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Northeastern alum Glen Coppersmith featured on Today Show for suicide prevention research

Northeastern alumnus Glen Coppersmith, PhD, was featured on the Today Show on September 10th as part of their segment on World Suicide Prevention Day, for his company, Qntfy, and its research into using data from social media to track signs of suicide.

Glen was a part of Northeastern’s Psychology Department for 8 years, and still stops by to visit. His was one of the first classes to complete the combined computer science and cognitive psychology BS program (2000-2004). He was subsequently a graduate student in the department, working with Professor Neal Pearlmutter for his Masters (2005) and Professor Richard Melloni for his PhD (2008). He credits his time at Northeastern with giving him the foundations he needed in both computer science and psychology to effectively work at the intersection between those fields.

After leaving Northeastern, he was at Johns Hopkins University from 2008 until the end of 2014 and maintains an adjunct appointment there to this day. During his time there, he was the first researcher at the Human Language Technology Center of Excellence and had appointments in the Center for Language and Speech Processing, the Department of Applied Math and Statistics, and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. His work at JHU centered around using quantitative methods and machine learning to explore the application of human language analysis at scale.

In 2014, he realized that language data may hold some signals relevant for psychological and behavioral processes, and began exploring how language posted on social media sites can be used to better understand mental health and mental illness. He left JHU to found Qntfy (pronounced “quantify”), a company using people’s digital life data to better understand their behavior and wellbeing. One application of his technology has been in suicide prevention. Qntfy has been building technology to empower caregivers and clinicians of those at risk for suicide. For World Suicide Prevention Day, Glen was interviewed by the Today show about this effort, and the OurDataHelps.org project, a data donation project to create the datasets necessary to support research in suicide prevention.

The research he discussed in that segment can be found here. Half the paper describes the creation of the dataset and the algorithm, and the other half explores the pragmatic and ethical concerns of using technology like this to save lives. The rest of the research published by Glen and Qntfy can be found at their website.

Qntfy has deep ties to Northeastern beyond Glen, with many of its staff having spent at least some of their education at Northeastern. Glen, when asked about his time at Northeastern, touts its importance in shaping his career — “Co-op was critical to my appreciation of pragmatics. We would never go more than 6 months without taking what we learned and using it in the real world. This meant that all the theory was tempered and grounded by the reality of applied work. That focus guided my research naturally to things that have practical applications and the potential for large impact.” He says, of his time in graduate school, “the biggest impact it had on me was in driving home the importance of understanding your audience when working across disciplines — fundamentally, I was attacking psychology problems with computer science techniques. I had to explain that work to the rest of the department throughout my journey. These are all capable, brilliant, and technically-minded people, but ones who were not trained in the techniques I was using. The ability for us to meaningfully discuss our work and collaborate helped me to develop a skillset that is critical to every role since — the ability to talk to anyone about technology and what it means to them.”

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