PhD student examines the origins of online extremism

Karmvir Padda

PhD Student | Sociology

As a first-generation student, Karmvir Padda is breaking down barriers and challenging traditional perspectives in her research. A PhD student in Sociology, Karmvir’s research on open-source intelligence, online radicalization, and extremism is bringing new insights into the complex issues of the digital age by drawing on criminology, psychology, and political science.

“I look at the social and cultural factors that contribute to online radicalization and explore the cognitive and emotional processes that underpin radicalization from a psychological perspective. By gaining a better understanding of the factors that contribute to online radicalization, we can design interventions that reduce the risk of harm.”

Karmvir Padda

Karmvir has always been intrigued in how technology shapes people’s perceptions and worldview. This interest became a passion during the US presidential elections with the rise of foreign interference on social media, and she was fascinated by how foreign actors used social media to target and manipulate people’s political beliefs and values.

Anchoring her research in practical applications, Karmvir hopes that her findings will help develop strategies for monitoring and combatting extremist content online. “By identifying patterns of online radicalization using computational tools and algorithms, we could take steps to combat extremist messaging before it gains traction. And by raising awareness about the risks associated with online radicalization, we could empower people to make informed choices about their online activities.”

In addition to conducting research, Karmvir is also enrolled in co-op, a unique feature of the Sociology PhD program at Waterloo. “The co-op program is a vital aspect of my career development, providing me with an unparalleled opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge gained from my program in a real-world setting. Beyond the hands-on experience, I can establish connections with industry professionals,” she adds, highlighting that the connections and skills she acquires through her co-op placements will provide her with a competitive advantage in the job market.

“I was drawn to Waterloo because of the university's exceptional reputation, unique learning opportunities, diverse and supportive community, interdisciplinary approach, and commitment to equity and inclusivity.”

As a doctoral student at Waterloo, Karmvir has presented at international conferences across the world, received prestigious awards, and has  published in numerous peer-reviewed journals. She also takes an active approach to her professional growth by participating in workshops focused on enhancing her writing and public speaking skills, in addition to advancing her research expertise.

Karmvir also credits the support of her supervisor, Professor John McLevey, as being instrumental to her success, citing his support, encouragement, and guidance. “Dr. McLevey challenges me to think outside the box. He has encouraged me to explore different perspectives and approach problems from new angles, which has helped me to develop innovative and creative solutions to complex issues.”

Reflecting on her graduate career so far, Karmvir highlights that PhD studies can be equal parts challenging and rewarding, noting that everyone’s PhD journey is unique and that it’s important to find community with your peers but resist the urge to compare yourselves to them.

“It's important to remember that everyone's journey is unique and that it's okay to ask for help when you need it. Don't be afraid to reach out to your peers or professor. Additionally, I encourage everyone to seek experiences and opportunities outside of your comfort zone, as these will lead to growth and development that you may not have otherwise achieved. Lastly, always remember to take care of yourself both physically and mentally, and to find a healthy work-life balance that works for you.”

Interested in studying sociology at Waterloo? Learn about how to apply