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Researcher stories: We have access to the location data of hundreds of thousands of people and could do something with it

2022-10-28 09:24:35

Each week from September, we will feature a distinguished Corvinus researcher who has recently received recognition for their work. Sándor Juhász is analysing the mobile phone and geolocation data of hundreds of thousands of users, and will soon join the research team of a former Harvard professor in Vienna.

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“After finishing my bachelor’s degree, I wanted to do a master’s at Corvinus, but I missed the admission by one point. I am happy that I have been able to do research here since then, and that I even received the Corvinus Research Excellence Award,” says Sándor Juhász at the beginning of the interview about his relationship with Corvinus, adding that everything started for him in Szeged at an unusual seminar where they discussed research and methodologies over esoteric tea on Thursday mornings.
“I was studying regional and environmental economics, where we talked a lot about the competitiveness of different regions. One of the leading lecturers of the study programme was Imre Lengyel, who allowed students to write a thesis on condition that they also wrote a TDK thesis and a publication on the subject. We sat, had tea and discussed how far each of us had progressed withtheir topic,” says Sándor about the beginnings and the unusual seminar.

Petőfi Printing House will not be lost, it’s only changing
Sándor’s topic was related to the printing houses in his hometown, Kecskemét. He studied industry concentrations and whether there is a network of professional knowledge exchange between the 30 local printing houses. “It was surprising to see so many printing companies in a city of 100,000 people, so I put together a questionnaire and visited each company personally. I thought they would be reluctant to respond, but when they saw that all their competitors were on my list, they were immediately interested,” said Sándor about how his first fieldwork began.

The interviews revealed that the concentration and dense professional network in the printing industry was mainly due to entrepreneurs who left Petőfi Nyomda in the 1990s and set up their own companies, and to the fact that they opened printing houses geographically close to each other, even in the same industrial estate. “There is a lot of personal contact, and thanks to that there is a real knowledge sharing in the region. I wrote a thesis and a TDK paper on the subject, and three years later, during my doctoral school years, we repeated the research so we could model the rules and how the network had evolved over time. I also published my first major paper on this topic”.

Published in 2018, it is still the most cited article by Sándor since then, as he believes that he entered the discourse on knowledge networks at the right time, when there were hardly any studies on their evolution over time. Then, with his supervisor Balázs Lengyel, they agreed that it would be worthwhile to turn towards larger samples, and the study of the creative networks of Hungarian film history seemed an interesting challenge.

Film brokers
The Hungarian Film Archive’s website offers a list of all Hungarian filmmakers who made films released in cinemas between 1911 and 2010. Sándor himself created a database and networks from those, which formed the basis for the later models. “We wanted to take a closer look at the relationship between success in the film industry and position in the network, so we looked for filmmakers who had contributed to the winning films at the Hungarian Film Festival. Their position revealed that a successful filmmaker has to be both at the centre of the profession, making professional connections with experienced filmmakers, but also acting as a broker with peripheral filmmakers, so that they can bring a different tone to their work from the past, with different ideas and new people”.

Sándor’s models have identified actors such as director Szabolcs Hajdu and producer Ágnes Pataki, whose place in the network is a good indicator of their success in the screening.

From networks to phone records
Sándor’s career at Corvinus started in the NETI Lab, where he was a researcher, led by his former PhD supervisor Balázs Lengyel. He considers it his good fortune to share an office with Eszter Bokányi, who holds a PhD in physics, because he acquired considerable programming knowledge while working together:

“I told her from day one that I wanted to learn everything from her! Eszter just said that from then on I could only communicate with my computer via the Linux terminal.”

Based on geolocated messages shared by hundreds of thousands of people via Twitter, they were able to investigate the correlation between the mobility of individuals and the patterns of their network of Twitter acquaintances. Their research illustrates, through users in the 50 largest cities in the US, that users who commute on longer distances have a more diverse network of connections in terms of income and structure. “The farther you commute, the more likely it is that the people you meet on your commute don’t know the people in your immediate area. So you’re exposed to more people and different new perspectives compared to those who live their lives within a narrow radius of home.”

From the same data set, they have another article in publication on their analysis of the network of contacts of users of different wealth levels. Their study illustrates that, in the vast majority of US cities, people of modest means have a closed, supportive network of connections and social capital confined to the neighbourhoods of their homes. In comparison, those in more affluent neighbourhoods have more open and less geographically concentrated networks.

In 2022, Sándor received the Corvinus Research Excellence Award in the Early – Mid Career Researches category for his publication achievements in recent years.

Aim: Vienna
In the coming period, he would like to continue analysing location data from mobile phones and further expand his international network. “During the second week of my PhD programme, I attended a workshop on economic geography in Utrecht, where I heard presentations from renowned professors and students from the best PhD schools in Europe. It was there that I experienced first-hand at a very early stage the high quality of the cutting edge of the field, and from then on I set the benchmark for myself,” says Sándor.

In 2022, he was awarded the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Mobility Fellowship, funded by the European Union. This will allow him to work in the Complexity Science Hub in Vienna in the research group of Harvard researcher Frank Neffke for two years starting in the autumn.

He is very grateful to Corvinus for the sabbatical leave he has been granted in recent years:

“The last few years have been decisive for me, as I have had the opportunity to work with great colleagues and to delve deeper into topics that interest me. I would like to spread the University’s reputation abroad”.

Author: László Tucsni, Corvinus Communication

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GEN.:2023.12.02. - 12:50:18