IHRP Says Farewell to "HMCollab"


The Health Media Collaboratory, which began at the Institute for Health Research and Policy in 2011, is moving to the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Sherry Emery, the senior research scientist and IHRP Fellow who founded and directs the Collaboratory, becomes a senior fellow and program area director at NORC on July 11. Most of her full-time research team members will join her at NORC offices in downtown Chicago by mid August.

Health Media Collaboratory team members leaving UICEmery established the Health Media Collaboratory in 2011 with two grants from the National Institutes of Health to investigate broad questions about media influences on health. With funding from the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the American Legacy Foundation and others, Sherry built a team to examine how the rapidly expanding media environment, from TV to the Internet and social media platforms — along with consumers’ participation in these media — affected health behaviors, beliefs and attitudes. Their work addressed different forms of tobacco and electronic cigarettes, pharmaceutical advertising, and marijuana.

Their work required developing new methods to collect, clean, manage and analyze social media data to meet the rigorous standards of science. For example, they have collected tens of millions of Twitter messages, or tweets, on smoking, using a sifting method that allows them to omit messages about barbeque, for example, while keeping messages that employ slang references to cigarettes or the act of smoking. 

"Her work is truly innovative," IHRP Director Robin Mermelstein said of Emery at a July 6 farewell reception for the group. "This approach holds great promise for answering many important policy questions about population health as well as present new avenues of inquiry to other social science disciplines."

Dr. Jidong Huang, an IHRP senior research scientist and a Collaboratory investigators, will assume a faculty position in the School of Public Health at Georgia State University in mid August. Huang, who also a co-investigator on Dr. Frank Chaloupka's international tobacco policy research, obtained his first R01 grant as an independent investigator in 2015.

"An exciting future in tobacco control research awaits him," wrote Mermelstein in an e-mail announcement to the IHRP community.

Dr. Yoonsang Kim, a biostatistician in IHRP’s Methodology Research Core who works closely with the Collaboratory, will join NORC later in the summer. With Emery and Huang, Kim developed a conceptual framework to collect and assess the quality of social media data and established a rigorous reporting standard for this new field of research.

Glen Szczypka, the Collaboratory’s deputy director, who joined IHRP over 16 years ago, will lead a new social media data center at NORC that will provide services to researchers worldwide.

Also joining NORC are Eman Aly (who began working at IHRP in 2004), Steve Binns, Danielle Heide, and Hy Tran. All four earned their master’s degrees while working at IHRP. Postdoctoral research associate Ganna Kostygina will also join the team at NORC.

Graduate research assistants from the UIC Department of Computer Science currently working on the Collaboratory's research will continue their work under subcontracts after the grants are transferred from the University of Illinois of Chicago to NORC.

This news release was written by Veronica Johnston, who directs IHRP communications.