Health Disparities Revealed Through Twitter- Interview with Rachel Lai

By Rebecca Moragne, TuftScope Research Highlights-Editor

Rachel is TuftScope's Executive Manuscript and Layout Editor. She is a sophomore pursuing a BA in Community Health and a BS in Environmental Studies at Tufts University. After graduating in 2019 she plans to continue her studies in the Tufts University Masters in Public Health program. 

Can you tell me a little bit about the research you are doing?

“So I work with the professor, Professor Hollander in the UEP [Urban and Environmental Policy] department and he is looking at housing developments and how people live and the way that they communicate with each other. We got access to Twitter’s API [Application Program Interface] so we are able to look at tweets that are posted every Monday in the greater Boston area. So every week we download those tweets and analyze them using a dictionary that has a sentiment analyzer so we know how many tweets have a positive sentiment or are negative or anger or that kind of stuff. Using our analysis we are looking at which housing developments or areas are happier than others and we think about factors that might be coming in to play to why these differences might exist. Right now we are pretty much just downloading those tweets and mapping them and trying to figure out disparities in the greater Boston area.”

Why did you want to get involved in this research?

“I love big data and am really interested in statistics and now with the Internet there is the capacity to be able collect so much data. And with out ability to access it through social media, like twitter, it is becoming increasingly important to analyze the data. I thought this would be a great way to get some experience with that and also contribute to figuring out disparities in the greater Boston area.”


What kind of research are you most passionate about?

“As a Community Health major I am most interested in health topics. Boston is a great place to be for health but there are a lot of ways that we could improve especially in Somerville and Medford, the area around Tufts. We have also with our research group gone in to the city with focus groups to try and educate people more.”


Do you see yourself pursuing research after graduation? If not, what do you see yourself doing after graduation?

“Probably not lab research, but I really want to work with people and communities…maybe going in to communities to focus on interventions.”


For further contact, Rachel can be reached at

Moragne, R. Interview with Rachel Lai. January 28, 2017. Tufts University, Medford, MA.