Masdar Institute UAE National PhD Student Becomes Country’s First to Defend Thesis in “Big Data”

September 21, 2018

Abu Dhabi-UAE: 02 June, 2015 – The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, an independent, research-driven graduate-level university focused on advanced energy and sustainable technologies, today announced that one of its UAE national PhD students has become the first in the country to defend a thesis in the field of data science and computational social science.
PhD student Aamena Ali Alshamsi’s thesis titled ‘The good life in the network: How social networks shape our personality and emotions’ covers some of the highly technical aspects of ‘Big Data.’ During her thesis defense, she elaborated on the possibilities of using social media and mobile phones to understand what makes society happy. Alshamsi received her doctorate degree at the Masdar Institute commencement ceremony that was held on 26 May.
Alshamsi will also be presenting her paper at the International Conference on Network Science (NetSci) that is being held from 1 – 5 June in Zaragoza, Spain. She has already presented her work in a variety of international conferences and her papers have been accepted after rigorous peer review in top journals in the field of ‘Data Science.’
The three-member PhD committee that reviewed Alshami’s thesis resaerch included Dr. Iyad Rahwan and Dr. Jacob Crandall, both Associate Professors, Computing and Information Science, Masdar Institute, as well as Dr. Alex Pentland, Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, and Director of the Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab. Dr. Pentland, who was recently named by the Forbes magazine as one of the world’s seven most powerful data scientists, described Alshamsi’s thesis as a ‘substantial contribution to the literature and a first-class work.’
Since Alshamsi’s interdisciplinary research required support from social scientists, she and her advisors also collaborated with Dr. Fabio Pianesi, Vice-Director for Research at Trento Research, Innovation and Education System (Trento RISE), and Vice-President of European Institute of Innovation & Technology Information and Communication Technologies (EIT ICT) Labs, Italy, and Bruno Lepri, who leads the Mobile and Social Computing Lab (MobS Lab) at Bruno Kessler Foundation, Trento, Italy.
Dr. Rahwan said “Aamena is a pioneer and a role model to young Emiratis who want to use Big Data to study how society functions. This is the first time a UAE national PhD student has defended a thesis in the fields of data science and computational social science. She was also the lead student on my lab’s team when we participated in the Telecom Italia Big Data Challenge in 2014.”
The entry from Masdar Institute’s Social Computing and Artificial Intelligence Lab led by Dr. Rahwan subsequently became one of the 10 finalists chosen from among more than 600 participating teams. Alshamsi traveled to Trento, Italy, to represent the team at the Big Data Jam.
Dr. Crandall said, “Aamena was able to complete a good PhD thesis because of her persistence. Her ability to keep trying even when things do not seem to be going her way is one of her greatest strengths.”
Alshamsi believes her research findings can be used for the well-being of people through tuning the structures of people’s social networks.
She said, “Although my thesis focused on specific topics in social sciences, I believe the application of the methodologies and the findings of my thesis can go beyond the boundaries of social sciences. I believe that the methodologies could be extended to provide real-time analytics about individuals and collectives for timely interventions by decision-makers. The findings could also be leveraged to build productive teams and design informed strategies to achieve desirable goals in many areas, including sustainability”.
She added, “My research supervisory committee was so supportive and provided me with useful feedback. Furthermore, the collaboration between Masdar Institute and MIT enabled me to conduct a world-standard research, offering me a chance to work with prominent scientists on the latest topics. With its unique learning environment, Masdar Institute has enriched my experience. The diverse on-campus community facilitated an exchange of cultures, ideas and knowledge. I gained invaluable knowledge and experience when I was interacting with my multicultural colleagues and discussing various subjects.”
A proud recipient of the UAE National Research Foundation’s (NRF) ‘Young Emirati Researcher’ Award 2012, Alshamsi believes her achievements were possible because of her passion for knowledge and scientific research. She was also ranked 4th in the Activity Recognition Challenge at the ‘Workshop on Robust machine learning techniques for human activity recognition’ during the IEEE Conference on Systems, Man and Cybernetics 2011 in Anchorage, Alaska.