New IST doctoral students showcase research proposals

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Research in the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) focuses on understanding and solving complex challenges where information, technology and people intersect. This interdisciplinary curiosity was on full display as the college’s newest doctoral students presented their research proposals during a poster session.

Andrea Tapia, associate professor of IST and the director of the college’s graduate program, explained, “Nothing you saw [at the event] will be pure computer science. At IST, we’re on the edge of all these disciplines.”

The poster session, held Dec. 6 in the Westgate Building, featured students who are enrolled in IST 501, an interdisciplinary research methods course. The course exposes students to all the facets of conducting research, from finding a suitable question to presenting their findings at a conference.

“[During the event] they presented their initial work and ideas,” Tapia added. “In academia, that’s weird and rare.”

While most research presentations are limited to final papers and findings, this event provided insightful feedback for the students at the beginning of the research cycle. The open house setting encouraged insights from faculty members and attendees about how they could best tackle and refine their research explorations.  

Spyke Krepshaw, whose proposal sought to examine the effectiveness of online learning in higher education, said, “I’m getting good feedback and I’m hoping discussing this in-depth with faculty members can spark some more research ideas.

“Universities all over are making a big push towards online classes,” he added. “But what I want to know is, are they really effective?”

While he says many studies have examined the overall impact of moving education to an online forum, Krepshaw is more interested in investigating how different courses and majors are suited to the medium. To do so, he wants to study core classes in different majors. By offering a section of the same class online and in a resident program, he can compare the strengths and weaknesses of each approach.

“No one ever really looked at specific majors. At Penn College of Technology, where I work, there is a welding major,” he said. “Obviously, that’s not going to work great online! But a business program might work perfectly.”

Other research projects included investigating if machine learning can be used to synthesize deeper language processing, like grammar and situational instances; how to protect smart meters from third party hackers; and how to accurately predict taxi demand to enable smart city planning. All had potential impacts for science, society or both.

Hae Seung Seo was seeking feedback to her proposal investigating why and how users act on social media.

“I want to figure out the real meaning of ‘likes,’ especially based on user intensions,” she explained. “It seems like people almost unintentionally press like, but there must be some common meanings behind it, like a new sense of grammar.”

Seo noted how participating in the event helped her focus on the avenues she’d like to explore throughout her graduate research.

“It is a really good starting point for my thoughts,” she said. “And I want to show people my ideas.”

While some students ultimately choose to explore different topics than what they presented, the majority will use their proposal as the foundation of their dissertation. In the coming years, the students will explore these questions while also assisting their faculty advisers with ongoing research projects.

Last Updated December 12, 2017