Faces of UMSI: Gaurav Paruthi

Some apps provide helpful daily reminders about physical fitness, but UMSI PhD candidate Gaurav Paruthi believes a more personalized approach is what really makes a difference.

“I’m looking at how persuasive interventions can be used to encourage people to take up physical activity and to have healthy behavior,” Gaurav said. “For long-term effectiveness, you need these interventions to be more personalized and fun.”

Gaurav’s research interests include Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and ubiquitous computing. With another PhD student, he is working to develop a personal assistant for health improvement. The app would track the person’s activity and suggest healthier alternatives when appropriate.

“We envision this as a mobile app that utilizes data, such as calendar information, Fitbit, and location. It would then nudge the user by sending them a message like ‘You have two meetings and an hour between those meetings. You might want to walk to Starbucks and get a coffee’,” Gaurav said. “There are different dimensions you need to think about. Some of the suggestions need lead time; others can be just-in-time messages.”

Gaurav also likes to work within the Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ITCD) domain. He is currently trying to understand the use of online microfinance websites like www.kiva.org, which provides a platform for lenders to connect with entrepreneurs in low-income regions.

“The SI 721 – Data Mining course had a competition where we were vying to give the best prediction of the team the lender would join,” Gaurav said. “That got me interested in Kiva and data mining and led me to do an internship at Telefonica Research in the summer of 2013.”

Gaurav chose UMSI after working as an intern at Microsoft Research in India in 2010. “I applied to the very limited number of HCI institutions where they have a good HCI Lab, and University of Michigan is one of the best,” Gaurav said, adding, “Associate Prof. Mark Newman’s interests align with mine.”

Gaurav also has a BE in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, India.