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UMSI students earn prestigious Rackham Predoctoral Fellowships

Tuesday, 04/27/2021

University of Michigan School of Information PhD candidates Shriti Raj and Vaishnav Kameswaran have been awarded Rackham Predoctoral Fellowships for the 2021-2022 academic year. These fellowships are among the most prestigious granted by the Rackham Graduate School and support a select group of doctoral candidates who are doing unusually creative, ambitious and impactful dissertation work. 

Meet UMSI’s fellows: 

Headshot off Shriti smiling in a grassy area

Shriti Raj

Specializing in human-computer interaction (HCI), Raj focuses on personal health informatics. Her research identifies ways in which people with chronic conditions can better leverage personally generated health data for self-care decisions. 

Her dissertation seeks to understand how informatics tools can provide increased support for patient health. As a Rackham Fellow, Raj hopes to expand HCI research and education that focuses on healthcare. 

“How can we design technology to help patients understand personally generated health data to inform self-care of chronic health conditions? My dissertation answers this question by contributing a descriptive model of sensemaking practices with personal health data, novel mobile interfaces for presenting multi-dimensional health data to patients, and design principles for technology to support sensemaking with personal health data," Raj said.

Raj is advised by UMSI Professor of Information Mark Newman.

“Shriti’s dissertation work is very exciting and has the potential to positively impact the way that individuals with chronic conditions manage their care using personal health data," Newman said.

While at UMSI, Raj has served as a mentor to two female computer science students and has published six papers in top-tier HCI venues. Her work has won a Best Paper Honorable Mention award at the CHI Conference.

After graduating in spring of 2022, she hopes to become a tenure-track faculty member in an HCI program. 


Headshot of Vaishnav smiling

Vaishnav Kameswaran 

Working in human-computer interaction and accessibility, Kameswaran’s research aims to broaden the theoretical concept of “independence,” a metric often used to evaluate the effectiveness of technologies designed for people with disabilities. Kameswaran’s dissertation will unpack how notions of independence change over time, and how technology contributes to those changes.

Software updates are primary mechanisms for improving users’ experiences with technology. However, since technologies often take the sightedness of their users for granted, software updates too regularly cause the loss of app accessibility for people with visual impairments, thereby disrupting their routines and affecting their sense of independence. 

As a Rackham fellow, Kameswaran hopes to address the unique challenges posed by software technologies for people with visual impairments in India, to help determine how software update experiences might be better designed to support their needs.

“I’m hoping that I can use the fellowship to extend my research agenda to understand how technologies can enhance the independence of people with disabilities,” said Kameswaran.

He is advised by UMSI Associate Professor Sile O’Modhrain and Associate Dean for Faculty and Professor of Information Tiffany Veinot.

By identifying how and when [software update] disruptions occur and the impact they have on the blind and visually impaired people in the Global South, Vaishnav's work will make an important contribution to anticipating problems before they arise and thereby reducing the impact on these vulnerable end-users,” O’Modhrain said.

Vaishnav has authored more than 14 peer-reviewed research articles in premier HCI venues that have won him Best Paper and Honorable Mention awards. He has also mentored several graduate and undergraduate students, who have frequently been co-authors on his publications. As someone who believes in translating research into practice, Vaishnav has helped raise over $20,000 to support community organizations in the Detroit area. He has also held several internships and visiting researcher positions at top accessibility labs in the industry, including Microsoft Research. He will spend the summer of 2021 at Google Research.  


Each Rackham Predoctoral Fellow will receive a $33,651 stipend, candidacy tuition and required fees for twelve months while they work full time toward their degree requirements.