Using Visuals to Help Tell a Story: Meet Ximin Mi

Ximin Mi’s job at Georgia Tech exists in part because of feedback from the campus community.

Two years ago, the Library conducted a survey asking what resources it should offer, and data visualization services was among the top requests. Mi is Georgia Tech’s first data visualization librarian.

She helps students and faculty working on assignments or research create visuals to support their projects. 

“Data visualization uses charts, graphs, texts, maps, and all kinds of visual components,” Mi said. “I let the components interact with each other to tell a story. First, I try to find out the story hiding behind the data, then share that story with the audience.”

In June 2017, Mi came to Tech from Georgia State University, where she worked in a similar position. One of Mi’s first projects was a collaboration with faculty in the School of Modern Languages for the Climate Data Visualization Symposium in fall 2017.

“They wanted a time-lapse visual to show what has happened [regarding climate change] and what may be happening in the future,” Mi said. She put together a workshop that showed how to use satellite images from 1984 to today to show how the icecaps and shorelines have changed.

Last spring, Mi worked with Brittain Fellows who were looking at multiple volumes of journals from the 19th century in search of an interesting topic. For one project, she used the keyword “beauty” to see what visuals were associated with it — as opposed to what is associated with the word today.

“We had a small data set, but it showed that ‘beauty’ was associated more often with feminine and passive words and less often with active or intelligent words in our data set,” said Mi.

Mi is currently working on Data Visualization’s site service that allows students to do simulations with virtual reality. An Industrial and Systems Engineering class used the service to test how different vehicles perform on the road. And a psychology research team used virtual reality to see if people will get the same level of relaxation by meditating in a virtual environment as compared to a real environment. 

“I really enjoy research because every research project is a new problem to be solved or understood,” said Mi. “Every project is different. My job allows to me help other people, but it also helps me to understand all of these topics across different disciplines. I feel like a sponge. I have absorbed so much information and knowledge from my coworkers.”  
Mi said she appreciates the Georgia Tech community because it is filled with intelligence and curiosity.

“I keep telling my friends that I don’t have a dull moment. Every day is fresh and full of learning experiences,” she said.

Mi has a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. After graduating, she worked for Thompson Reuters before returning to school to earn two master’s degrees. The first is in education policy curriculum and leadership from Arizona State University. Her second master’s degree is from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in library science. 

Away from work, Mi likes to stay active. If she feels stressed, she goes for a long run.
“I like to be outside,” she said. “Atlanta is very beautiful and green, and I like to be in nature whenever I have time.”

She also likes to shop at small stores that sell things that aren’t usually found elsewhere. She likes thrift stores, and she recently visited a glass store because she’s interested in making pottery.

Because she thought she might adopt a cat, Mi visited a cat café to interact with cats to see how it felt. To her surprise, she found out she is allergic to cats.

“That was the saddest thing that could happen!” she said.

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