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College of Information and Communications

  • Ehsan Mohammadi

An innovator in information science

Posted December 11, 2018
By Abe Danaher, communications assistant
Top photo: Ehsan Mohammadi with his SLIS 420 class

At USC, Ehsan Mohammadi is producing groundbreaking research and bringing new ideas to the School of Library and Information Science. But it was the journey that brought him here — the many years spent learning at schools around the world and the different career arcs he meandered through  that made him the robust researcher and diversity-minded teacher that he is today.

It began when, at 18, he checked the box on his Iranian entrance exam declaring interest in information sciences. The entrance exam process is extremely competitive, so when he was accepted into the University of Isfahan’s library and information science program, Mohammadi was excited and began learning everything he could about information science.

“When I was applying, I knew what information science was,” Mohammadi says. “But I did not have an inside-out perspective on it until my second semester." 

To gain that perspective, he used dial-up internet to search the curriculums of the world’s top information science schools. What he found confirmed that he was on the right path.

“Through their syllabuses I realized with the emerging internet, it is going to be the future,” he says.

That decision was the driving force behind his ensuing career path. After completing his undergraduate studies, he began his master’s in library and information sciences at Tehran Azad University in Iran while also working as an online information services librarian. He then worked as an education and product manager for Integrated Information Network before pursuing his doctorate in information science at the Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group at the University of Wolverhampton in England, one of the top information science programs in the world according to the Shanghai global ranking.

While receiving his doctorate, he attended a summer school at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford, and after receiving his doctorate, he joined Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago as a post-doctoral researcher. He believes these experiences provided new opportunities for him to look at information science from different perspectives.

Today, as an assistant professor in the School of Library and Information Science, Mohammadi uses this background to better understand his students.

“My role is to be diverse,” he says. “I understand that when I was a student, it was not inclusive teaching in a specific setting. Now, I put myself in the shoes of students and say, ‘okay, I need to be inclusive in teaching.’”

What does inclusive teaching mean? Mohammadi recognizes that his students learn in different ways depending on their interests, past educational experiences and personal abilities.

“I always accommodate students’ differing learning styles through available methods,” he says.

Lara Szypszak, a student of Mohammadi’s this semester through the online MLIS program, says he adjusted his teaching for the online format to make her feel included in the SLIS community and to give her as close to an in-class experience as possible.

“Dr. Mohammadi presented several lectures where he suggested real tools to use in research, and actually demonstrated ways to employ them,” she said. “It is so beneficial to have instructors not simply list ‘how-tos’ but to actually sit down and walk students through the process of doing data analysis and organizing your research.” 

Mohammadi also compares his doctoral experience in England to the experience his doctoral students have at USC. He says his learning in England was grounded heavily in research. So, with the help of Dr. Vanessa Kitzie, he is working to modify the curriculum and structure of SLIS’s doctoral program to increase its research excellence.

“We hope that it will be useful for Ph.D. students in their future careers,” he says. 

Along with the impact that Mohammadi is having on his students at USC, his research is sending waves through the entire field of information science. His areas of interest include data analytics, social media, online information behavior and scholarly communication. His work often explores how the scholarly information ecosystem is affected by social web data.

Recently, he studied how Twitter is used for scholarly communication. He sent an online survey to over 50,000 people who had tweeted out academic papers at least once. He found that around half of the respondents to the survey were people outside of academia. This finding revealed a major impact that social media has had on the dissemination of academic findings  that unlike in the past, people outside of academia are interacting with academic papers because of social media. 

This study was published in a prestigious interdisciplinary journal, PLOS ONE. His papers have also been published in many top-tier information science journals and some of them have been identified as among the top 1 percent of cited papers in all social science disciplines worldwide based on the Web of Science database.

His research has not only been cited in academic publications, but also in different settings such as policy documents. This shows the impact that Mohammadi is having on the field and how he is fulfilling an important role in society.

“Our role as information scientists,” he says, “is to make the information ecosystem healthier and to think about the trustworthiness of the information.”

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.