Seeking Meaning and Purpose at an “Unconfused” Age
I discovered the concept of “human flourishing” while writing the closing chapter of my Ph.D. dissertation in the spring of 2020 when the pandemic hit, seriously challenging the well-being of many people. I started my Ph.D. journey around age 40, a stage of life said to become “less confused” (Si4 Shi2 Bu2 Huo4, 四十不惑) according to ancient Chinese wisdom. I increasingly wanted to find purpose in my life through meaningful work. In my professional life, I have worked at the intersection of health care & education and applied data science/AI/ML for many years. Over the years, I found joy while spending long hours wrangling data and trying to find appropriate methods for making sense of the massive amounts of data in two seemingly unrelated domains: healthcare and education. I realized that this niche had the promise to fulfill my longing for purpose. Firstly, the work is intellectually challenging because of the intriguingly diverse, complex, and dynamic nature of humans. Secondly, I felt like my endeavors had the potential to ultimately contribute to the improvement of both patient and student outcomes which have significant societal impacts. While healthcare concerns the improvement of physical or mental health, education is about the nurturing of minds and the building of character for the next generation.
Human Flourishing as an Overarching Framework
What are the inherent connections between healthcare and education? Is there anything else I should care about? Over time, I discovered various connections between healthcare and education through the lens of human-centered AI frameworks. Although I began to see the emerging big picture, my real “aha” moment came after I read a paper on the Promotion of Human Flourishing, which summarized empirical evidence related to the determinants of human flourishing and related pathways toward human flourishing. Unsurprisingly, education and health serve major parts in the bigger picture of “human flourishing.” Yet, there are more parts to the puzzle. Indeed, my goal is to promote human flourishing through my job as a faculty member, specifically through my use-inspired multidisciplinary research in data science/ML/AI, teaching/mentoring, and my services to the university and community.
Informatics for Human Flourishing
Our lab is named “Informatics for Human Flourishing.” Informatics is the transformation of data into valuable knowledge and actionable insights; human flourishing encapsulates the broad notion of human well-being. This includes but is not limited to human physical/mental health, happiness, life satisfaction, meaning, purpose, character, virtues, and close social relationships. Informatics is one of the means (at least within my scope of work) which is used to work toward the goal of “human flourishing .” While pursuing those professional goals of supporting human flourishing, at the same time I am also finding myself a platform for flourishing. Through my work, I can find satisfaction, meaning, and purpose. I am cultivating my virtue and character; developing intentional social relationships with people from diverse backgrounds. I am supporting people in my sphere of influence to flourish, including the students I teach/mentor, my colleagues, my neighbors, my friends/ acquaintance, and, last but not least, my lovely child and other family members.
– Karen Chen, August 2022