I received the inaugural Michael Schwartz Award for Excellence in Sociology. Being recognized by my peers and colleagues as an exemplary graduate student is quite an honor. I was selected for this award as an acknowledgement of my scholarly achievements, service as a good departmental citizen, and excellence in teaching.
We sociologists love the Matthew effect. An great new article on this topic was just published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by my advisor Arnout van de Rijt and several co-authors, including me. We demonstrate how initial, arbitrary advantages can lead to higher rates of subsequent success.
There’s also a very nice write up of the article in Quartz.
If you are interested, here’s the abstract. But why not read the entire paper itself — it’s open access!
Seemingly similar individuals often experience drastically different success trajectories, with some repeatedly failing and others consistently succeeding. One explanation is preexisting variability along unobserved fitness dimensions that is revealed gradually through differential achievement. Alternatively, positive feedback operating on arbitrary initial advantages may increasingly set apart winners from losers, producing runaway inequality. To identify social feedback in human reward systems, we conducted randomized experiments by intervening in live social environments across the domains of funding, status, endorsement, and reputation. In each system we consistently found that early success bestowed upon arbitrarily selected recipients produced significant improvements in subsequent rates of success compared with the control group of nonrecipients. However, success exhibited decreasing marginal returns, with larger initial advantages failing to produce much further differentiation. These findings suggest a lesser degree of vulnerability of reward systems to incidental or fabricated advantages and a more modest role for cumulative advantage in the explanation of social inequality than previously thought.
I am very excited to be joining the Department of Sociology at SUNY Geneseo, where I will be starting as an Assistant Professor in fall 2014.
I was invited to speak at the Provost’s Graduate Student Lecture series at Stony Brook University. Three PhD students are selected to present their research, which highlights some of the most promising scholarship being produced at Stony Brook. Thanks to Tim Moran and Arnout van de Rijt for nominating me.
Here is the abstract of the talk:
Why do people volunteer thousands of hours of free labor to create public goods online such as Wikipedia and open-source software? In this talk, I present evidence from a series of experiments designed to test the theory that in the absence of formal or material incentives, contributors’ efforts can be sustained through community recognition of work performed. According to this theory, there is a social solution to the problem of collective action, where individuals are believed to have a tendency to ‘free ride’ rather than contribute to the public good: groups reward individuals who work hard with status in the community, which in turn motivates additional effort, fostering a virtuous cycle of work and reward. Results from the experiments on Wikipedia’s editing community show that highly productive contributors who are given an informal award, or “Barnstar,” subsequently increase their workload by about 40% compared to a control group. These recipients also accumulate additional awards from third parties at a six-times higher rate than non-rewarded peers, suggesting that pro-social behavior can help sustain contributions to public goods by fostering a self-reinforcing dynamic. I conclude by calculating the surprising magnitude of additional volunteer labor that is generated from such pro-social behaviors.
The theme for the 2013 ASA conference (Linking Micro and Macro) was a good fit for my presentation with Arnout: “No Praise without Effort: Experimental Evidence on the Matthew Effect in Wikipedia.”
Very exciting news: my dissertation improvement grant (well, to be technically correct, Arnout’s dissertation improvement grant) was ranked as “fundable” by the NSF! While this is actually “old” news to me — I received notification in January — I have finally received the official award letter from the NSF. Feels good to know that these dollars won’t be sequestered.
If anyone is interested, here is the research abstract:
Doctoral Dissertation Research: Group Diversity and Knowledge Production
Women’s historical absences from scientific endeavors and other institutions that create knowledge is also seen in the contemporary practice of online peer production. Recent survey research of contributors to Wikipedia, a prominent example of peer produced knowledge, has found that less than 15 percent of its contributors are women. The causes for this high degree of gender inequality have been linked to both self-selection and barriers to participation: we continue to imagine expertise in creating knowledge as a masculine pursuit, and women may buy into this belief as well, undermining their confidence in participating in online knowledge production. However, this gender gap has been shown to be more than simply self-selection: research suggests that some aspects of online participatory culture serve to limit women’s participation due to excessive conflict or contentiousness, devaluation of certain topics or perspectives, and in some instances, overt hostility or other forms of misogyny.
This raises several interesting questions about whether online realms are open to a diverse range of participants and whether they can ever truly represent “disembodied spaces” if participants’ socially-learned and embodied gender, and others’ perceptions thereof, accompany them into virtual spaces. One way that gender may continue to be salient is through presentation – in particular, whether contributors choose to publicly disclose their gender to others in an online community, which can affect how group members perceive one another and alter group interactions. A second way that gender may be salient is through socially-learned gender performances in terms of the roles people adopt and the types of work they perform.
In this research, I analyze the ways in which gender diversity affects the quality of work produced by contributors to Wikipedia. I use the quality of the information in Wikipedia’s encyclopedia articles as an indicator of the performance of the groups who author those articles. Organizational research has long known that diversity – in respect to group composition, the types of tasks being performed, and other group dynamics – affects a group’s performance and shapes its collective output. For example, the quality of work produced by Wikipedia contributors has been shown to vary by the functional diversity (differences in types of work roles performed) and cognitive diversity (differences in the knowledge bases) of group members. However, the potential interaction with gender not been explored in any detail, which is surprising since research on gender differences in online communication and interaction point to the need to incorporate gender more thoroughly into our conceptualization of the problem.
Studying the work of Wikipedia contributors provides an invaluable opportunity to assess how gender diversity, and the different ways of doing gender, affects group performance and shapes the quality of peer produced knowledge. Preliminary analysis of a subset of Wikipedia articles shows that gender diversity leads to favorable outcomes for article quality. The findings from this research will be of interest to gender scholars, organizational researchers, and others who study of online collaboration. More broadly, understanding why and when diversity can be beneficial to groups will be of practical relevance to the people who are building and working within these types of online organizations. Particularly, Wikipedia can take steps to shrink its gender gap by identifying and addressing barriers to inclusive participation from a diverse range of contributors.
This grant will ensure speedy completion of this chapter in my dissertation. I am very excited to be able to pursue this project with institutional support and recognition, because I have long argued that this topic requires attention from sociologists who care about new forms of gender inequality.
I’m very fortunate to be affiliated with the Institute for Advanced Computational Science at Stony Brook University, through my advisor Arnout van de Rijt.
This is a great opportunity to expand my research with “big data” capabilities. As a critical-reflexive sociologist, I am wary of the the over-exuberance surrounding this latest trend in science; given the choice, I always prefer better, richer, or more meaningful data rather than simply more data. However, I am very excited about the Institute’s focus on inter-disciplinary collaboration, as well as the obvious methodological sophistication that comes with advanced modeling and statistical computing.
Here is an excellent short talk by Arnout about how the IACS will benefit sociologists trying to better understand the social world:
What a great honor! I have been selected to receive the 2013 President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching by a Graduate Student, in recognition of my teaching endeavors with the School of Journalism’s News Literacy program as well as my Sociology courses on Technology and Media. At the award ceremony, Dean Miller said some incredibly flattering things about me; but the most uncomfortable part was standing on stage (alone!) while being showered with praise. That’s not typically my style, but I had better get used to it since the alternative – not being the best I can be at what I do – is not an appealing alternative to me!
Thanks so much to Dean Miller and Howard Schneider who nominated me for this award. It means a lot to have my hard work and dedication to my students recognized by my university. More than that, several fabulous students wrote letters of support for me. This type of across-the-board support and recognition of my teaching proficiency is very gratifying. I hope I can continue to serve the cause of education and continue to make a difference in my students’ lives.