Jenny Barrett, a senior research programmer in the department of psychology, began her career with the university in 1988 at the Computer Education Research Lab and transferred to the department of psychology in 1993. Barrett earned a bachelor’s degree with dual majors in psychology and history from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She also holds two master’s degrees: one in computer science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as well as one in history from Northern Illinois University.
What’s the nature of your job?
I provide computer support to the administrative staff in psychology. Psychology is a big department, and it’s very complicated. We have lots of undergraduate majors, graduate students, faculty [members] and employees. The question is how to manage and manipulate all the data we get concerning all these people as well as the grant money.
What do you do each day?
I do everything from database design to implementation to maintenance. I also do system administration, some network administration, some programming and sometimes help people in the department with computer problems.
Recently I’ve been bringing some old DOS-based databases into a Windows-based database system and centralizing them in our department.
The other big component of my job is trying to determine what UI Integrate will mean to the department in terms of data retrieval and manipulation and how our databases will interface with that. We require some data that central administration does not provide so we have to maintain our own databases. The question is, how can we mesh the two?
It’s an interesting job because first I have to talk to the users and determine how they want to use the data. Then I go and design. That’s a creative process because you can design a database many different ways. Then there’s testing it and getting feedback. It’s always a challenge because if the user doesn’t like it, they’ll work around the tools instead of working with them. My goal is always to make something useful and user friendly.
What leisure interests do you have?
I try to keep politically active on the local scale because I think it’s important to be aware of what’s going on in the community and be vocal about things if you think a situation’s not fair. I belong to Women Against Racism and to the Socialist Forum.
I think a lot of people are put off by the name Socialist Forum, but we are using the term socialist differently than the popular definition. It’s a group of people who are determined to make a difference on the local level. For example, the living wage campaign came out of our group, and we provided support for the A.E. Staley workers in Decatur when they were on strike.
I am also the chair of the Association of Academic Professionals and one of the people who organized the group about five years ago. I can see how academic professionals on campus need a voice to advocate for things like career ladders and pay. I think it’s important that we have uniform, fair treatment.
Aside from activism, what other interests do you have?
I’ve been running with some partners since 1984 and on a daily basis I run a little over three miles. I try to do a longer run, maybe seven miles, once a week. I do contra dancing too with the Urbana Country Dancers but I enjoy all kinds of dancing. If I had more time I’d do more history reading.
I like to cook and make sinfully rich chocolate desserts. I just made a flourless chocolate torte with a chocolate ganache that had 26 ounces of chocolate, a cup and a half of whipped cream and a pound of butter. I’m a little embarrassed to say it but I have about 200 cookbooks. I like to find recipes that look interesting or different.