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Web Science Summer School 2016

Between the 30th of June to the 6th of July, a Web Science Summer School 2016 took place in the University of Koblenz (Germany), focused on the studies of the Internet and social media. Alina Bakhitova, a recent graduate from the second year of her bachelor course "Sociology and Social Informatics”, participated in the work of the school from HESP.

Alina, could you please tell us about your studies at the Higher School of Economics? About your research interests?

"I attend classes and seminars, and, in addition, I also take part in two research projects. The first of them is focused on studying the motivation of online gamers. I would like to understand why, for some players, the main motivation is a chance to contact with other players, while the others are focused solely on the development of their in-game characters. In the second project, I and my colleagues study the factors that affect the academic performance and involvement into the study process among the students of the "Data processing and analysis” minor course. This course is attended by students from different specialties; for some of them, it’s their first experience of applying complex computational methods. For this reason, it’s important for us to understand what factors affect their academic performance. We have found out that a large number of lines of code written by him during their minor course is the main predictor for their high academic performance. However, this does not mean that their academic performance is affected only by their "technical" skills. For example, another important factor was their participation in the discussions on their homework or other topics related to their minor course, which take place on the online message board for students. I was presenting the first results of this study at the poster section of the summer school".

Was it difficult to get enrolled to the school?

"As it happened, I missed the deadline for the scholarships designated for covering the travel expenses and attending the school. I was sure that I wouldn’t get a chance to get to the school, but shortly before the end of the enrollment, I got a special scholarship from EMC that was awarded to several students of the "Data Science” minor. I was a bit worried that the school organizers wouldn’t accept my application, because the school was meant mainly for the students of the Master’s and PhD courses. But they wrote me and said that my research interests were very close to the main topics of the school, and my application was approved. I was so happy!"

What were the main fields of specialization of the students who were attending the school? Was it mainly focused on the social or computational science?

"The students of the school had come from various countries and from various Master’s and PhD programs, covering a range of specialties and research fields, both computational and social sciences, including social scientists, economists and anthropologists. Even though the audience was very diverse, we were able to find common interests and to discuss our ideas and projects, and to find colleagues for further collaboration."

What were the main topics of the school? What were you doing there?

"At the school, we listened lectures given by leading scientists who work in the field of virtual studies, participated in the tutorials on quantitative and qualitative methods for the analysis of data from the Internet, and on creating research design. Also, on the first day of school, we were presenting our projects at a poster section, which helped us to better get know each other and get acquainted with the work of other students.

During the school, we also worked on group projects under the guidance of expert researchers. For example, in my group, we studied a recently much-talked-of case of the Panama Papers with the information on offshore companies."

So, you say that most of the students at the school were Masters or PhD. Was it hard to work together with more experienced students?

"To be honest, at first I thought it would be much harder. I was glad to see that, in my joint work with the graduate students and Masters, I could use the knowledge and skills in programming and data analysis, which I obtained during my "Sociology and Social Informatics” program and at the "Data Science” minor.  

Did you attend such an international event in this field for the first time?

No, that wasn’t my first event. Before the school, this winter I attended the Symposium on Computational Social Science (GESIS) at the Leibniz-Institute for the Social Sciences in Cologne. I and four other students from the Sociology Department attended the symposium as listeners, and our senior colleagues were presenting there the results of their studies. All in all, I am very grateful to the HSE that it gives us an opportunity to attend various international conferences and seminars on a regular basis. This helps us to better understand how researchers work in other countries, to meet new people, and discuss the ways to develop our projects with our more experienced colleagues."

What do you plan to do in the next academic year?

"This September, there will be launched our updated Bachelor’s degree program, which will include more courses that involve modern digital technologies. Together with other undergraduates, I have been helping to prepare for the launch of these new courses, and I’ll be working with the freshmen as a Teaching Assistant and sharing my knowledge."