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Student Spotlight: Julia Sterling

Publication date

September 10, 2019 8:45 PM


Madeline Ninno



Julia Sterling is a sophomore majoring in math and music performance and has always had an interest in online algorithms. This summer, she began building a research paper recommender system as part of Tulane’s Honors Summer Research Program. Her research is important because it provides researchers with a more efficient system of finding relevant resources. She compares this search engine for academic papers to Netflix’s recommendation function, which suggests new movies based on those viewers have already watched. She says her system “looks at the citations of each paper and it also looks at the topics or text of the titles and abstracts of papers” to make recommendations to researchers.

She conducted her research with Matthew Montemore, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and plans to continue working with him during the academic year as they test her recommender system. Julia says working with Professor Montemore was rewarding because she had not “talked to a professor one-on-one before.” She found “working together on next steps” especially interesting and especially as someone new to the research experience. 

While research can be an invigorating process, there are also challenges and Julia’s project was no exception. She encountered an unexpected challenged while she was using a technique called “web scraping” to collect citation data from Web of Science, an online scientific citation indexing service. While she was scraping citation data, she was flagged as a bot and blocked from the website. She says she was flagged because “normally, a person using the website would make maybe three requests a second” but she was using a computer to automate the process and was “probably making a hundred requests a second.” She then tried to hide her IP address to access Web of Science but was removed from Tulane’s Wi-Fi. Now, she is using alternative resources to collect citation data. Her commitment is clear as well as her ability to navigate new systems and rethink problems with the research process.

Despite the setback, Julia continues developing her recommender system. “The area of research paper recommender systems and algorithms is interesting” to her and she aims to develop her summer research project further with the guidance of Professor Montemore. They are considering developing her recommender system into a usable website for others to benefit and possibly write a paper on the topic. Julie says that the Honors Summer Research Program was an “exciting” opportunity for her to explore her interests and begin working with Tulane faculty on a project about which she feels passionate.

The Honors Summer Research Program is an opportunity for students to work with a Tulane professor on a scholarly project for six weeks during the Summer. Funding includes housing and a stipend so that students can focus on this enhanced academic experience.