PhD at 75: Peter Organisciak

Peter Organisciak

The PhD degree program at the iSchool celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2023. This profile is part of a special series featuring PhD alumni. Peter Organisciak (PhD '15) is an associate professor at the University of Denver.

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

I focus on applications of large-scale text modeling, developing and applying ways for computers to understand text at scales where we can’t just read them. The field has been changing quickly, in step with machine learning innovations, so it's always interesting. Over the past few years, I've also worked a great deal in applying machine learning to improve how we measure and encourage creativity.

My teaching will be familiar to many iSchool alumni—data curation, digital humanities, and an introduction to data analysis.

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

Mentoring future professionals. I particularly enjoy teaching programming skills to students who don't see themselves as programmers, watching their intimidation transition into a sense of empowerment. It's great to be able to accomplish something new, but also liberating to realize that the boundaries about who gets to do "techie" work are much fuzzier than we’re taught.

Why did you choose to pursue a PhD degree?

I enjoyed the exploratory nature of research as a master's research assistant and hoped to continue down that path. Illinois was highly recommended by professional mentors, and I'd met a number of wonderful Illinois faculty at conferences.

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

The most delightful part of graduating from Illinois has been seeing all my PhD colleagues succeeding in the profession. The iSchool at Illinois is exemplary at preparing students for the scholarly and practical aspects of being an academic, and the lovely consequence is seeing so many peers throughout your professional life.

What advice would you give to new PhD students?

Keep your enthusiasm. Appreciate that one of the benefits of a PhD is being able to drive your own agenda, so pursue something meaningful to you.

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