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Meet our researchers - interview with Dr Mengdie Zhuang

Home > Meet Our Researchers Interview Dr Mengdie Zhuang

Dr Mengdie Zhuang is an i-sense Research Fellow working with Dr Ed Manly, based at Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at UCL. Her research areas of interest include data visualisation, information retrieval, and human computer interaction. In our short catch up, Mengdie shares with us how data visualisation plays into infectious disease surveillance and why user enagement is so important when developing a dashboard. 

What does your role at i-sense involve?

I am designing and evaluating data visualisation tools that support complex decision-making in the health domain.

What important role does data visualisation play in infectious diseases surveillance?

Data visualisation can provide a convenient and effective tunnel for people to understand data and extract underlying patterns quickly. A good visualisation system illustrates changes well, especially spatial and temporal ones, and offers an engaging experience for users. 

These characters are extremely important in infectious diseases surveillance where, for example, the direction or speed that diseases are spreading is desirable information researchers and policy makers would like to know ahead of time, in order to make decisions on health intervention.

How does user engagement play a role in your research?

Providing an engaging experience to users will ensure they feel the time spent is rewarding and encourage them to explore the topics presented, as well as presumably acquire more knowledge of the topics.

Although engagement was considered the ultimate goal of all information systems historically, engaging users in visualisation systems on a public health topic is challenging as this topic typically addresses a wide audience with various levels of domain knowledge and experience. At the same time, the visualisations will often contain complex datasets, such as gene sequencing, temporal and spatial information.

Disentangling the influences these factors provide on the phenomena we are interested in is challenging. My research focuses on understanding different user group’s information needs and information seeking habits while using visualisations, and further tailoring the visualisation design to better suit them. I aim to make the experience more light-weight and therefore more engaging.

What has been the most exciting project you’ve worked on in your career so far?

I am working on an i-sense COVID-19 dashboard to support more targeted local interventions. I particularly love the interdisciplinary nature of this project and collaborating with colleagues with different expertise, who are able to bring insights in public health, policy, and communication.

Tell us about something you enjoy outside of your research…

Chess and tennis are my long-time favourites. I am also attempting to write more about other topics than research.