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PhD Student Cassandra Huang Pursues Research to Make an Impact on Teenage Cyber-bullying

PhD Student Cassandra HuangWhen Cassandra Huang graduated from high school in her home country of Taiwan, her General Scholastic Ability Test results gave her several options as to what she could pursue in college. For her, it came down to a choice between Chinese literature study and library information science; she chose the latter.

“The LIS field has practical parts and research parts – if I wanted to go more practical, I could be a librarian, and if I wanted to do more with research, I could continue with my journey and get a masters and PhD,” she explained, also noting that she’d always loved going to public libraries when she was a child.

Once she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in library information science, it was apparent that she was hooked on research, so she pursued her master’s. Then it was time to take the next step.

“It is encouraged for a student in Taiwan to get a PhD in the United States to broaden one’s horizon, and bring that knowledge back,” she said.

Huang’s career goal is to teach at a university in Taiwan after earned a doctorate degree. So she began looking for a program that would be the perfect fit for her and her research. After writing a master’s thesis about university library fundraising, Huang had decided to switch gears a little on her research.

“I felt like I wanted to do more related to people and information and how people play with information. I basically switched my research interest and research topic into something more information driven and related to society,” she said.

She found the work of SIS Professor Dania Bilal, which lined up with Huang’s interests in youth informatics, and the information-seeking behaviors of international students.

“I thought UTK is a good university, and also Tennessee would be a good place to study and live. I did a search before I applied, and looked at the environment and the weather and I thought Knoxville looked great. The weather was nice, the living cost was better than big cities. I also got an offer here and the financial support package was good for me,” she said.

Once she was in Knoxville and began taking courses, Huang said she was overwhelmed by the support she received from the faculty and staff at the College of Communication and Information, and the School of Information Sciences.

“The support from my advisor, Dr. Bilal, and other course instructors in the program made me more confident about being an international doctoral student and researcher. When I started teaching in my second year, the friendly attitudes from my students encouraged me, and the mentorship from Dr. Singh and Dr. Kelly gave me feedback on teaching and research, and that helped me a lot, too,” she said.

Huang said her long-term aim is to provide research that can be influential and help solve or alleviate problems, such as cyberbullying. Her dissertation focuses on cyberbullying conducted via visual means, including photos and videos being uploaded to social media such as Instagram and Snapchat.

“I’m focusing on the visual part because there’s a lot of research already on text-based cyber-bullying. I chose teenagers as a population because the consequence of cyber-bullying is more severe on them than adults, because they’re not mature enough yet. It can affect them physically, mentally and socially,” she said.

She presented a paper at a the 12th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation on the role that school librarians could play in preventing cyber bullying, which includes the librarians educating students about online safety and being a bridge between students and authority figures (parents, teachers and school administration).

“Usually adults are less savvy than teens about the technology younger generations are using, so librarians can be a bridge to teach the teachers and parents how to protect their kids in the online environment,” she said. For example, teens are just sharing photos on social media in their daily life, but they don’t aware of the possible negative consequences, and they need to have good media literacy education “I really want my dissertation study to have influence on school policy and curriculum and for it to be a starting point.”

Huang said that Bilal’s advising and the professor’s own experience with working with children and teenagers has been invaluable to her studies, as has the support of other faculty throughout the CCI program and the UT campus. She said the flexibility that SIS program provides to PhD students that having committee members from different backgrounds has proven to be very beneficial. “I have a great committee that helps me with method, theory and practical aspects in my dissertation”.

“It’s great to be in this inclusive and open-minded IS program, we have lots of opportunity to collaborate and seek support from different disciplines. We get solid training on both research and teaching, we also get strong support to participate in academic activities. I really appreciate having financial support to attend international conferences, such as ASIST, every year”.