Information for Prospective PhD Students

I’m currently recruiting PhD students to join the Citizens and Technology Lab (CAT Lab) (application 2021, start 2022)! This page explains more about what we do, what I’m looking for, and what you need to know to apply.

I am recruiting students for the Ithaca-based PhD programs in Communication and Information Science:

When applying, please name me in your cover letter so I see your application.

Why I’m Recruiting PhD Students

Society needs leaders who can make evidence-based progress towards fairer, safer, more understanding digital environments. At CAT Lab, we are creating a community for people to grow into those leaders, whether you go into academia, civil society, government, or industry.

For guidance on where else to apply, see my post: “So you want to study technology, democracy, and social change?

About CAT Lab

At CAT Lab, we are advancing a world where digital power is guided by evidence and accountable to the public. We do this by working directly with communities affected by digital power on research that:

We are distinctive for developing our research agendas directly with affected communities. If you are excited about making knowledge-creation in computing and the social sciences more inclusive, diverse, and democratic, we are the lab for you.

CAT Lab typically takes on three kinds of projects:

CAT Lab’s funding model is independent from the technology industry, which frees us to do public-interest work whether or not companies find our results comfortable.

Individual CAT Lab members have a history of organizing advocacy related to the topics we study, as well as justice issues in higher education.

What kind of applicants am I looking for?

I am equally interested in applicants:

For more guidance on Communication and Information Science, please see guidance on Communication PhD admissions and Information Science PhD admissions for more details.

What will you work on?

One purpose of the PhD is to support your personal growth toward your own ideas and initiatives that you imagine and put into the world.

Along the way, you will receive mentorship from me and community from CAT Lab, your department, and Cornell. Joining CAT Lab means accepting the idea that our research agenda is co-developed with community partners.

Some of your early projects will likely come out of the lab’s existing relationships and commitments. Over time as a lab member, we will support you to develop novel projects alongside communities. You will also have many opportunities to develop collaborations with other faculty and students at Cornell.

We are currently working on projects involving:


Wikipedians gather at our research summit in Stockholm, 2019. Photo by 1rhb via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

How will you be funded?

As a PhD student, you can expect to be fully funded during the standard PhD length so long as you are in good academic standing. Here are the sources of funding you will have available to you as a PhD student:

Because CAT Lab is an industry-independent research lab, we have fewer funding sources than other labs. Despite that, the lab has led or participated in over $1.5m in grants and donations in my first two years at Cornell. While most of these funds support CAT Lab’s professional staff, community organizers, and software systems, we can also fund some semesters as research assistants on pre-existing projects.

When I was a PhD student, the art of fundraising was one of the most valuable skills I learned from my advisor Ethan Zuckerman. At CAT Lab, you will get mentorship in the strategy and craft of raising funds for academic, nonprofit, and other ventures.

Graduate teaching opportunities will also provide a regular source of your funding. These essential experiences will grow your capacities as a public communicator, institution builder, and designer of equitable systems. Teaching will also prepare you for a possible career in academia. I am eager to advise students who have an appetite for investing in others through teaching.

Cornell also offers several fellowships in support of diversity. If you qualify, please include the required materials in your application, as described by the Communication or Information Science admissions guides.

If you want to apply for graduate fellowships, I will support those applications, including summer internships and funding from technology firms. To avoid penalizing students for exploring valuable industry opportunities, we have a conflict of interest policy. Corporate-funded projects will be done independently from CAT Lab’s name/staff/resources. While funded by a company, you will also need to step aside from any CAT Lab project that involves that company.

Current and Past Students

Lucas Wright

image Lucas Wright Lucas is a graduate student in the Department of Communication at Cornell University. His research focuses on how online platforms regulate the behavior of users, especially through automated, algorithmic interventions. I am Lucas’s PhD advisor. We have been working together on research related to online harassment, content moderation, and the governance of algorithms

Marianne Aubin le Quere

image Marianne Aubin Le Quere Marianne is a PhD student at Cornell Tech who studies news metrics and engagement, particularly in the context of local news ecosystems. I advised Marianne’s first year at Cornell. We developed the Upworthy Research Archive together.

Jonathan Zong

image Jonathan Zong Jonathan is a visual artist and computer scientist who uses design as a method for understanding how interaction mediates the relationship between abstract data models and the social world. I advised Jonathan’s undergraduate thesis at Princeton, he was a visiting graduate fellow at CAT Lab in 2019. He is now a PhD student at MIT and a graduate research fellow at CAT Lab. We have developed numerous projects together focused on software design and research ethics.

Aparajita Bhandari

image Aparajita Bhandari Aparajita studies social media and social movements, algorithms and governance of platforms, and technology and community. I am on Aparajita’s PhD committee and have supported her work on digital infrastructure projects led by homeless people in New York City.

Maurice Jakesch

image Maurice Jakesch Maurice is an Information Science PhD candidate at Cornell Tech, where he studies how people decide what’s credible or authentic in a networked society. I am on Maurice’s PhD committee.

Prateek Rai

image Prateek Rai Prateek completed his Master’s degree in Information Science at Cornell in 2020. That year, he worked with CAT Lab on a project to evaluate web browser privacy protections. After Cornell, Prateek joined a platform trust and safety team as a data scientist.

Audrey Chebet

image Audrey Chebet Audrey completed her undergraduate degree in the Princeton University Psychology Department with minors in Neuroscience and African Studies. I advised Audrey’s undergraduate thesis focused on making online spaces safer for women.

Merry Ember Mou

image Merry Mou Merry worked with me on the very first CAT Lab software systems as a computer science masters student in the MIT Internet Policy Research Initiative. Merry now works as a software engineer in information security.

Alyssa Smith

image Alyssa Smith Alyssa is a PhD student at Northeastern University’s Network Science Institute, interested in argumentation and community-building online. I advised Alyssa as an undergraduate at MIT and supported projects on polarization in online media, privacy, and mental health online.

Joanna Kao

image Joanna S. Kao Joanna is a data journalist. When Joanna was an undergraduate at MIT, I advised her project to create software for real-time curation of online video for journalistic storytelling. After graduating, Joanna taught dataviz and accessibility at the New School. She is now a journalist-developer at the Financial Times.

Sophie Diehl

image Sophie Diehl Sophie is an artist and engineer. As an undergraduate at MIT, Sophie worked with me on a series of research projects that visualized gender representation on Wikipedia and organized people to broaden gender inclusion online.

Diversity and Inclusion

As a white-passing Guatemalan-American whose family moved to the U.S. during the civil war and genocide, I sit at the confluence of key themes in diversity and inclusion, especially ones related to power and access. Throughout my career, I have worked to support students and institutions to make the most of the world-changing potential of diverse, inclusive participation.

At CAT Lab, we very deliberately structure our outreach/collaborations to be globally and socially diverse. With the help of our collaborators at Global Voices, we have also designed our work to include people from many countries speaking many different languages.

In recent years, I have:

I am especially energized when contributing to projects that support excellence among people who aren’t commonly included in academia–people who I am excited to see grow personally as their perspectives and creativity transform their institutions and their fields.

Questions / Answers