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Faces of UMSI: Nadia Karizat

Master of Health Informatics (MHI) student Nadia Karizat is learning how to design technology and online spaces that support people in developing positive relationships between their bodies and themselves. 

Whether it be work, research or teaching, Nadia’s goal in all pursuits is to “make people feel safe, comfortable and at home in their bodies.”

The 24-year-old dual degree student is jointly enrolled in UMSI and the Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) program through Taubman College. Nadia’s intersectional education enables her to better understand how the history of built environments impacts peoples’ access to resources and opportunity and the ways in which technology can be used to improve people’s health outcomes.

Nadia's headshot

Nadia is currently in her final year of her three-year master’s track and will graduate in the spring of 2021. She began her information courses last year, focusing on data and analytics. This year she’s incorporating more research classes, thanks to her participation in UMSI’s research experience for master’s students (REMS) program this past summer.

REMS provides students of all backgrounds and experience levels the chance to participate in faculty research. Nadia had previous research experience as a community and economic development intern for Detroit Future City, an organization focusing on policy, advocacy and growth in Detroit. During her internship, she compiled materials related to public health and housing in Detroit. REMS allowed her to build upon this work by offering Nadia the opportunity to conduct and design the research project under the guidance of faculty.

Working with Nazanin Andalibi and Daniel Delmonaco of UMSI and Motahhare Eslami from Carnegie Mellon University, Nadia researched users’ perceptions of TikTok’s algorithm. Many users of the application have raised concerns about encoded bias in what content the algorithm promotes, but few studies exist on the subject. 

Their research studied how users perceive the algorithm and asked if they believed it discriminated against certain identities. If so, the team was interested in understanding how these beliefs influenced users.

The research project took place during both the height of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests and the summer wave of COVID infections. At that time, many users took to TikTok to share information related to suppression and marginalization. 

“It was really interesting to learn the ways people would change their behavior to try to amplify certain identities on the platform. You saw people trying to resist the suppression of certain types of content and trying to get certain perspectives amplified so people could be informed.” Nadia said.

REMS helped Nadia realize that she preferred engaging with people directly through conducting interviews as opposed to just analyzing data sets. In October, Nadia and her co-authors submitted their paper on TikTok’s algorithm and identity to the Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) conference, a prestigious venue for presenting technology-related research. 

Nadia noted, “It was really cool to be able to be part of the entire research project. Dr. Andalibi let me lead, which I was really grateful for because she let me get a lot of practice with project management.” The experience convinced her that she wants to pursue a career in research.

Nadia is also a graduate student instructor in the American Culture department of U-M. As an undergraduate at U-M, Nadia took many courses for her Arab and Muslim American Studies minor through the department. 

She admitted that the transition to remote learning hasn’t been easy, but praised her students’ resilience and is grateful for the connection they’ve formed. She said, “People are people, they're not robots. So, my approach to teaching has always been that your mental health and your well-being is my top priority. I think that if that is prioritized it's easier to do the learning .”

As an undergraduate, Nadia had majored in English Language and Literature. It wasn’t until taking a computer programming class during her final semester of senior year that she really discovered her affinity for informatics. “I felt like I was in the movies when you see spies and they're working on code and everything. I remember I used to leave the projects and the exams feeling like I was playing a game, so I really loved it,” she remarked.

Her advice for people interested in applying to UMSI who are coming from other disciplines, like her, is to embrace their journeys. She said that at UMSI “there’s room for every type of person with every type of experience or background.”

Now, Nadia hopes to bring her unique experience to work for a health system or in a clinical setting where they’re doing research and designing and implementing tools that are assisting healthcare professionals and patients. She would like to research technology that is empowering people to deliver high-quality care. 

If she could go back and give herself advice on entering graduate school, Nadia said she would encourage herself to embrace how many paths there are to pursue within the field of information. At first it overwhelmed her, but she encouraged others to “look at it as a blessing.”