Dissertation Award Winners
The iSchools Doctoral Dissertation Award recognizes outstanding work in the information field. Nominations are solicited from all members of the iSchools organization, and judged by a selection committee drawn from leading international schools. Below you will find information about all current and past honorees. Details on the selection process can be found below.
Jessica Pater, Ph.D.
Georgia Institute of Technology, School of Interactive Computing
Digital Self-Harm: Implications of Eating Disordered Behaviors Online
Advisor: Elizabeth D. Mynatt
Remarks from the Awards Committee: The thesis addressed a significant and highly sensitive social problem, taking an intellectually rigorous approach that has widespread potential impact.
Reviewers commented that the thesis demonstrates careful scholarship, with a “clear engagement with previous literature” and a “systematic review, with excellent synthesis”. The method is highlighted as including “not one, but a set of case studies” that thoroughly develop and test the thesis’ hypothesis in a robust process.
The panel also noted that the research presented has value for the wider information science community now, and in the future: “there is a clear case that the thesis confirms, but also alters much of our existing theories on social impacts of information”, and “the ideas created and presented transcend the topic studied.”
2021 Runner Up
Souvick Ghosh, Ph.D.
Rutgers University, School of Communication and Information
Exploring Intelligent Functionalities of Spoken Conversational Search Systems
Advisor: Chirag Shah
Biography: Souvick ‘Vic’ Ghosh is currently an Assistant Professor at the School of Information, San Jose State University. He completed his Ph.D. from the School of Communication and Information, Rutgers University. Souvick’s scholarship involves the development of research models and methods that extend the traditional view of information seeking into voice-based and interactive environments. He was awarded the Outstanding Graduating Student Award in 2020 for his all-around achievements in research, teaching, and service. Prior to joining Rutgers University, he completed his B.S. and M.S. degree in Computer Science with a focus on Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning. He also leads the Intelligent Conversational Agents and Neural Networks (ICANN) Lab at SJSU.
Research Abstract: Existing state-of-the-art spoken conversational search systems often fail to recognize the information needs of the user, especially for complex tasks where the question is non-factoid in nature. My dissertation explores strategies to facilitate user-system communication and better identify the user’s search intent. I use human-computer interaction, natural language processing, and deep learning techniques to analyze the human- and system-level understanding of discourse in user-system information-seeking conversations. My research objective is to improve the existing state-of-the-art voice-based conversational systems by making them more human-like, user-friendly, and accessible. The findings from my study could be applied to future designs of voice-based assistants in libraries and museums, in medical and healthcare domains, or for people who are visually challenged.
Remarks from the Awards Committee: This thesis was recommended and highly rated throughout the review process, and it addresses an increasingly common new technology.
The judges applauded the approach taken saying it “uses many diverse methods”, combines “reliable and well-considered use of statistics” and, vitally possesses a “stress on reliability”. The methodology is strong. It draws not only on the traditions of information and library science, but also draws on computer science. Methods include “[a] laboratory-based user study; wizard-of-oz; [and] implementation”. As one reviewer put it “this is an ideal demonstration of contemporary, computing-literate information science”.
The increasing potential of conversational agents was noted by judges—“this technology is still developing, and is likely to see increasing adoption worldwide”—while it still “really needs to be analysed from an information science perspective.”
Click here for Dr. Ghosh's dissertation.
Sarah Joann Lubelski, Ph.D.
University of Toronto Faculty of Information
A Gentlewoman’s Profession: The Emergence of Feminized Publishing at Richard Bentley and Son, 1858-1898
Supervisor: Alan Galey
Biography: Sarah Lubelski received her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information and the collaborative specialization in Book History and Print Culture in 2019. Her work, which explores the impact of gender on the publishing industry and publishing processes, has been supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Resource Council. She holds a BA in English and History from Dalhousie University and an MA with distinction in Publishing from Oxford Brookes University. She currently teaches the History of the Book and Publishing at the University of Toronto.
Research Abstract: My dissertation is an investigation of the gendering of the publishing profession, publishing practice, and print materials. Using the London-based firm of Bentley and Son as a site of inquiry, I trace women workers’ professionalization within the firm and their influence over print production and literary output, contextualized by nineteenth-century gender ideology and the women’s movement. My archival research into Bentley and Son’s women employees has uncovered hitherto untold histories of women’s publishing work within the nineteenth-century literary field, allowing me to challenge and reconstruct the historical narrative surrounding women’s entrance into publishing to account for gendered work and gender ideology.
Remarks from the Awards Committee: “We found this thesis to be an excellent interdisciplinary historiography that addresses a larger issue of feminization of the publishing industry by providing a history of a publishing house in the Victorian U.K. Although, the dissertation itself is examining a particular place and point in time, the author pointed out similar historical cases of feminization of professions. We especially appreciated how the author pointed the importance of this for current state of STEM fields and increase of number of women researchers.”
2020 Runner Up
Syracuse University School of Information Studies
Advisor: Barbara H. Kwaśnik
Biography: Brian Dobreski is currently an assistant professor at the School of Information Sciences at University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where his research and teaching focus on knowledge organization and its social implications. His dissertation research was also recognized with the Syracuse University iSchool 2019 Doctoral Prize, as well as an honorable mention for the ProQuest Doctoral Dissertation Award. Brian holds a B.Mus. from Nazareth College, and an MSLIS and Ph.D. from Syracuse University. He previously worked as a catalog librarian at the Eastman School of Music.
Research Abstract: This study explores the relationship between values and knowledge organization standards as a means of understanding the embedded perspectives and non-neutrality of these technical documents. Taking the knowledge organization standard Resource Description and Access (RDA) as a case, this work focuses specifically on what values are present within this standard, how these values are communicated, and how they are recognized and responded to by practitioners. Findings demonstrate the integral nature of values in standards and reveal the ways in which these documents and their enactments serve to mediate community values.
Remarks from the Awards Committee: “We found this thesis to be a very-well written and well-designed study of values embedded in knowledge organization standards. This is a very relevant, yet understudied topic, and the thesis presents an important contribution to knowledge organization research on values. The author uses a combination of methods (content analysis and interviews) in a two-phase design. The author also shows a mastery of relevant literature.”
Click here for more on Dr. Dobreski's dissertation.
Maia Jacobs, Ph.D.
Biography: Dr. Maia Jacobs is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Center for Research on Computation and Society. She completed her Ph.D. in Human Centered Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology. Her research contributes to the fields of ubiquitous computing and personal health informatics through the development and assessment of novel approaches for mobile health tools to support chronic disease management. Her research was featured in the 2016 report to the President of the United States from the President’s Cancer Panel. Prior to joining Georgia Tech, Maia received a B.S. degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Research Abstract: With the rapid increase in chronic disease diagnoses, technologies for everyday illness management must offer the flexibility and robustness to conform to individuals’ evolving health situations. I examined how new computing approaches for mobile health tools may better consider the diverse and changing support needs of individuals following a cancer diagnosis. This work culminated in the design and evaluation of two novel mobile health systems: MyJourney Compass and MyPath. Longitudinal evaluations of patients’ use of these systems demonstrate the ability for personalized and adaptive health tools to encourage health management behaviors and influence patients’ health beliefs.
Remarks from the Award Committee: “Dr. Jacobs’ thesis Personalized Mobile Tools to Support the Cancer Trajectory contributes MyPath, an adaptive system that provides personalized support to patients throughout their cancer journey, including diagnosis, treatment, and post-treatment survivorship. Her research provides insight into the usability of recommender systems within a health context and finds promise in recommendations that stimulate coping behaviors. Dr. Jacobs’ dissertation stands out because of its strong contributions to health informatics, HCI, and innovative methods that can be used across these fields. The thesis was well-written, the research questions well designed, and Dr. Jacobs did an outstanding job of putting her research questions into context making it the clear winner for this year’s competition.”
Click here for more on Dr. Jacobs’ dissertation
2019 Runner Up
Jennifer King, Ph.D.
Biography: Dr. Jennifer King is the Director of Privacy at the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society. An information scientist and scholar in information privacy. Her research has been recognized for its impact on policymaking by the Future of Privacy Forum, and she has been an invited speaker before the Federal Trade Commission at several Commission workshops. She was a member of the California State Advisory Board on Mobile Privacy Policies and the California State RFID Advisory Board. Dr. King completed her doctorate in Information Science at the University of California, Berkeley School of Information. She also received her MISM from the Berkeley School of Information, and her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Irvine.
Research Abstract: My dissertation explores how the structure of relationships between individuals and companies influences individuals’ decisions to disclose personal information. I use social exchange theory (SET) as the theoretical framework as SET provides an empirically tested scaffolding for exploring key features of these relationships and their impact on the normative aspects of exchange that affect disclosure choices: individuals’ perceptions of trust, fairness, power, and privacy. I conducted two mixed-methods studies to examine the applicability of SET to information privacy. My results demonstrate the utility of the relational analytic approach for identifying the social structural factors that affect personal disclosure.
Remarks from the Award Committee: “In the thesis Privacy, Disclosure, and Social Exchange Theory, the Dr. King uses Social Exchange Theory (SET) to explore reasons why individuals decide to disclose personal information to companies. The object of exchange implied by this approach draws on rather strong background assumptions like an objective givenness or unity of information as an object of study. Granted that individuals entertain relationships to companies it may indeed be worthwhile to analyze the impact of such relationships on the disclosure of private information in return for gratifications expected. The assumption about the applicability of SET to privacy issues is tested by empirical methods, i.e. qualitative interviews and three online surveys. The author provides clear descriptions of the methods and reasons for using each approach and also delivers a satisfying discussion of the theory.“
Click here for more on Dr. King’s dissertation.
Galen Panger, Ph.D.
Biography: Galen Panger received his Ph.D. from the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley in 2017, focusing on social media behavior, happiness and well-being, and behavioral economics. At Berkeley, Galen wrote the Graduate Student Happiness & Well-Being Report (later expanded to all ten University of California campuses) and co-founded the Center for Technology, Society & Policy. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Public Policy from Stanford University and today is a User Experience Researcher at Google.
Research Abstract: “Emotion is central to the study of social media and this dissertation addresses three big questions — about the emotions we express in social media, about what can be inferred about our emotional lives based on how we express ourselves, and about the emotional experience of browsing social media. Findings from large samples of Facebook and Twitter users challenge common notions about social media and suggest nuanced resolutions for conflicts between important lines of academic research.”
Remarks from the Award Committee: “Dr. Panger’s thesis ‘Emotion in Social Media’ is a novel addition to the literature on the evolving state of self-representation in online environments. Contrary to stereotype, Panger found that people tend to wind down while browsing Facebook and Twitter. This combined with the other aspects of his study call for a more nuanced appreciation of the role of social media in our emotional lives. The skill with which Panger crafted the research question and research design set it apart from others in the competition. This, combined with his skill to communicate his research work at the intersections of conflicting concepts in the literature made it the clear winner for this year’s competition.”
Paul H. Cleverley, Ph.D.
Biography: Paul Cleverley is a Geoscientist turned Information Scientist. He holds a BSc in Geology and MSc with Distinction in Computing in Earth Science. He graduated with a Ph.D. from Robert Gordon University after four years distance-learning whilst working full-time. Paul’s research interests focus on social informatics including how advanced analytics and machine learning can be blended with enterprise search techniques to augment Human Computer Interaction in the workplace.
Research Abstract: “Dissatisfaction with enterprise search ‘Corporate Google’ is widespread. No prior study has investigated enterprise search from a transdisciplinary viewpoint. A critical realist mixed-methods longitudinal case study was undertaken in a large corporation, including experiments, user interface focus groups, surveys and content analysis of search feedback logs. Results show that human factors, rather than technology, accounted for the majority of dissatisfaction. The ‘Google Habitus’ and cognitive biases influence user expectations and information behaviour. Models were developed that challenge existing academic and practitioner orthodoxy. This may influence technology design, information architecture and enable a reconfiguration of beliefs and behaviours towards enterprise search.”
Remarks from the Award Committee: “Dr. Cleverley’s dissertation ‘Re-examining and re-conceptualising enterprise search and discovery capability: Towards a model for the factors and generative mechanisms for search task outcomes’ utilizes a mixed-methods longitudinal case study with over 220 participants to develop a socio-technical framework for enterprise search information needs, search modalities and the factors impacting the search outcomes. The combination of the different empirical methods with the theoretical perspectives of the cultural and historical activity and complexity theories resulted in a sophisticated model, which achieved the runner-up position in the 2018 competition.”
Click here for more on Dr. Cleverley’s dissertation.
Click here to view Dr. Cleverley’s research blog.
Rachel Ivy Clarke, Ph.D.
Biography: Formerly the cataloging librarian at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, Rachel Ivy Clarke is currently an assistant professor at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies. She holds a BA in creative writing from California State University Long Beach, an MLIS from San Jose State University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Washington Information School.
Research Abstract: “Although creating information tools and services is an integral aspect of the field, American librarianship is typically considered a social science. This overlooks the idea of librarianship as a design-based field, leaving it to flounder alongside other successful information tools and technologies. Through humanistic critical analysis of seminal artifacts in American library history, such as Poole’s Index to Periodical Literature, America’s first bookmobile service, and the eXtensible Catalog project, I demonstrate that design is an appropriate epistemological framework for librarianship, offering opportunities for innovation, empowerment, and stronger explicit alignment with the values of the field.”
Remarks from the Award Committee: “This dissertation explores the role of design in American librarianship based on argument that design provides an appropriate epistemological framework for librarianship rather than traditional scientific epistemologies. It distills design principles and applies them to the critical analysis of three cases representing significant artifacts in library history. Examining the field of librarianship from the perspective of design epistemology reveals new insights and interpretations of library work. The reviewers agreed that the topic of this dissertation is novel and original and the findings provide significant implications for future library and information science education and library practice.
“The award committee agreed that this dissertation presents innovative and provocative research, exemplifying the integration of principles and approaches that were previously practiced in disciplinary silos. This dissertation research has the potential to have a profound impact in the iSchools community.”
Click here for more about this dissertation.
2017 Runner Up
Jasy Liew Suet Yan
Biography: Jasy Liew Suet Yan is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Computer Sciences, University of Science Malaysia. She graduated with a Ph.D. from the School of Information Studies, Syracuse University in 2016. Her research focuses on using natural language processing (NLP) techniques to detect expressions of emotion in text. Jasy’s dissertation research was also recognized with the Syracuse University iSchool 2016 Doctoral Prize. Her broader research interests include sentiment analysis, computational linguistics and affective computing. She aspires to become a scholar who can help people better interact with computers through the creation of more emotion-sensitive systems.
Research Abstract: “A richer set of emotions is expressed in microblogs than current automatic emotion detectors can identify. If more fine-grained emotion categories can be identified, we can build automatic emotion detectors that better represent the range of emotions expressed on microblogs. We develop a set of 28 emotion categories inductively from Twitter data. We show that it is feasible to extend machine classification on tweets to use these emotion categories. This thesis makes important contributions to the development of a taxonomy of emotion in text, and the creation of language resources and machine learning models for fine-grained emotion detection in text.”
Remarks from the Award Committee: “This dissertation develops emotional categories inductively from Twitter data, and creates a taxonomy of 28 emotion categories for the range of emotions expressed in tweets. The dissertation also extracted linguistic cues that can serve as indicators, and then evaluated the performance of machine learning classification using several classifier and feature combinations. The results show that extend machine learning classification on tweets is feasible and makes a significant contribution toward machine learning models for fine-grained emotion detection in text.
“The award committee agreed that this dissertation makes important technological contributions toward machine identification of emotion in text, and contributes positively to research in the iSchool community.”
Click here for more about this dissertation.
Ashwin J. Mathew, Ph.D.
Biography: Ashwin J. Mathew is a Visiting Scholar at the UC Berkeley School of Information, and Internet Infrastructure Researcher at Packet Clearing House, an international organization responsible for providing operational support and security to critical Internet infrastructure. He graduated with a Ph.D. from the UC Berkeley School of Information in 2014. Before that, he spent a decade working as a software engineer and technical architect in companies such as Adobe Systems and Sun Microsystems.
Research Abstract: The Internet is a complex global infrastructure, constructed over a system of interconnections between thousands of individual computer networks. Through ethnographic research into communities of network administrators in North America and South Asia, I found that this system of interconnections is stabilized and ordered on a global scale through social trust relationships amongst the Internet’s technical personnel. I argue that this socio-technical formation – which I term “distributed governance” – locates political power in Internet infrastructure, producing the appearance of placeless virtual space over physical telecommunications infrastructure.
Click here to view Dr. Mathew’s dissertation.
Remarks from Award Co-Chairs Michael Seadle and Shigeo Sugimoto: “This dissertation exemplifies the close ties between information technology and social science (in this case, ethnographic) research. The author looked at how the decision-making processes in the contemporary networked environment influence and depend on political circumstances, and gathered his data through skilled observation and direct involvement. In the final the reviewers all agreed that this was an outstanding work that richly deserved the prize.”
2016 Runner Up
Biography: Briony Birdi is a Lecturer in Librarianship at the Information School, University of Sheffield, where she also completed her PhD and MA in Librarianship. Her research focuses on reading research and the promotion of literature and reading, and public and youth libraries, with an emphasis on social justice and diversity. She currently leads the Centre for the Public Library and Information in Society (CPLIS), which provides a focus for the School’s work in the public library sector. Since 2009 Birdi has been working at the University on a part-time (0.6 and 0.8) basis, balancing an academic career and family life.
Research Abstract: “This mixed methods thesis comprises three empirical investigations of the previously overlooked readership of minority ethnic fiction. The first surveyed reading habits and attitudes, via a quantitative questionnaire (n=1,047) and qualitative interviews. The second qualitatively explored perceptions of reader ‘types’ using personal construct theory and the repertory grid technique. The third, quantitative study adapted the repertory grid to investigate readers’ beliefs, attitudes and intentions to read fiction genres. From the literature and empirical findings a model of genre fiction reading was developed; this identifies a new reader profile, and gives a causal ordering to the characteristics of the fiction reader.”
Click here to view Dr. Birdi’s dissertation.
Remarks from Award Co-Chairs Michael Seadle and Shigeo Sugimoto: “This dissertation addresses a current social and political issue involving minority ethnic fiction using three empirical studies to survey reading habits. The reviewers also agreed that this dissertation was a serious competitor for the prize and clearly deserved to be the runner up.”
Xinru Page, Ph.D.
Biography: Xinru Page is an Assistant Professor in Computer Information Systems at Bentley University. Her current research focuses on privacy, technology adoption, interpersonal communication, social media and human computer interaction. She holds a B.S. and M.S. in Computer Science from Stanford University, and a Ph.D. in Information and Computer Science from the University of California, Irvine. Before rejoining academia, Xinru led interaction design and product management in industry, and was chosen as a Women Tech Council award finalist. At UC Irvine, she received a Dean’s fellowship and Yahoo! Best Dissertation Fellowship Award.
Remarks from the Dissertation Award Chairs:
The reviewers noted that the dissertation was timely and important, both addressing the gaps in research and practice while making a tangible contributions to both. In particular reviewers cited the mixed methods approach with one calling the dissertation a multi method tour de force which masterfully integrates qualitative and quantitative research. They also identified the significance of the findings, particularly the importance of identifying communication style as an important new variable of potential interest to HCI scholars and system designers.
Xinru Page completed her dissertation at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, University of California, Irvine, which nominated her.
2015 Runner Up
Laura Sheble, Ph.D.
Biography: Laura Sheble earned her PhD in Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Within the broad space of research and data practices, informetrics, and science-society interactions, Laura is interested in questions related to diversity and synthesis, novelty and reuse, visualization, change over time, and the co-influences of research and practice. Previously, she was a systems librarian at the Detroit Area Library Network and e-resources librarian at Wayne State University, where she earned an MLIS. Laura works with the Center for Health Equity Research at UNC to map use of systems science methods in the health sciences.
Remarks from the Dissertation Award Chairs:
Reviewers noted that the topic of the dissertation was very relevant to the future development of the information fields and recognized the fact that there was an increasing need for studying the research process itself in order to speed up and optimize the research. The dissertation addresses a gap in research and contributes new knowledge that potentially can have important implications on how evidence-based research can be conducted and research findings from multiple studies in various fields can be synthesized.
Laura Sheble graduated from, and was nominated by, the School of Information and Library Science of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Jennifer Lynn Douglas, Ph.D.
Biography: Since completing her Ph.D., Jennifer Douglas has been teaching courses in archival theory and management at the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria. Her current research focuses on the creation and functions of community archives in online grief communities, looking specifically at online archives created by parents of stillborn babies. In addition to her Ph.D., Jennifer holds a Masters in Archival Studies from the University of British Columbia and a Master of Arts, English Literature from the University of Victoria. She has published articles on the principles of provenance and original order, on the nature and treatment of writers’ archives, on medieval women’s letter writing and on archival description as genre (forthcoming).
2014 Runner Up
Parmit K. Chilana, Ph.D.
Biography: Parmit Chilana is an Assistant Professor in Management Sciences at the University of Waterloo, specializing in human-computer interaction and information systems. She received her Ph.D. from the iSchool at the University of Washington in June 2013. For her dissertation, Parmit invented LemonAid, a new selection-based crowdsourced software help retrieval approach for web applications and carried out a multi-site deployment study to evaluate LemonAid in the field. Parmit also co-founded Qazzow, a venture-funded startup company that is commercializing LemonAid’s help approach for e-commerce applications. Parmit has previously been recognized with Facebook’s inaugural Ph.D. Fellowship and Canada’s SSHRC Doctoral Award. She received her Masters degree from the iSchool at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and BSc in Computing Science from Simon Fraser University.
Biography: Jaime Snyder is a post doctoral research fellow at Syracuse University’s iSchool and a research consultant at Cornell University’s Interaction Design Lab. Her dissertation, “Image-Enabled Discourse; Investigating the Creation of Visual Information as Communicative Practice,” examines the creation of visual representations of information as a form of social interaction and engagement. This work has been recognized with a 2012 Syracuse University Doctoral Award, the 2012 ASIST Proquest Doctoral Dissertation and the 2010 ASIST Thomson Reuters Doctoral Dissertation Proposal Award. Snyder earned her PhD in Information Science and Technology from Syracuse University in 2012.
Biography: Tammy Toscos is an Assistant Professor of Health Informatics at Indiana University Purdue University, Fort Wayne and a Postdoctoral Health Services Research Fellow at Regenstrief Institute and the Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis. Tammy earned a Ph.D. in Informatics at Indiana University, Bloomington in 2011 where she studied Human-Computer Interaction Design (HCI-d) with Dr. Kay Connelly and Dr. Yvonne Rogers as her primary advisors. Tammy’s research lies at the intersection of HCI-d and Health Informatics, focusing how to design interactive technologies to help people achieve personal health goals.
2013 Runner Up
Biography: Joshua Blumenstock is an Assistant Professor at the Information School at the University of Washington. His research focuses on the economic and social impacts of information and communication technologies, and the development of new methods for the quantitative analysis of large-scale data. Recent projects use terabytes of data on network communication to understand the diffusion of mobile technologies (Pakistan and Mongolia), the welfare impacts of Mobile Money (Rwanda and Uganda), and the role of technological innovation in reducing corruption and violence (Afghanistan). Joshua holds a Ph.D in Information Management and a M.A. in Economics from U.C. Berkeley, and Bachelor’s degrees in Physics and Computer Science from Wesleyan University.
The iSchools Doctoral Dissertation Award promotes outstanding work in the information field, recognizing the best dissertation to have been completed at a member-iSchool in the preceding academic year.
The winner and runner up each receive a cash prize. The awards are presented each year at the iConference.