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Social Media in the Middle East

Posted by David Langstroth on July 21, 2016 in Graduate, Students, Students, Research, News, Research, International, Big Data & Machine Learning
Eman Alyami, working towards an Interdisciplinary PhD
Eman Alyami, working towards an Interdisciplinary PhD

The increasing interpenetration of computer science into the widest range of research topics across the university has meant that an interdisciplinary approach has become increasingly common amongst our students. Many research questions these days cannot be answered from only one perspective. One such student is Eman Alyami, working towards an interdisciplinary PhD researching how women in the Middle East are using social media and how it is changing their lives. This broad topic draws on sociology, management studies, and computer science, where her supervisors are Dr. Stan Matwin, Dr. Carolyn Watters, Dr. Chris Helland and Dr. Dawn Jutla.

In the beginning, the interdisciplinary approach created a confusing situation, with di erent libraries for each different discipline; requiring her to create her own library drawing from all three sources. Her research began with a look at women’s issues, such as power, politics and social life, but also necessitated a study of the background of this diverse geographical area. The computer science aspect of her research concerns the huge amounts of data, Twitter tra c in this case, which must be tracked and processed. The volume of data is so large that keeping up with it is a real problem. Algorithms to deal with large volumes of text are one of the big data tools that is required. There are also language problems with di erences between modern standard Arabic and more informal spoken variations. Help from colleagues is also necessary to con rm Arabic/English translations, and Twitter tra c also does not always explicitly identify the gender of the writer and so methods to identify or infer gender have to be adopted or created.

Eman came from Saudi Arabia in 2010 to do her Master of Electronic Commerce. When she completed her degree and was looking to doctoral studies, Dr. Vlado Keselj pointed her in the direction of the interdisciplinary program. She started her PhD in 2014. Her great ambition after she graduates is to teach, and so along with her research she has been working on her teaching skills through the Dalhousie Centre for Learning and Teaching and through Teaching Assistantships. Eman would like to go back to Saudi Arabia and become a professor. Although Canada is different in many ways to Saudi Arabia, she has enjoyed its open and multicultural society, as well as the abundant natural environment.