Michelle Dowling, DAC Ph.D. student in computer science

The desire to combine psychology with her knowledge and expertise in computer science in an interesting and challenging way drew Michelle Dowling toward her current research in human-computer interaction (HCI). This area of study allows her to focus on the cognitive (human) side of research rather than just on programming and computer science.

While exploring graduate program opportunities at Virginia Tech, Dowling, who earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Grand Valley State University, met DAC Associate Director Chris North. North introduced her to his research in information visualization and interactive data analytics tools. “I felt it was a perfect fit and decided to join Dr. North in his InfoVis Lab,” Dowling said.

Her research is focused on how to visualize and interact with high-dimensional data — more than three attributes/dimensions/properties of the individual data items, for example — contained in text-based documents, images, spreadsheets, or other various data sources. The sources are plotted onto a map using multi-dimensional scaling (MDS) algorithms. The parameters can then be upweighted or down weighted by the user to produce a different visualization.

“By its very nature, this research is extremely interdisciplinary, pulling from the psychology background in HCI; current research from collaborators in the Statistics department; and domain experts or end users who will use the data analytics tools we create,” Dowling said.

She is also a National Science Foundation research trainee in the UrbComp program administered through DAC.

Dowling will receive an M.S. in computer science in May. Her Ph.D. is on target for spring 2020. After graduation, she is looking toward an academic career. This summer, Dowling is co-teaching an introductory course to computer science at her alma mater in Allendale, Michigan.