PhD at 75: Vandana Singh

Vandana Singh

The PhD degree program at the iSchool celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2023. This profile is part of a special series featuring PhD alumni. Vandana Singh (PhD '08) is the program director for data science at the College of Emerging and Collaborative Studies and professor in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

What are the focus areas of your research? Your teaching?

My research areas are gender and information technology, diversity and inclusion in software engineering, online learning, and technologies for rural public libraries. I teach technology courses, including Foundations of Information Technology, Usability Testing and Methods, Web Design, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Technology and Information Professionals (DEI-TIP).

What do you see as the most important impact of your work?

My overarching research, teaching, and service goal in the last two decades has been the use of technology for empowerment. I have explored, investigated, and contributed to this goal in multiple settings, including in my previous role as director of diversity, equity, and inclusion for the College of Communication and Information at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

My research on the experiences of women in the Open Source Software (OSS) community has been widely accepted in academic and industry venues. It has influenced OSS community managers to adopt my recommendations of creating safe spaces for women and marginalized people. Through leadership positions in NCWIT (National Center for Women in Technology-Academic Alliance) and ACM-W (Association for Computing Machinery-Women), I support women in computing nationally and internationally. As a mentor for the Linux Foundation, I disseminate my research findings for the benefit of the industry.

Through one of my funded projects, my team recruited 29 library paraprofessionals working in the rural South Central Appalachia region and funded their completion of the online master's program in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. These librarians have become anchors in their rural communities and have started many innovative technology initiatives to improve digital literacy and access.

Through a grant funded by the Google Inclusion Award, I teach DEI-TIP, a course that aims to educate better citizens for the technology industry. This course will be shared with academicians to improve how DEI topics are taught in the computing courses and will impact the future culture of the technology industry and the curriculum for computing.

Why did you choose to pursue a PhD degree?

I chose to pursue a PhD degree because I wanted to be a researcher. While pursuing my master's degree in the Netherlands, I realized that I enjoyed conducting socio-technical research. In my pursuit of finding a good PhD program in the United States, I came across the iSchool at Illinois (then GSLIS) and was fascinated by the research of Professor Michael Twidale. I was lucky to be admitted with financial assistance and be his advisee. I learned so much about American academia, having a passion for research, and the joy of working with students at the iSchool. It is indeed one of the great experiences of my life.

What has it meant to you to be an alum of the program at Illinois?

I am extremely proud to be an alum of the iSchool and U of I. I cherish the friends I made as a student, and I am always thrilled to connect with other alumni. The School’s excellent reputation precedes us wherever we go. I also enjoy learning about the latest developments at the School.

What advice would you give to new PhD students?

Go for it! Immerse yourself—you will learn so much while making lifelong friends. Be bold in trying new ideas and learn to enjoy the process. What you learn here will become second nature in your career—the rigor, the quality, the knowledge, the fun—all of it!

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