29 June 2015 – Earlier this month, Prasanta Bhattacharya won one of three Best Presentation awards at the Universitas 21 Graduate Research Conference in Shanghai, China, for his talk on the use of computational approaches to study human behaviour from big data.

Prasanta, a fourth year PhD student specialising in the area of Computational Social Science under the supervision of Dr. Tuan Q. Phan, was part of a team of three graduate students who were nominated by the School of Computing to attend the conference. The conference allows for graduate students from a broad range of disciplines to gather and present relevant and beneficial research on emerging topics. This year, the theme was ‘Digital Future’.

Describing his research, Prasanta said, “While computer scientists are adept at building computational models for analysing observable data from social media, they are less aware about the nuances of social psychology that determine how this data is being produced. On the other side of the spectrum, social scientists are well trained at studying human behavior, but their current approaches are largely qualitative and/or experimental (e.g. lab studies) which don’t scale well when analysing thousands or millions of users online. My research bridges these two camps. In my presentation, I illustrated, using a real-world study, that the same computational methods that are currently being used to analyse data could be directly employed to analyse the data producer i.e. to uncover the psychological motivations behind content production. In doing so, I offer social scientists with a viable non-experimental approach to studying human behavior at a large scale from real-world data that is being generated every second on the Internet.”

Prasanta distinguished himself by ensuring that his presentation would be accessible to everyone, including funny anecdotes and pop culture references, which he believes helps his audience remember his key points. This entailed spending the night before the presentation in his hotel room, cutting his presentation deck from 35 to 8 slides, after discovering at the welcome reception that the audience would be significantly more diverse than he had anticipated. “By the end of it, I had the smallest slide-deck among all participants! It was a risk that eventually paid off, but at that moment, I was really nervous about how the talk would be received,” he confessed.

The other two Best Presentation winners were Prasanna Sritharan from the University of Melbourne and Kathryn Ann Kaczmarek from the University of Maryland.

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