SICE grad honored with 2018 University Distinguished Ph.D. Dissertation Award

Onur Varol
Onur Varol

Onur Varol, a postdoctoral research associate at Northeastern University who earned his Ph.D. in Informatics from the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, has been honored with the University Distinguished Ph.D. Dissertation Award for 2018 in the Social Sciences category.

Varol’s dissertation, “Analyzing Social Big Data to Study Online Discourse and Its Manipulation,” received the award, which is the highest honor for research Indiana University bestows on its graduate students.

“I am extremely happy to receive this award,” Varol said. “I would like to especially thank my advisor, Filippo Menczer, and the Informatics department for nominating me. I was lucky to be surrounded by the best advisors, collaborators, and research group I could imagine during my doctoral studies, and I am a proud IU alumni and a Hoosier.”

The Distinguished Ph.D. Dissertation Award includes a stipend of $5,000, and the dissertation has been nominated for the 2018 Council of Graduate Schools/ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award.

Varol’s dissertation aimed to provide insights into analysis of online conversations and mechanisms that might be used for the manipulation of the conversations. Varol proposed building machine learning frameworks that exploit features extracted from network, content, and users to train accurate supervised learning models that could detect and identify bot-promoted social media trends by revealing subtle differences between posts from bots and those from humans.

“Varol's research led to significant advances in detection of abuse and manipulations of social media,” said Menczer, a professor of informatics and computer science at SICE. “He has made important contributions to social media analytics and machine learning techniques for exploring online user behaviors and detecting manipulations through social bots and coordinated campaigns. Varol's dissertation bridges data mining, machine learning, and complex networks methodologies to attack important and timely societal challenges. His work has already made huge impact in the fight against online misinformation.”

Varol has continued his research at Northeastern and is exploring a mechanism that can describe how individuals engage with their friends on a social network and create content to achieve high visibility.

“Dr. Varol’s dissertation, which combines computational and social scientific approaches, reflects the very best of the interdisciplinary promise of informatics,” said Nathan Ensmenger, chair of informatics at SICE. “We are proud to see his excellent project recognized across the university.”

IU’s University Distinguished Ph.D. Dissertation Award winners are selected by the Awards Committee of the Graduate Faculty Council. Each degree granting program from the University Graduate School may nominate one “truly outstanding” Ph.D dissertation for consideration, and they are judged on originality, documentation, significance, accuracy, organization, and style. Winners are selected in one of two rotating categories—the 2018 categories were Mathematics/Physical Sciences/Engineering and Social Sciences.

For more information on our graduate degrees in informatics, visit our website.

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