Skip to main content
Innovation in Digital Research was the focus of the 2024 Annual Scholarly Incubator
Hosted by and for the school’s scholarly community, the aim of the incubator was to focus on new approaches and emerging challenges in digital research.
Hosted by and for the school’s scholarly community, the aim of the incubator was to focus on new approaches and emerging challenges in digital research.

The sixth annual SC&I Scholarly Incubator, “Innovation in Digital Research,” was held virtually on March 6, 2024, to provide an opportunity for faculty members and doctoral students to address, investigate, and discuss areas ranging from digital ethnography to computational methods, and incorporating critical takes on recent developments in social science and society.

Organized annually by Associate Dean for Research and Professor of Communication Mark Aakhus, this year, the Doctoral Student Association, the Computational Social Science Lab, and the Digital Ethnography Working Group were instrumental in setting up the incubator. Associate Professor of Communication Katherine Ognyanova and Associate Professor of Communication Jeffrey Lane led the development of the event. The incubator brought together more than 50 faculty members and doctoral students.

Lane said, “This event built on last year’s incubator and enabled faculty members and doctoral students to focus further on whether, why, and how to integrate computational and qualitative/ethnographic approaches drawing on all the expertise and experimentation at SC&I; reflect on topics and methods of digital innovation for computational scholars and digital ethnographers; to think about points of collaboration and supports for collaboration across SC&I; to generate ‘provocations’ for digital innovation from their respective projects; and to enjoy each other’s scholarly company.”

The incubator featured two panels of “lightning talks” (no longer than four minutes) given by faculty and doctoral students working at the forefront of digital innovations in media, information, and communication research. The first panel focused on “Innovative Work from SC&I Labs” presented by Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science Shagun Jhaver, Assistant Professor of Communication Sarah Shugars, and doctoral students Nicole Mendoza, Kaitlin Montague, and Casey Randazzo. The second panel, “Novel means of data collection and analysis” was discussed by Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science Tawfiq Ammari, Assistant Professor of Library and Information Science Kiran Garimella, Assistant Professor of Journalism and Media Studies Youngrim Kim, and doctoral students Arpita Jindani and Niki Natarajan. The panels included discussions to identify topics and questions of interest to participants in the Scholarship Incubator.

“I think as others pointed out, the event brings out the true range of interdisciplinary work happening in the school, and it was amazing to hear about other’s work. I really hope more events like this happen just so there’s cross pollination of ideas across departments.” — Assistant Professor of Library and Information Kiran Garimella

After the two panels, participants joined small breakout groups followed by a closing general session about taking the ideas forward in individual and collaborative projects and for development of SC&I's research IT. 

Commenting on future steps the school’s scholarly community might take collectively to continue to advance work around the issues discussed, Ognyanova said, “We are going to continue working along these lines and seek points of intersection between different types of scholarship at SC&I. Some of the ideas brought up during the incubator include specific ways to make our community more aware of ongoing projects, open up labs and working groups, pool access to resources, and collaborate around training faculty and students.” 

Reflecting on the event, several members of the SC&I community shared their thoughts about its success and impact.

Assistant Dean for Information Technology Chandu Dondeti said, "It's been a real privilege being part of this Innovation Incubator. I've learned a lot about the great research happening in the school and how they've tackled challenges with creative solutions. This dynamic exchange of ideas has undoubtedly facilitated the exploration of collaborative opportunities spanning diverse fields of study. I'm excited about collaborating with both faculty and students, contributing to this journey together, and learning valuable lessons along the way."

Jhaver said, “the event brought awareness of the rich quality of research on often overlapping topics that is occurring within Rutgers SC&I. It created new connections and facilitated the sharing of intriguing ideas and innovations that we can build on together as a community.”

Lane said the discussions generated points of collaboration and supports and enabled the SC&I scholarly community to hear about each other’s research and provocations. He added, “what’s cool about the Incubators is how broadly they generate engagement and imagination across SC&I. One person presents for just a few minutes, and this sparks DMs, chat conversations, texts, emails, side conversations, in addition with our structured efforts to summarize our panels and breakouts along the way.”

Ph.D. student Niki Natarajan said she presented a slice of digital ethnography she is using in her dissertation research. Her research, she explained, is focused on teens and emerging technologies, and her research methods are attentive to the importance of doing fieldwork to understand the meaning of the digital in habitual media use. The highlight of this annual incubator, Natarajan said, “is and has always been the opportunity to talk about big ideas, – even those that are still rough around the edges – and take inspiration from fellow researchers at our school.”

The scholarly incubator was an incredible opportunity to cultivate shared knowledge and grapple with challenges in digital research. Students and faculty at Rutgers are doing an impressive range of innovative work in this space and it was a privilege to learn from—and share with—my colleagues.” — Assistant Professor of Communication Sarah Shugars

Casey Randazzo, a Ph.D. student whose presentation was titled “Comparing Topic Models with Interactive Heatmaps,” said, “At Rutgers SC&I, we're tackling complex problems, like misinformation and health equity, from different angles. Opportunities like the Innovations Incubator not only allow us to stay up to date with each other's work, but they also inspire new methods and ways of asking questions, ultimately enhancing the impact of our research on society. Interacting and learning from different scholars at Rutgers SC&I also sets the stage for future collaborations that advance digital research.”

When Aakhus and Interim Dean Dafna Lemish originally initiated the idea to hold an annual incubator series at SC&I, their overarching goal, Aakhus said, was to host the incubators as “a think tank that helps us look together toward the immediate and longer-term future of our research, teaching, and outreach by drawing on the collective wisdom of our community. With that in mind, the outcomes every year will help to articulate ways members of our SC&I community can better connect around topics and questions, surface ideas and strategies for research pedagogy across curriculum and career, and to outline directions for developing our environments and infrastructure.”

Aakhus said, “Our Scholarship Incubators have been exciting events for us to connect about our research and to find pathways for further cooperation and collaboration in our scholarly endeavors.”  

Learn more about the Rutgers School of Communication and Information on the website

Image: Pexels


Back to top