As a current PhD student, I study an exciting interdisciplinary field very new to the academic landscape: narrative artificial intelligence and its applications to optimization [algorithms]. Now that’s a complicated jumble of words, isn’t it? I want to make the computational tools I work with easily accessible to everyone. So, on this page, I’m going to introduce what my research field is and how I found it in the first place!

My research endeavors started as a middle-school science fair student when I began developing a carbon-neutral macro-algae biodiesel in my basement titled The Collins-Miller Project (named in thanks for the two teachers and advisors who made that research possible). In 2016, I had the opportunity to present my findings at The Pentagon to the undersecretary to the Navy’s Department of Energy- an experience which solidified my desire to conduct government research that resulted in widespread public good (as talked about in my 2016 TEDx Columbus talk). Yet, through this experience, I soon became aware of just how difficult it was to convince politicians and governmental officials of implementing research findings. This difficulty spurred a newfound fascination with modeling human decision-making. Could we prove that a decision was entirely logical? And how could numbers and data ensure we were making the right administrative decisions? This new obsession would soon spiral into the focus of my undergraduate degree.

From 2017-2021, I completed a Program II Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Duke University focused on quantitatively modeling how humans make high-risk decisions. During that time, I also worked as one of the core creatives behind Freshly Squeezed Pulp- a radio audio drama produced at my school from 2018-2022. This dual work illuminated similarities between the fields of creative writing and math: that stories and simulations are both modeling techniques humans use to better understand choices in our world (the topic of my 2020 TEDx Duke talk). I began to wonder what other connections existed between this under-explored disciplinary overlap.

Between 2021 and 2023, I completed an engineering master’s degree in Operations Research at North Carolina State University focusing on optimization [algorithms]. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and a number of internships studying emergency operations, I wanted to learn how human decisions could be optimized during high-risk situations to save lives. During this time, I met my PhD advisor: NCSU’s Dr. Arnav Jhala of the Computer Science department, who introduced me to the new field of Narrative Artificial Intelligence. Having finally found the academic area I wanted to become an expert in, I transferred to become a Computer Science PhD student in the spring of 2023.

Since starting graduate school, I’ve been obsessed with mathematically modeling a behavioral pattern I noticed in my undergrad: that humans make choices consistent with the mental narratives about their life they have developed, whether those narratives are rational or not. This behavior, coined Narrative Causality in communications research, became a core interest of mine. Inspired by this topic, my PhD dissertation works to model human decision-making (both stochastic and deterministic) according to Narrative Causality with an application on understanding how humans make choices surrounding a hurricane evacuation order. Having interned with the National Weather Service, I learned that some of the highest casualty rates in the United States come from citizens who choose not to evacuate from oncoming hurricanes- a problem I felt Narrative Causality might be able to help with. My work strives to create a UI-friendly program that will optimize hurricane evacuation order messaging based on the digital twin of a city, effectively increasing the number of people to leave an endangered area and minimizing the possibility of civilian casualties. Following completion of my PhD, it would be my dream to further develop this program for emergency management professionals. I aspire to work for FEMA in a research capacity, developing tools for government officials and civilians alike that help people survive high-risk situations.

Adventures and [algorithms] have way more potential to save lives than most people give them credit for- and I want to spend my career working in awe of that. Since the overlap between creative writing and computational modeling remains very under-documented, I want to use my site and blog to promote and share my work spanning the two fields. So please join me on this journey!  

Read more in the [algorithms] category:

Stay tuned for more!

Updated: [05/25/2023]