Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies (iSchool) is consistently producing scholars who will go on to create positive change in their field. Recently, one such scholar was honored at the annual conference of the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T). Ph.D. Student Matthew Willis was able to present a paper at the conference, and was awarded the Thomson Reuters Doctoral Dissertation Proposal Scholarship for his work.  

His area of focus is understanding how veterans manage health information, as well as how patients and providers interact with and through technology. “I am interested not only in how veterans manage their health information to support their health, but also the systems, tools, people, and technologies that are involved in how they engage in health information management,” Willis says. The “sense-making process” of managing information is one that he is passionate about studying, and he takes a sociotechnical perspective to understand this area.

The complexity of managing health information in this area is what interests Willis the most about working with a veteran population. Veterans often have co-morbidities, or multiple conditions, which makes managing health information even more complex. Veterans often go outside of the Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital system for care, and the transfer of information across organizations creates even more complexity in managing health information. All of the veterans who participate in Willis’s research have multiple healthcare providers.  

Willis looks at patients and the networks of tools, technologies, providers, social actors, and artifacts around the patient. “Then, understanding how patterns and processes from those interactions can inform the development of technology, can inform how patients manage information, even inform clinical practice,” he says.

Being awarded the Thomson Reuters Doctoral Dissertation Proposal Scholarship allowed Willis to attend the ASIS&T annual conference in early November in St. Louis, Missouri. The scholarship’s purpose is to foster research in information science by encouraging and assisting doctoral students in the field with their dissertation research. Willis was awarded $1,500 research grant, donated by the Institute for Scientific Information.  

For Willis, however, the scholarship had additional benefits. “The scholarship I was awarded has opened up some extraordinary opportunities for networking. I think one of the most important things to come out of this award has been raising the visibility of my research and connecting me to people who were otherwise unfamiliar with my work.” For doctoral candidates, promoting yourself and reaching out to the research community to gain credibility can be difficult. Scholarships and conferences like those in Matthew Willis’s story are excellent ways to break through.  

In addition to receiving the scholarship, Willis was able to present his research at the conference. ASIS&T is a professional association that aims to bridge the gap between information science practice and research. Willis said that he was invited to attend the doctoral seminar on research and career building while he was at the conference. “The seminar was a fantastic experience for me. My mentor during this seminar was Syracuse alum Howard Rosenbaum.” Rosenbaum is a 1996 graduate of the iSchool’s Ph.D. program, and is currently a professor of information science at Indiana University’s School of Informatics and Computing. Willis said that he received great advice and guidance from Rosenbaum during the seminar.  

Willis’s area of study is one that will surely benefit many in the future. His experiences with the ASIS&T conference and the Thomson Reuters scholarship have opened new doors in his area of study. Willis believes that patient-centered care is very important, and that the VA is a place that really embraces patient-centered care even though not much is known about how to develop technologies that are embedded with these values.  

It is this area that will likely benefit most from Matthew Willis’s hard work, and the rewards he has already reaped from his passion and dedication. “With my research,” Willis says, “I hope to contribute to the concept of developing technologies to enable patient-centered care.”