Overijssel PhD Award 2017 goes to Dong Nguyen

| Michaela Nesvarova

This year’s Overijssel PhD Award was awarded to Dong Nguyen for her thesis titled ‘Text as social and cultural data: a computational perspective on variation in text’.

Photo by: Arjan Reef

The Overijssel PhD Award is annually awarded for a doctoral thesis of outstanding academic quality and it consists of €5,000 and a certificate. Dong Nguyen was announced as the 2017 winner during today’s Dies Natalis ceremony.

Research that crosses many disciplines

‘I was certainly surprised to win,’ says Nguyen, who defended her PhD thesis cum laude at the University of Twente in March 2017. ‘There were so many good candidates and all the nominees were from completely different disciplines, which must make it very hard to compare them and select a winner.’

‘What might have worked in my favor is that my research crosses many disciplines,’ adds the award winner. ‘I collaborated with many experts from various institutes and my thesis combined computer science and social sciences, so it nicely aligns with the UT’s slogan “high-tech human touch”.’

Social media

In her research, Nguyen explored two emerging areas: computational sociolinguistics, meaning computational approaches to study the relation between language and society, and computational folkloristics, in which large datasets and computational approaches are used to study folklore.

As the researcher herself explains, the focus of the winning PhD work was to ‘develop new methods to analyze texts in order to study social and cultural phenomena’. Nguyen especially enjoyed working with social media, which provide big digital datasets, and therefore the opportunity to study language use and behavior in a variety of social situations on a large scale. For instance, Nguyen developed an online program TweetGenie, based on which she was able to find that it’s possible to predict age and gender on the basis of tweets.

‘Original and independent research’

According to the jury, Dong Nguyen won the Overijssel PhD Award thanks to the originality and independence of her research, as well as the exceptional amount of work and a well-written thesis. Moreover, the results of Nguyen’s research have received world-wide media attention, for which she won the UT in the media award in 2013.

Dong Nguyen conducted her PhD research within the Human Media Interaction at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science. She was also affiliated with the Meertens Institute in Amsterdam. Before and during her time as a PhD candidate, Nguyen also managed to secure internships at Facebook, Microsoft, and Google. She is currently a fellow at the prestigious Alan Turing Institute, continuing her research in the UK. Although Nguyen is officially affiliated with the University of Edinburgh, this fellowship allows her to do independent research for the next 3-5 years.