As a graduate researcher, there is no shortage of unexpected experiences.

Shishila Awung Shimray, Anol Kanti Roy, Abdullah Al Faysal and Richard Young along with the help of other Cosmographers recently had the opportunity to participate in this year’s EIT High School Summer Research Program. As the name suggests, this program is targeted towards highly motivated group of high school students that all are willing to “sacrifice” three weeks of their summer vacation in exchange for graduate-level experience.

Left to right: Anol Kanti Roy, Shishila Awung Shimray, Tuja Khaund and Richard Young participated in the EIT High School Summer Research Program.

Our participation in this program took form by providing both skill-based mentorship and a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it takes to be a member of COSMOS. Unfortunately, the day the high school summer research program began, most of our in-house team which included our doctoral researchers and our director left to showcase their ground-breaking work at SBP-BRiMS 2019. This required the four of us to pool our collective knowledge and quickly form a strategy for the two incoming students Karina and Rishik.

It is difficult to believe that both Karina and Rishik are only in high school. Both students had an impressive grasp of the programming language Python, professional attitudes, and an eagerness to learn.

We began the program with a brief overview of data collection, data manipulation, and data visualization. Things really began to take flight when we introduced our social media forensics methodologies that we apply to the Twitter platform. Since social media quickly becomes irrelevant, we challenged our students to find an event that was about to occur and then start collecting data using Twitter’s API. Throughout this process we introduced the students to sentiment analysis and bot detection practices and also leveraged the online tool Data Camp to improve the students’ data collection skills using Python.

It was exciting to see Karina and Rishik pick up on misleading details in the data they examined. For example, they noticed a Twitter user locating themselves “on the moon.” Although this instance can be seen as a joke, others are not so readily discernible and are intentionally misleading. Within days of working with Twitter data, our students were introduced to the difficulties associated with analyzing misinformation.

The EIT High School Summer Research Program does an excellent job showing students potential career avenues they can take in their future. Years prior to becoming a graduate student, Karina and Rishik had the opportunity to gain a glimpse of what it takes to be a graduate researcher and what kinds of skill-sets are valuable. COSMOS director Dr. Nitin Agarwal comments, “It is imperative to engage our high school students in cutting edge research on social media, to equip them with the necessary skills to detect, deter, and defend against emerging cyber threats. COSMOS regularly participates in summer research programs for high school students.  Such programs are not only rewarding for our student mentors, but also helps in training our next generation workforce.” It is true that this experience was valuable for both students and those of us at COSMOS who had the pleasure of mentoring them.

– written by Richard Young.