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Cecilia Aragon

Spring 2024

Exploring Engagement with Virtual Pet Sites

Organizers: Alyse Marie Allred, Cecilia Aragon

Note this DRG is full for Spring 2024 and no longer accepting applications.

Virtual pet sites, such as Neopets, are browser games built around the core mechanic of collecting digital pets, often with additional features such as: minigames, forums, contests, dress-ups, and a tradesmarket. Although they rose to prominence in the early 2000s, virtual pet sites persist to this day. Moreover, while the original trend was associated primarily with children, many of the current users of these sites are adults--some of whom were the original children who have since grown up. This DRG seeks to understand how adults interact and play with these virtual pet sites, as a point of comparison to existing ethnographic data on how children engage with them. The goal is to produce a paper summarizing the findings and submitting it to a conference or journal. Co-authorship on the paper is a possibility for motivated and engaged students.

What students should expect:

  • Joining one of four virtual pet sites (Neopets, Flight Rising, Dappervolk, Lorwolf)
  • Independently playing at least 30 minutes, three days of the week (1.5 hours playtime total)
  • Weekly short reflections (1-3 paragraphs) relaying activities, observations, and other significant interactions
  • Weekly 2 hour meetings with the team to share work and discuss observations (meeting time TBD)
  • Full reflections at midterms and finals

For questions, please contact: Alyse Allred at

Autumn 2023 - Spring 2024

Human-Centered Data Science and Large Language Models

This year-long Directed Research Group will explore questions in the field of human-centered data science, as it relates to the development, usability, evaluation and social impacts of the recent proliferation of large language models. Students will lead and participate in original research projects, as they discuss novel and impactful questions in the field by designing and executing their own studies. Students will be working directly with PhD candidate Sourojit Ghosh (G). 

Students have the option of signing up for 4 credits, across three quarters. In the Fall 23 quarter, the DRG will meet Tuesdays 12-1pm, and students will be required to have an additional 1-on-1 meeting with their research team once a week. To apply, please fill out this form by EOD September 17. For questions, contact G at

Dr. Aragon's Research Group archive