Undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students met together on Zoom to present their research virtually for the annual iSchool Research Symposium on April 9, 2021. They were joined by faculty and staff members from many different departments to celebrate their projects and learn from each other.

This was the fourth year of the symposium, and the second in a virtual format due to the ongoing pandemic. Typically, students would create posters to be displayed so that attendees could walk around and browse the different projects. In the new virtual format, students and faculty were invited to submit research projects for the symposium, and those projects were then grouped together into presentation sessions based on topics of interest. For the 2021 symposium, topics included computational social science, data science, security and privacy, librarianship, and digital technologies in society.

“Research is a central part of the mission of any university, but students don’t always have a lot of visibility to it or get to see what faculty and their peers are working on outside of their courses,” said Kevin Crowston, Associate Dean for Research. “We need to make this part of our enterprise more visible, and by having students present their research projects we demonstrate that students can get involved in research at all levels.”

In the past, the symposium was typically made up of graduate and doctoral researcher projects, but after an initiative from the chancellor’s office to increase undergraduate research and an undergraduate symposium last spring, more undergraduate projects were incorporated into the symposium.

“There were more undergraduates working on research projects than we knew of,” said Sheila Clifford-Bova, who helped organize the symposium. “In fact, we have more of these students working on research than ever before, and some of them are even getting published or going straight into doctoral programs, which is really amazing and something we wanted to showcase.”

Hands-on Student Research

One of the projects that combined the work of students across all levels of study was from a team at the Metadata Lab that studied the interactions between scientists and researchers during infectious disease outbreaks. Sarah Bratt, a PhD candidate at the iSchool, presented the project at the symposium, which included work from her team members Shripad Amol Laddha, a graduate student studying information management, and William Devitt, an undergraduate senior studying computer science.

The team was focused on studying the collaboration between scientists and researchers when infectious disease outbreaks like West Nile Disease and the Zika Virus happen to see if the work is being done efficiently, and more specifically, if there is any interaction between high income and low income countries. The team split up the work, with Bratt at the helm, while Laddha worked on collecting data from an NIH reporter and building a database, and Devitt used the programming language Python to analyze the data and create visualizations to map virus research from 1990 to 2018.

“Presenting in the virtual format was great because we got to connect with people from other disciplines, like policy professors, who gave us comments that helped us consider some things that we hadn’t before,” said Bratt. “The virtual format was also nice because it was much less taxing than a full in-person day, it was nice to be able to pop in and out of sessions to see friendly faces from the iSchool that I haven’t seen in over a year.”

All three of the students found their participation in the research project and the symposium to be a way to improve how they do their research and work with data.

“I learned a lot about the tools and technology needed to make an impact with research and it was great to collaborate with other researchers during the project and at the symposium. It was really fun to work with the Metadata lab,” said Laddha.

While Laddha and Devitt are both graduating this year, Bratt plans to continue this research in the future by analyzing data from the current COVID-19 pandemic and will be looking to recruit more undergraduate and graduate student researchers in the fall. The group also plans to expand their research in other ways by getting it published. Currently, Devitt is working on a paper about the international equity of virus research networks and the potential that research has to make a difference when outbreaks occur.

“The international scientific community is reactive, it’s not static, and we have the potential to leverage that network with policy to make a difference when viral outbreaks occur and help poorer countries,” he said. “That’s the focus of my paper. It’s written, now I’m just editing it and working on getting it published.”

Another student who participated in the symposium was Yimin Xiao, a third year graduate student completing a dual degree in applied data science and linguistic studies. Xiao was the first student of the day to present her research, which is on anonymity and persuasion in Wikipedia discussions. Her project focused largely on how certain groups of users gain persuasion power, and if anonymity plays a role in that power.

“After I presented I received very helpful feedback from faculty members about how I could improve my project or new directions that I can take my research on this topic in the future,” she said. “I really liked the project I’d finished and it was great to have people listen to my work and see that it was valuable to other faculty and students who are doing similar projects.”

Xiao also found participating in the symposium to be incredibly helpful in thinking about how to phrase and present results of a research project so that students who are unfamiliar with the topic will understand. She also loved that the symposium was a way for her to feel connected with the iSchool community and learn from other students. Xiao will graduate from the iSchool this spring and continue her research as a PhD student at another university.

One of the other standout research projects was from second year PhD candidate Jieun Yeon, who studied the role of public libraries in the community by observing how library board members interact and communicate with each other during meetings. For Yeon, the symposium was a great way to showcase her research and get feedback from faculty members about how to improve her project in the future, which she is considering for her dissertation topic.

“I really liked how we were divided up into groups by research interests so I could learn about what other researchers who study librarianship are working on,” said Yeon. “I’m so thankful for the people who organized the forum because I know it wasn’t easy to set up in a virtual format. I hope we can be in-person next year. I’ll definitely be there.”

Plans for the Future

The research symposium is a valuable and important experience for students to learn about research and explore opportunities to get involved. This year’s organizers were Sheila Clifford-Bova, Undergraduate Program Manager, and Meghan MacBlane, Director of Grant Development.

“It’s a really good way to get students excited about all this cool, cutting-edge research happening at the iSchool,” said Clifford-Bova.

“It was also great to have faculty there pushing students to share their research and give them a chance to grow their skills and shine,” MacBlane added. “All the faculty were there cheering their students on.”

In the future, MacBlane and Clifford-Bova hope to grow the event to include more undergraduates and students from other majors and colleges at Syracuse University. MacBlane envisions a much larger event in the future, when it can be held in-person again, that incorporates research from departments all over campus to increase collaboration and visibility of student and faculty research projects.