PhD Alumni Spotlight: To Build or Not to Build? – Myeong Lee, PhD ‘19

Hayleigh Moore - September 15, 2021

While planning his Master’s degree thesis, Myeong Lee was offered a simple question - "Do you want to build something or understand something?"

When Myeong Lee first met with iSchool Professor, Dr. Brian Butler, to discuss a plan for his Master’s degree thesis, he was offered a simple question – “Do you want to build something or understand something?” Since most of his prior experience focused on building computing systems and software development, Myeong decided he was more interested in understanding something. However, during the time leading up to his thesis presentation degree, Myeong discovered the abounding possibilities for not only building technology, but enhancing the ways we understand people in more innovative ways. These crucial moments after presenting his research to earn his Master’s in Information Management left Myeong with a strong sense of accomplishment, ultimately motivating him to continue his research and education with the iSchool’s PhD program.

Through the PhD program, Myeong was able to develop his original theory of Local Information Landscapes (LIL Theory) while learning different approaches to solving information problems through collaborations with scholars and practitioners from diverse backgrounds. His time spent with the PhD program helped prepare Myeong for his current role at George Mason University (GMU)’s Department of Information Sciences and Technology. As an Assistant Professor at GMU, Myeong continues to research ways to better understand local community dynamics, as well as technology-enabled groups and information inequality.

“Technological and social problems these days are intractably complicated due to the complex interactions between technological interfaces, underlying algorithms, information, individuals, institutions, and social systems. I think understanding these problems and developing solutions are possible only by sharing different approaches and knowledge. In that sense, UMD iSchool is a great [place] to engage in such an environment and culture.”

In 2011, Myeong co-founded Torooc Inc., a VC-funded emotional robot start-up based in South Korea. At Torooc Inc., he served as the Director of Software Development where his technical work included sound signal processing, embedded hardware and software development, and designing the “robot ecology.” During his PhD program, as his focus has moved to more socially-inspired data topics, he worked outside of school as well by being appointed as a Data Science & Technology Fellow at The Center for Open Data Enterprise, a non-profit based in Washington D.C. that advocates for open data movements. As a Fellow for Open Data Enterprise, he led the development of the Open Data Impact Map and advised the SDG National Reporting Initiative on technological strategy.

In his free time, Myeong indulges in YouTube videos dedicated to wine and enjoys experimenting with brewing coffee. He remains active with the UMD iSchool community through partnerships designing and implementing civic technologies to address geographically-embedded issues.

“I am proud of being among the creative people who find and solve information problems as well as those who gladly identify themselves as boundary spanners across the disciplines.”

Looking to discover answers to your most pressing information questions? Visit the iSchool’s PhD Homepage to learn more about the program and 50+ research interest areas, or email