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IU scholar who studies how social media shapes people's lives invited to join Microsoft Research

Mary L. Gray, a scholar who studies how people use digital and social media and an associate professor of communication and culture in Indiana University's College of Arts and Sciences, has been invited to join Microsoft Research's laboratories in Cambridge, Mass., as a senior researcher.

Mary Gray

Mary L. Gray

Gray, who also has adjunct appointments in the departments of American Studies, Anthropology and Gender Studies, will remain an IU faculty member, continue to work with graduate students and periodically return to IU Bloomington to teach while conducting her research at Microsoft Research.

"It's such an unprecedented opportunity for social research," she said of her new position. "It's a basic research think tank, much like Bell Labs and Xerox PARC. But Microsoft Research is absolutely committed to bringing people together from an even broader range of disciplines. They want to reshape the future of communication technologies in society and bring critical, humanist scholars, like me, to the table. It's a very special place."

In its announcement, Microsoft Research New England explained that it has asked Gray to join an environment where more conventional computer-science research occurs simultaneously with social-science research to reflect how people use technology. With the rapid changes in society, its researchers will study issues beyond technology itself, including how and why people use technology and how different cultural norms within the United States and other countries affect future technology development.

The multidisciplinary research lab extends beyond social research to economics, machine learning, computational biology and theoretical computer science. Microsoft Research New England is home to about 30 researchers and postdocs from around the world, with 350 visiting researchers per year. Microsoft Research New England is one of six Microsoft Research labs around the world with more than 850 researchers.

Gray's colleagues will include danah boyd, a leading social media researcher widely known for her research on young people's uses of social networking sites; and Kate Crawford, a noted expert on mobile media and youth culture formerly from the University of New South Wales, Australia.

"Through her deep engagement with marginalized groups -- and, most notably, rural queer youth -- Mary Gray's scholarship challenges widespread assumptions about contemporary American culture," boyd said. "In particular, by examining how people use new technologies in unexpected ways, Gray brilliantly reveals the cultural assumptions baked into the development and deployment of technology. Gray's perspective is essential to understanding the future of mediated social life."

"Mary's research is of vital importance to understanding how behaviors change and adapt to changing technology, and therefore to the world as we know it for the foreseeable future. I am not surprised that this work is of great interest to Microsoft," said Larry D. Singell Jr., dean of the IU College of Arts and Sciences. "I am delighted that Mary was able to establish this link to industry and maintain her faculty position. Her teaching of undergraduate students and graduate students will ensure that the next generation of researchers will receive the best possible training."

Larry Singell

Larry D. Singell Jr.

Print-Quality Photo

Gray, who spent time last year at Microsoft Research as a visiting researcher, said that her new position at the lab will give IU graduate students conducting digital media research greater access to opportunities at the New England lab such as postdoctoral positions, internships and colloquia.

"I'm thrilled that I'll be able to bring students I work with from our department, as well as others from across campus who work on digital media questions, to the lab to share their research," said Gray, an IU faculty member since 2004. "IU is a pretty humble place and it is a hidden gem. I love it here. I think we are doing some of the most innovative work in this area. To be able to bring what IU has to offer to the Microsoft Research lab setting is pretty exciting."

Before coming to IU, Gray studied anthropology before receiving her doctorate in communication from the University of California, San Diego in 2004. Her research looks at how media access and everyday uses of technologies shape people's lives.

Her most recent book, "Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America" (New York University Press, 2009) -- which won awards from scholarly societies in anthropology, media studies and sociology -- examines how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people negotiate and express their identities in rural parts of the United States -- and the role that media, particularly the Internet, play in their lives and political work.

She served on the executive board of the American Anthropological Association from 2008 until 2010 and holds a seat on that group's Committee on Public Policy.

Originally published March 5, 2012.