Faces of UMSI: Shriti Raj

Shriti Raj at a bookstore near the School of Information

Exploring how technology can help people manage chronic health conditions seems a natural path for Shriti Raj, given her family background and long-time academic interests.

Shriti, a third-year doctorate student at UMSI, comes from a family of physicians in India. “Everyone around me was a doctor,” she says. “I was the only technician in my household, and hence, my interest in bringing health care and technology together. I’ve always been driven to pursue something that would make a difference in people’s lives. I believe helping people stay healthy could have a big impact on someone’s life.”

What Shriti would like to do is improve the design of informatics tools to help people with chronic health issues better perform self-care activities, and better engage with their health data. Devising effective ways of interacting with complex health data would be one example, she says. “Improvement in self-monitoring technology has enabled patients to closely track their health. As a result, patients with chronic diseases are generating data that not only has the potential to drive day-to-day decisions, but to also change the ways in which they seek support from their care providers.”

As a part of one of her research projects, Shriti is working with Type 1 Diabetes patients and their providers to understand the challenges of managing diabetes and of engaging with health data.

“We need to create a meaningful engagement with data through technology. So far, using the technology for personal health has been associated with considerable burden. As a result, for example, people stop using devices like Fitbit after a point. In the context of chronic disease management, medical devices, such as the glucometer, or the insulin pump, are indispensable and cannot simply be abandoned. It is also imperative for patients and their providers to make use of data from these devices to inform disease management. Therefore, it is important to improve technology design in this area.”

She may have been raised in a family of physicians, but Shriti began pursuing her interests in computer science and mathematics at an early age.

“I was very good at mathematics and I loved working with numbers and automating things,” she says. “When I was in high school, that was the first time I took programming classes, and it really amazed me that you could write a few lines of code which would automatically get things done.”

Shriti Raj

Shriti graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science at the Indian Institute of Technology in Varanasi, a city in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, the region where she grew up. She earned a master’s degree in computer and information sciences (with a focus on human-computer interaction) from the University of California Irvine.

Before entering graduate school, she worked as an analyst developer for Goldman Sachs, initially in New York City and then in India, for more than two years.

“Even as I was doing my undergraduate, I always wanted to pursue an academic career and eventually earn a master’s degree and a doctorate,” she says. “I felt like I needed some exposure to the industry to see how it works. For my own curiosity, I wanted to explore before committing to an academic path.”

After doing research and considering other universities, Shriti chose UMSI because the various research disciplines aligned with her own interests. Her research is focused on context-aware computing and personal health informatics. She was impressed with associate professor Mark Newman, whose research projects matched her interests.

Outside of research and studies, Shriti enjoys knitting, cooking, travel, and reading biographies and autobiographies. She mentions “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou as one of her recent favorites. “I’m curious to find out what happened in people’s lives that made them what they are,” she says.