CCIS PhD Student Selected for ACM SIGHPC Data Science Fellowship

August 30, 2017

Maciej Kos was checking his email in early July when he noticed a new message in his spam folder. The title of the email read, “Congratulations! You won!” It was a message Kos would have ignored had his advisor, Professor Misha Pavel, not been copied as a recipient.

“The email had no body. It was just a PDF,” Kos said. “I was laughing because I know sometimes these PDFs can be dangerous, but my advisor was CC’d so I thought maybe I’d see what it is.”

As it turned out, the email wasn’t spam. It was a notification telling Kos he was one of 12 students selected for an Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Special Interest Group on High Performance Computing (SIGHPC) Computational & Data Science Fellowship, an award established to promote diversity of students pursuing graduate degrees in data science. Kos, who sometimes goes by the nickname “Magic,” is a second-year PhD candidate in the Personal Health Informatics Program at Northeastern University’s College of Computer and Information Science (CCIS). He began his academic career as an economist. Now, he dedicates his time to developing a better understanding of the health behavior of underrepresented groups, specifically older adults, ethnic minorities, women, and persons with disabilities.

Kos is a student in the Health Behavior Informatics Lab, one of three labs that currently have their headquarters on the ninth floor of 177 Huntington Avenue. Kos works with professors Holly Jimison and Misha Pavel, both of whom have joint appointments in CCIS and the Bouvé College of Health Sciences, to conduct studies that investigate ways to use computing with mobile sensing technologies – think Fitbits and Apple Watches – to improve healthcare for those who are not well-recognized in the world of health behavior technology.

“We don’t model behavior of young, healthy, wealthy adults,” Kos said. He added, “We need to push so that the industry doesn’t focus only on runners.”

To accomplish this, Kos and his colleagues in the lab work with local Boston residents to research how state of the art technology can be used to monitor and improve their health. Current research includes testing the application of wearable sensors in assessing the stress levels of adult African-American men who smoke, developing an online platform for older adults who want to engage in more physical activity, and carrying out studies to determine how technology may be used to manage high blood pressure in older African-American women.

The fellowship will provide funding intended to assist with living costs, allow for more travel to conferences, and most importantly, further Kos’s research goals.

“Being able to advance this work and know that it matters is really what is very important,” he said.

Originally from Poland, Kos is happy to have made Boston and Northeastern his home base for health behavior research.

“I think this is the best place in the U.S. – if not in the world – to do this kind of research,” he said, adding that, “Northeastern is very keen on community involvement.”

Kos also pointed out that not only is Northeastern an excellent location to pursue health behavior research, the field itself is also experiencing a shift as both industry specialists and scientists are coming together in an ongoing effort to revolutionize healthcare.

“It’s interesting that right now it’s both academia and industry working together towards these goals, which is very encouraging and doesn’t happen that often,” Kos said. He highlighted the role that the Consortium on Technology for Proactive Care, a Northeastern-based organization comprised of health clinicians and researchers across the country, plays in enabling this essential collaboration.

Kos says he is continually motivated by his passion for scientific research and how it can be used to help people.

I always marvel at how well science actually works,” he said. “It allows us to unravel these mechanisms that are sort of invisible to the naked eye. This whole process makes it possible to understand health, human behavior, and us better.”