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CCI Graduate Spotlight: Todd Suomela

SIS doctoral candidate Todd SuomelaTodd Suomela is a doctoral candidate in the College of Communication and Information’s School of Information Sciences. After studying English and philosophy at Yale University, Suomela was drawn to information science because it applead to his humanist and scientific interests. He earned a master’s in information science from the University of Michigan before enrolling in the doctoral program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Learn about his experience below.
Why did you pursue a PhD?
As I became more involved with information science I discovered questions which weren’t yet answered or even being asked.  I wanted to learn the skills and have the background to start researching these questions myself and provide my own answers so a PhD program was the next reasonable step. I’m still enthusiastic about the opportunity to create new knowledge and share it with others.
Why did you select the College of Communication and Information for graduate school?

I heard about CCI in an email announcement for the ScienceLinks2 program through the School of Information Sciences. I had always been interested in the link between science and information so the opportunity to pursue funded research in the area fit my interests and was well-timed.  I applied with a completely different research plan than I carried out but it was still successful.  After I arrived I was happy to discover an eclectic mix of students and professors working on a variety of projects across multiple disciplines.

What courses/instructors were most influential in your doctoral program?

My four committee members were each influential in their own way. Carol Tenopir was a respected researcher from whom I learned a lot about managing research projects and collaborating with others. Mark Littmann provided a wonderful historical perspective on science communication and was also a very pleasant collaborator. Harry Dahms, in sociology, introduced me to social theory at a research level, nicely supplementing my background in philosophy.  Suzie Allard, my committee chair, has been an ally since the first year I arrived.  She has supported my quirky interests and helped to incorporate them under the umbrella of communication and information studies. All four of them have become friends and colleagues. My doctoral cohort has also been a great group of people to meet and get to know. The staff throughout the college have been helpful and supportive. I couldn’t have finished without them.
What’s the focus of your research?

My main interest is the interaction between science and the public.  I’ve focused my research on citizen science, the use of volunteers to help gather and analyze data for scientific research. My dissertation on citizen science examines the communication channels and information flows between individuals and groups involved in running a collaborative scientific project involving professional and non-professional people and groups. I use a combination of content analysis and interviews to trace the development of communication frames for individual projects over time, through different media, and for multiple audiences. The goal is to answer the question of how frames are created to describe citizen science, how information is transmitted from experts to non-experts, and how the process affects the relationship between science and the public.

Tell us about your upcoming post-doc.

I will be working as a Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) post-doc at the University of Alberta.  CLIR matches institutions and students who have an interest in exploring connections between libraries, educators, and researchers. I will be working with the Digital Initiatives department of the university library and the Humanities Computing program of the office of interdisciplinary studies.  The first goal is to survey the current digital humanities environment for how researchers are using web archives to further their research. I will also be helping with some existing research projects which are archiving online game culture.

What advice do you have for incoming SIS graduate students?

I would advise students to spend time learning from other students.  Being a graduate student can be a competitive experience but it should also be a cooperative one.  CCI is lucky to have people from four different fields of study.  You can learn a lot from each of those fields.  Go out and be social with fellow students, support the Graduate Student Association.  You are not alone in this sometimes harrowing experience. I also think it is important to expand your horizons beyond CCI.  Look for courses and instructors in related departments who may supplement or fill in gaps for what is missing in the CCI curriculum.  It’s up to you to do a lot of this work.  The answers are out there but no one is going to hand them to you.