Zara Mirmalek

Expertise: Work ethnography; Sociocultural studies of science and technology; Human-technology work relationships and remote presence.
Affiliation: BAERI/Harvard University
Certification/Education: PhD Communication, Science Studies
MPA Public Administration, Public Policy
BA History

SUBSEA Research Objectives

  • Conduct ethnographic research on remote presence science work that employs a distributed work system, telepresence and robots;
  • Collect data and conduct analysis to produce multi-dimensional work domain analysis of remote science operations specific to high-fidelity low-latency analog environment;
  • Collect and analyze data on human-technology interactions between individuals, workgroups, and machines during remote operations;
  • Compare sociotechnical systems used for actual (no simulated conditions) and analog (some simulated conditions) missions.



I am a social scientist who conducts qualitative research among work communities, particularly those that include extreme environments. I have conducted ethnographic research among professional workgroups situated in high-tech organizations in the domains of space exploration, ocean exploration and air transportation. My research studies include participant-observation with workgroups using remote presence to conduct science and exploration on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers mission, in the ocean (submarine volcanoes in the Caribbean; seamounts off the coast of southern California), and in Mars analogs in US National Parks (NASA’s BASALT program).

I focus on human-technology relationships, which includes interactions mediated by technology (e.g., autonomous vehicles, monitors, software, robots, time) and discourse (e.g., professional, institutional, political). I find that critical studies of these relationships can yield analysis that is both helpful to developing work support technologies and broader questions on how and why different types of work and organizations can innovate. My analyses are informed by domain-specific literature, themes identified as important by the community of study, and frameworks from Communication, Human-Centered Computing (HCC), and Science Technology Studies (STS).