top 5 songs on your mp3 player?
Feel it in my bones, Tegan & Sara
The Cave, Mumford & Sons
Your English is Good, Tokyo Police Club
Dog Days Are Over, Florence & The Machine
Rolling in the deep, Adele
You just won a million dollars. What’s the first thing you’d do?
Travel – I’ve been too a lot of cool places Brazil, New Zealand, Egypt, and Dubai, but I always want to see more! I’d probably start in India - I was there last year for the first time, but it’s such a big country I’d like to see more, then work my way through Asia and South Africa.
Chose a sandwich: Peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and banana?
Peanut butter and banana all the way
What’s the all-time best movie?
A League of Their Own
Article first published May 20, 2011