PhD profile: Grace YoungJoo Jeon

Grace YoungJoo Jeon

Grace YoungJoo Jeon: Studies answers that depend on the kindness of strangers

These days, people are as likely to seek answers to questions online as they are to consult traditional information sources like librarians or encyclopedias. When we seek collective wisdom, many of us turn to listservs or our social networks. Here at the School of Information, for example, questions posted to the UMSI community listserv seek advice on a variety of topics, from recommendations for doctors and dentists or local restaurants to the best way to get from the Oakland airport to a hotel at night.

According to PhD candidate Grace YoungJoo Jeon, people who respond with answers to these questions within our social networks, on sites like Facebook and Twitter, have already earned a measure of credibility and trust because they are known to us. But often, people seek answers from complete strangers, as when they post questions on sites such as Yahoo! Answers. In those cases, how does one determine the validity and credibility of the response? Grace proposes to examine this issue in her dissertation: how do people make credibility judgments when seeking information online from large numbers of human mediators on social media?

Grace first became interested in the study of information while working as a translator for Samsung Electronics in her native Korea. As she was called on to work on international projects that involved the exchange of information between languages and cultures, she wanted to understand more about how people process information. She began researching information schools, and in 2006 she came to the University of Michigan to begin a master’s degree program at UMSI.

“I started out as tailored,” she says, “but as I wanted to study information from an economics perspective, I changed to the Information Economics Management and Policy specialization.”

After receiving her MSI in 2008, Grace entered the PhD program at UMSI and once again found her research interests shifting, this time from the quantitative analysis of information to a more qualitative examination. With her current advisor Soo Young Rieh and fellow doctoral student Ji Yeon Yang, she is conducting research on how bloggers establish their own credibility online and how they determine what information is worthwhile to share with others.

A recent paper co-authored with her former advisor Yan Chen and UMSI alumna Yong-Mi Kim, “A Day without a Search Engine: An Experimental Study of Online and Offline Search,” analyzes the different experiences of people searching for answers to questions using online search engines versus a books-and-mortar library. The as-yet unpublished paper is cited in a current article in The Economist on how to gauge what gains the Internet has brought to consumers.

Grace hopes to secure a faculty position after graduation. “Although I enjoy research, I’ve found that I really enjoy teaching,” she says. “Interacting with students constantly exposes me to fresh ideas and viewpoints.” She has been a graduate student instructor for SI 500, 501, and 622. In 2010 she won the Yahoo! Innovative Teaching with Technology award for her utilization of online collaborative tools such as Google Docs and Google Forms to engage students and encourage participation in SI 622.

In addition to her Michigan degrees, Grace has a B.E. in computer engineering from Hongik University and an MA in interpretation and translation from the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, both schools in Seoul, Korea.

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