8: Grace Benefield
Program and Year of Study
PhD, 4th year, working with Dr. Cuihua Shen as my advisor.
Previous degrees and colleges
I also received my M.A. in Communication and a B.A. in Communication—all from UC Davis! I am aiming for a UC Davis trifecta (B.A., M.A., and Ph.D.)
Where did you grow up?
San Diego, CA
Where do you live now?
What's your favorite spot in Davis?
My favorite spot is the North Davis Greenbelt—I love to go on walks or runs all around the winding park. It’s incredibly peaceful being so close to green spaces and open fields.
How do you relax?
I relax either by working out in the gym, swimming or running. I also relax by socializing and spending quality time with my close friends. I feel fortunate that I have such amazing friends in my graduate program and in others across campus.
What was the last book you read for pleasure?
I am currently reading a historical fantasy novel, His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik. It’s about what would happen in the Napoleonic era if there were dragons involved in the warfare. It’s a ridiculous premise and I’m loving it!
What was the last film you saw at the theater?
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
I am interested in how the structure of social networks affect behaviors, especially in online collaborative knowledge production. Using digital trace data of people’s actions, I’ve analyzed the social networks of Wikipedia editors, Facebook users, online video game players, and Github software editors.
Dissertation title or topic
My dissertation is about understanding how closely connected collaboration networks co-evolve with linguistic similarity on Wikipedia Talk pages.
Please share a surprising or noteworthy fact or finding from your research
In one of my papers on online video game guilds, my co-authors and I found that the guilds where some, but not all members have ties to each other tended to perform the best. This same pattern occurred when the ties were friendship ties, trading ties, and collaborative pick-up team ties.
Which professor or class inspired you to pursue graduate studies?
I was working on some undergraduate research work with Dr. George Barnett. I had not considered graduate school, because I didn’t know anything about post-baccalaureate work in Communication. He pushed me to apply one month before the deadline, and the rest is history!
Which scholarly text do you wish you had written? Why?
I wish I’d written one of the first papers on social networks that I ever read, Mark Granovetter’s paper on the strength of weak ties. The simple but less-than-obvious premise of the paper is that there is merit to cultivating ties to acquaintances as well as stronger ties—something that many researchers were failing to account for at the time.
Which other researchers at UC Davis are doing work that particularly interests you?
Although fairly different from my own research, I always find Dr. Jorge Peña’s (Communication) work on virtual avatars effects on people’s behaviors interesting. Outside of my department, there is a lot of amazing network science research occurring at UC Davis here—notably Dr. Mark Lubell’s (Environmental Policy) and Dr. Raissa D’Souza’s (Physics/Computer Science) labs.
What’s the best thing about being a grad student?
The freedom to study my interests and being able to talk to people about research. I love how open the academic community is about reaching out to others for advice, help, and collaboration.
What’s the worst?
The feeling of guilt for not working in the evenings and weekends. There is a certain level of pressure to devote your entire time to graduate work, but it’s important to me to have a balance in my life.
If you weren’t a grad student, what would you be doing?
Probably teaching or consulting. I enjoy mentoring others and guiding people to reach their full potential.
Finally, please ask yourself a question
What experiences have you had during graduate school that have been the most impactful on your research and on your career?
By presenting my research at conferences, especially international conferences in the UK and Japan, I feel that my research has been broadened and become more rigorous. Outside of academia, I interned at Facebook as a User Experience researcher last fall—which changed my perspective on how social research and design can affect the behavior of billions (!) of people.
Are you a grad student in the Division of Social Sciences at UC Davis? Do you enjoy answering questions? If so, drop Ben a line.