Dr. Niloufar Sarraf Receives QUT Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award, Advancing Developments in NeuroInformation Science

Dr. Nilo Sarraf

Dr. Niloufar Sarraf, the 15th student to graduate from the San José State University-Queensland University of Technology Gateway PhD program, received the QUT Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award for her dissertation, “Mapping the Neural Activities and Affective Dimensions of the ISP Model: Correlates in the Search for Exploration, Formulation, and Collection Stage.” This prestigious award was given in recognition of Sarraf’s outstanding contribution and standard of excellence demonstrated in higher degree research practice.

Integrating the three disciplines of neuroscience, information science, and cognitive psychology to help detect dimensions of emotions using electroencephalogram devices, Sarraf’s award-winning thesis helped develop ways in which neuroscience can be integrated within other disciplines and industries.

Sarraf conducted experimental research mapping neurophysiological dimensions of the information search processes model, examined cognitive relationships between dimensions of emotions and web search performance, and explored the role of emotions in human-computer-interaction.

“My thesis focused primarily on examining and identifying 1) the neurophysiological dimension of the brain during the stages of information search, and 2) whether pre-existing emotional states, such as feeling happy or sad, had an impact on the neurophysiological reactions of the brain during the information search stages.”

Sarraf’s PhD program supervisor from the iSchool, Assistant Professor Virginia Tucker, said she felt “enormously happy” upon hearing the wonderful news of the award. “Her topic was so original, as were the details of the study’s experimental design and analysis,” said Tucker, adding, “There were multiple challenges along the way, too, so this recognition of the final outcome is immensely rewarding, for Nilo and also for her supervisory team that included Drs. Ian Stoodley, Sylvia Edwards, Christine Bruce, and myself.”

Upon learning she’d won the award, Sarraf said she was “so thrilled and totally utterly surprised.” The 2019 QUT graduate expressed, “It was a great validation for me to believe in myself, not give up, and to continue pushing my boundaries.”

Sarraf credits her mother, along with all of her supervisors, with supporting her throughout the thesis-writing process. “It was so hard to work full time in Silicon Valley and in tech companies while working on my thesis. At times I was totally exhausted, both emotionally and physically, and had it not been for them, I would have quit long ago,” she shared. 

Winning the award also gave Sarraf the encouragement she needed to move forward with her post-doctorate, for which she is experimenting on ways to help introduce and develop knowledge and practices around brain frequencies, and the neurophysiological aspects of emotions, in industries such as user experience, artificial intelligence, neural networks and robotics.

Sarraf’s resume includes stints at several tech companies such as Google/IBM and Unity Technologies, and now she has her own consulting research business, UXNeuroLabs, which introduces new methodologies she developed combining user experience and neuroscience to tech companies that offer products or services.

She has presented her research at several events, including BayCHI and the San José SmartData Conference. She has also written an ebook, “The Advances of Wearable EEG Neuroheadsets in the Tech and Business Industries,” and is currently working on another entitled, “The New Era of Neuro-Oriented Approach to AI, ML, Robotics Technologies.”

The Gateway PhD program is an international doctoral degree program that prepares individuals for research, faculty, and leadership positions in the field of library and information science. Sarraf is the third Gateway PhD program graduate to receive the QUT Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award; she was preceded by Dr. Kim Morrison in 2018 and Dr. Clarence Maybee in 2015.