Milena Tsvetkova published her first paper after spending a summer at SFI in 2009.  Now, an Assistant Professor of Computational Social Science at the London School of Economics, Tsvetkova returned to SFI for a four-month sabbatical before beginning her application for tenure. For the past 14 years, SFI has played an important role at pivotal points in Tsvetkova's career.

“Inspiration comes from confusion, from having your perspectives and ideas challenged by exposure to other fields and research methods,” says Tsvetkova. The collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of the research at SFI offers her exactly that. 

A social scientist, Tsvetkova’s interest lies in the “fundamental mechanisms of social interaction,” from research on reciprocity to group identity and cooperation, and larger ideas such as inequality and segregation. Although these are real-world issues, much of the data can be pulled from online interactions, which mirror physical interactions, too. “I’m focused on basic social science — fundamental social phenomena that could take on certain shapes, that are more or less prominent in different social contexts but almost always dictate our social interactions regardless of where we are and what these interactions are,” she says. 

It was her experience as an SFI Complex Systems Summer School student that first sparked her interest in such interactions. She had joined a project on the spread of gossip in social networks, working with a team consisting of herself, an ecologist, electrical engineer, and an urban planner. Becoming her first published paper, this project led her to pursue a Ph.D. at Cornell University.

She returned to SFI in 2013 for the Graduate Workshop in Computational Social Science. The research she conducted also resulted in a publication and friendships that have lasted years. Tsvetkova crosses paths with those other participants fairly often. “A shared SFI experience is a great way to make contacts at a conference and keep them,” she says.

Tsvetkova has since returned to London, taking back with her many possible — and unexpected — topics for future work with new collaborators.

“It was such a radical change of environment. I met so many new people and attended so many events that the four months felt like a year,” she says.