National Consortium for Data Science selects researchers at RTI and UNC Charlotte as 2017 – 2018 Data Fellows

CHAPEL HILL, NC, May 3, 2017 – The National Consortium for Data Science (NCDS) will provide funding to support two innovative data science research projects through its Data Fellows program. Winners of Fellowships for the 2017 – 2018 academic year were awarded to researchers at RTI International and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

The NCDS, a public-private partnership to advance data science and address the challenges and opportunities of big data, will provide each Data Fellow with $30,000 to support work that addresses data science research issues in novel and innovative ways. Fellowships begin July 1.

Data Fellow positions are open to faculty and researchers at NCDS member institutions, which includes all universities in the University of North Carolina system, Drexel University, Deloitte, EMC, GE, IBM, MCNC, RTI International, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A total of 22 researchers from eight member organizations applied for Fellowships this year. Proposals addressed a wide range of data science research questions, from using patient-generated data to improve healthcare to analyzing social media data and its ability to improve business analytics and communicate important public messages.

“We reviewed many thought-provoking proposals that showed promise of advancing the field of data science. The hardest part of the process was choosing the two award winners,” said Shannon McKeen, director of engagement and business development for the NCDS. “The two researchers selected as Data Fellows will be exciting additions to the NCDS community. Their work is relevant to the interests of our corporate members and address important real-world concerns.”

In addition to McKeen, the Data Fellows review committee included Larry Alexander of Drexel University, Steve Edwards of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Craig Hill of RTI and Ashok Krishnamurthy of RENCI. The 2017-2018 Data Fellows are:

  • Robert Chew, research data scientist, RTI International

Project Title: SMART: Smarter Manual Annotation for Resource-constrained collection of Training data

Summary: This project aims to reduce the effort of annotating data using active machine learning, a process in which learning algorithms actively query a user or other sources for data labels. Breakthroughs in artificial intelligence that have resulted in human-level performance on tasks such as object and speech recognition have been achieved more through increases in computing power and the availability of open, labeled data sets than through algorithmic innovations. And while computational capacity has historically increased exponentially, gains in annotating data is still a time consuming, manual process.  Chew plans to develop an annotation software prototype that leverages elements of active machine learning, gamification, and Ul/UX design to help data scientists and researchers reduce manual coding time and effort, making machine learning classification tasks more affordable and widely accessible.

  • Samira Shaikh, assistant professor of cognitive science, department of computer science and department of psychology, University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Project Title: Modeling Persuasion and Group Behavior in Big Data

Summary: This project investigates the propagation of ideas in online social media platforms and their effectiveness in persuading groups of individuals to take action in the “real” world. Social media platforms provide millions of people with a means of expressing their views on a plethora of subjects important to their lives and this massive, grassroots communications phenomena has been shown to impact the offline world in measurable ways. Shaikh will investigate the propagation of ideas in the online world and how they affect and persuade groups to take action in the physical world. The work will rely on the study of language and exploit research practices in psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics to investigate human behavior—specifically persuasive behavior—in online platforms. The project will deliver an integrated model of persuasion and group behavior in online communication associated with rapid and broad information diffusion and influence on digital media.

This is the fourth year of the NCDS Data Fellows Program, an effort supported by NCDS membership dues. In September, outgoing 2016 -2017 Data Fellows and the new Data Fellows will meet with NCDS members to talk about the outcomes of projects and present new projects. The event is designed to keep NCDS members informed about Data Fellows research and forge relationships between NCDS members and current and former Data Fellows.