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Welcome Jeff Rzeszotarski

  • New Faculty (2017)

Jeff Rzeszotarski wants to help people unpack complex data so that anyone—even novices—can make sense of it and use what they learn to make their lives better. Rzeszotarski, who joined the faculty of the Department of Information Science at Cornell in July of 2017, says, “Lots of complex data sets exist that nobody knows how to use. If we can make these data sets more tangible through visualizations, I believe we can make the data much more usable.”

As Rzeszotarski was growing up in Ohio he was introduced to some fairly advanced computers. His father had a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and would often work at home on the digital processing of MRI scans. Rzeszotarski himself dabbled with coding in high school, but he was pretty sure he wanted to major in art history once he started his undergraduate studies at Carleton College in Minnesota.

While he did indeed take many art history classes at Carleton, in the end Rzeszotarski earned his BA in Computer Science. One reason for the change of path was Professor David Musicant. Rzeszotarski began a project with Musicant to help atmospheric scientists understand the vast amounts of data their cutting-edge equipment was collecting. The project led to a journal paper and a new path for Rzeszotarski in the field of data visualization.

When it came time to decide on a Ph.D. program, Rzeszotarski chose Carnegie Mellon University. “The Human-Computer Interaction Institute is a very personable group,” says Rzeszotarski. “Niki met with me while I was on campus for a visit despite the fact that he had just flown back from India and was jetlagged. We had a great conversation on some sci-fi we had both read. I knew pretty much immediately I wanted him as my advisor.” ‘Niki’ is Associate Professor Aniket Kittur, who ended up being Rzeszotarski’s advisor at Carnegie Mellon.

Rzeszotarski’s years with Kittur at Carnegie Mellon were very productive, resulting in at least eight publications, three patents, and one start-up company. “The process of doing research is what drew me in,” says Rzeszotarski. “You can carve out your own turf and make real contributions to human knowledge. I strongly believe that research is better if you are intrinsically motivated, and I had the freedom to discover what I was really interested in.”

Rzeszotarski is thrilled to be joining the faculty at Cornell. “People in IS at Cornell are doing great work across so many domains,” says Rzeszotarski. “And the culture in the department is very collegial—people here are happy and work by consensus.” Rzeszotarski adds, “Another big selling point for Cornell is that it has a very diverse student body. I want to work with students who are different from me and have different skills, so I can learn from them while they are learning from me.”

At Cornell, Rzeszotarski plans to continue his research into data visualization, crowdsourcing, and social computing. His work brings together aspects of computer science, social psychology, and cognitive science in order to help people understand complex data and collaborate online more effectively.

When he is not thinking about big data sets, Rzeszotarski engages in many decidedly non-digital pursuits. He has joined a local pottery cooperative where he makes his own creations, he cooks East Asian cuisine, and he collects fountain pens.

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