Yasaman Sefidgar, a Ph.D. student working with Allen School professor James Fogarty, has been named a 2021 Facebook Fellow for her research developing computational and data-driven systems that inform and support social and health interventions. Sefidgar’s work currently is focused on studying the powerful effects of social support and how to make it more accessible with online platforms, especially during difficult times.
Sefidgar aims to use her Fellowship to understand the emotional needs of people online — specifically among minority populations who experience particular incidents like microaggressions. Her findings will help her design systems that can aid people coping with distress. In her previous work with students struggling with microaggression, she found that those who successfully worked through it bounced back quickly after seeking support from others who had similar experiences and could offer guidance. The earlier they found this support, the better their recovery. Sefidgar wants to connect people based on their experiences and the impact the connection makes, then guide the social interaction dynamics to make the connection a positive one.
After studying insights from interviews and a large dataset, and building a framework to analyze the collected stories and encounters, Sefidgar will curate algorithms to build a platform that can support more specific needs to promote well-being.
“We need additional knowledge of mechanisms of effective social support in situations of interest. My mixed-method research addresses both fronts,” said Sefidgar. “Qualitative accounts of how individuals currently seek support would highlight the challenges and barriers that technology solutions might address. They can also inform quantitative analysis that not only confirms the qualitative insights but also brings to light the mechanistic elements of effective support.”
Sefidgar said that Facebook has the relevant resources to improve social support for well-being by leveraging the day-to-day experiences shared on its platforms to new recommendation policies and content curation. The company can also implement interventions that improve conversations.
“I hope findings from my work can inform the design of interfaces, interactions, and algorithms on Facebook and Instagram with the potential to benefit millions of users,” she said.
Before coming to the Allen School, Sefidgar obtained her B.S. in computer engineering from the Sharif University of Technology and M.S. degrees in human-computer interaction from the University of British Columbia and in computer vision from Simon Fraser University. She has co-authored 10 publications, including a Best Paper Honorable Mention for “Situated Tangible Robot Programming” from the 2017 International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction.
Sefidgar is one of only 21 doctoral students worldwide chosen to receive Facebook Fellowships this year based on their innovative research. Past Allen School recipients of the Facebook Fellowship include Minjoon Seo (2019), James Bornholt and Eunsol Choi (2018), and Aditya Vashistha (2016).