2022-01-26: Review of WS-DL's 2021

Capturing the essence of 2021: unmasked post-vax but inbetween Delta & Omicron waves, and a mix of online and f2f meetings.

2021 was the second year of the Covid-19 pandemic and although things improved from 2020, there was continued impact on our research, teaching, and service here at the for us at the Web Science and Digital Libraries (WS-DL) Research Group.  We graduated one Ph.D. student and three MS students, and added five graduate students and two undergraduates to the group.

Students and Faculty

Unlike last year when we had three Ph.D. defenses, this year we had only a single defense.  Sadly, this one was also on Zoom. 

We did not add additional faculty to @WebSciDL this year, standing pat with six members.  We continued to offer an exciting array of web science related courses, with six courses offered in both Spring 2021 and Fall 2021.

We added five graduate students this year:

 And two undergraduate students:

We also had three people advance from Ph.D. "student" to "candidate" (but sadly, no crush board pic):

  • Corren McCoy became a candidate on 2021-12-13: "A Relevance-Based Model for Ranking Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities"
  • Muntabir Choudhury became a candidate on 2021-11-17: "Automatic Metadata Extraction Incorporating Visual Features from Scanned Electronic Theses and Dissertations".
  • Gavindya Jayawardena became a candidate on 2021-10-25: "Automated Filtering of Eye Gaze Metrics from Dynamic Areas of Interest"

Publications and Presentations

Given the size of our research group, manually compiling a list of publications has become unwieldy, but our best estimate for 2021 is: six journal articles, one book chapter, two patents, 26 conference/workshop publications, and 11 technical reports or other contributions.   We've been working on a software package, Scholar Groups, that scrapes Google Scholar profiles, dedups the entries, and then merges them into a single list.   There are still a few issues that we are resolving, and anticipate making a full release in early 2022.  Since it scrapes Google Scholar, it is subject to any errors or limitations that might be in the Google Scholar entries.  I've included an expandable/collapsable gist below that is our 2021 publications list according to Scholar Groups. 

In 2021, most conferences were online, but we still issued trip reports for the ones that we "attended":

Research presentations and outreach

2021 brought a mix of online, f2f, and hybrid meetings and outreach.  For example, in between the Delta and Omicron waves, in October Dr. Wu attended the CCI Workshop "Role of Cybersecurity on Curbing the Spread of Disinformation and Misinformation and Disinformation" in Charlottesville, VA, supporting his successful CCI proposal for which he is the PI: "The Acceptance and Effectiveness of Explainable AI-Powered Credibility Labeler for Scientific Misinformation and Disinformation". 

During the summer, Dr. Jayarathna held two workshops on campus:

Dr. Jayarathna repeated the successful "Trick or Research" event, which was virtual again this year.  Other outreach events included:

Software, data sets, services

Scholarly contributions are not limited to conventional publications or presentations: we also advance the state of the art through releasing software, data sets, and proof-of-concept services & demos.  Some of the software, data sets, and services that we either initially released or made significant updates to in the course of 2021 include: 

Other contributions

Our research group made a number of other contributions in 2021 that do not neatly fit into any of the above categories.  Some of the highlights include:

Awards and Recognition

Many members of our group received awards and other forms of recognition:


2021 was a much better year for funding.  We were fortunate to have received 14 external grants (> $1.7M) and two internal grants ($11k). We are especially proud of Dr. Sampath Jayarathna winning the prestigious NSF CAREER award!

For internal grants:

  • Drs. Jayarathna & Poursardar as well as others in the CS department received $10k for "U-REACT: Undergraduate Research Experience and Career Training" from the College of Science Undergraduate Research Program Grant (COSURP).
  • Drs. Poursardar & Jayarathna received a $750 Faculty Innovator Grant for "Drone Programming Studio" from the Center for Learning and Teaching (CLT).

2022 -- it can only get better, right? right?!

For most, 2021 was an improvement over 2020 and the benefit of vaccines enabled some travel, f2f meetings, and in-person teaching.  Yet the pandemic continues, and it is becoming less clear when or if there will be a return to how things were before March 2020 (i.e., "normal").  Covid has impacted many members of our research group, and it is likely that in 2022 it will continue to impact more of us. 

Despite the many challenges, 2021 was a good year for us: we graduated four students (1 PhD, 3 MS), but were joined by five graduate and two undergraduate students.  We continued to publish in prestigious venues, and we more than tripled 2020's level of external funding.  Our PhD students continue to get great jobs in academia, government, and industry.  Despite our challenges, we are not just surviving, we are thriving.  I am proud of all members of WSDL and their progress in 2021.

If you would like to join WSDL, please get in touch.  To get a feel for our recent activities, please review our prvious WS-DL annual summaries (2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013) and be sure to follow us at @WebSciDL to keep up to date with publications, software releases, trip reports and other activities.  We especially would like to thank all those who have publicly complimented some aspect of the Web Science and Digital Libraries Research Group: our code, services, papers, or students and faculty.  We really appreciate the feedback, some of which we include below.