News featuring Shailik Sarkar

Sanghani Center research takes new approach to analyze depression, anxiety from Reddit posts to provide better care, lower suicide rate

(From left) Chang-Tien Lu with his Ph.D. students Shailik Sarkar, Lulwah AlKulaib, and Abdulaziz Alhamadani. Photo by Joung Min Choi for Virginia Tech.

Suicide, the 10th leading cause of death for adults in the United States and the third leading cause of death among kids ages 10 to 14 and young adults ages 15 to 24, is often the result of an underlying mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. 

Motivated by a suicide mortality by state map released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the increasing severity of mental health crisis — further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic — three Ph.D. students and their advisor at the Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics are analyzing social media in a way that can help social workers and other professionals better understand and tackle different aspects of mental health issues to help prevent suicide. Read the full story here.

Sanghani Center Student Spotlight: Shailik Sarkar

Graphic is from the paper “Deep diffusion-based forecasting of COVID-19 via incorporating network-level mobility information”

Growing up in a family that included a doctor and public sector employees, Ph.D. student Shailik Sarkar said it became increasingly evident to him that social, behavioral, and economic factors often influence the physical and mental health patterns of an individual or a group of people.

That realization shaped his own decision to focus his research in computer science on exploring how data mining and artificial intelligence can be used to tackle community healthcare problems. 

A community level health outcome generally indicates overall health status of a group of people in a region, said Sarkar. “Anything from the cumulative number of people infected by COVID-19 to the number of people with asthma or the total number of deaths due to mental health conditions can be regarded as community level outcome of a certain physical or mental health issue. Analyzing how socioeconomic, linguistic, mobility, or any other features can be used to predict or identify those areas is something that is interesting to me,” he said.

Sarkar began his graduate studies at Virginia Tech as a master’s degree student having graduated with a bachelor of technology degree in computer science and engineering from Jalpaiguri Govt Engineering College, India (at the time affiliated with West Bengal University of Technology WBUT). But in Spring 2021, he converted to the Ph.D. program. 

His advisor is Chang-Tien Lu and the opportunity to work with him in his Spatial Data Mining Lab is one of the things that attracted him to the university, Sarkar said.

“As a student at the Sanghani Center I have the chance to work with people from different backgrounds, each bringing their own unique perspective,” Sarkar said. “I like the center’s continuous drive towards tackling new problems and the singular focus towards exploring new research areas in artificial intelligence.”

Sarkar was part of the research team on the paper: “Deep diffusion-based forecasting of COVID-19 via incorporating network-level mobility information,” recently included in the proceedings of the 2021 IEEE/ACM International Conference on Advances in Social Networks Analysis and Mining (ASONAM). This paper was a collaboration between researchers at the Hume Center and the Sanghani Center.

Sarkar is also pursuing the National Science Foundation-sponsored Urban Computing certificate.

“What I learned from UrbComp has helped me massively in understanding how ubiquitous sources of data can be used to tackle the kinds of problems I am working on,” said Sarkar. “The program introduced to me topics like epidemiology, event detection, and several other challenge areas that AI and computer science in general can be used for.”

After earning his Ph.D., Sarkar would like to hold a position in either academia or industry where he can apply insights from his research in AI to real world solutions in healthcare.