Last year, I realised one of my PhD student ambitions and was fortunately able to take part in the summer doctoral programme offered each year by the Oxford Internet Institute. I’d had my eye on the programme for a number of years – it has a great reputation, but my circumstances hadn’t been quite right in previous years (maternity leave & then catching up from maternity leave). 2016 was my last opportunity as a PhD student, and I can confirm that its fantastic reputation is well deserved. It’s a very intense fortnight, but immensely intellectually rewarding, and enormous fun too (I don’t think I laughed so hard in the whole of 2016 as I did on ‘Bill Spectre’s Oxford Ghost Tour).
The OIISDP is wonderful opportunity for anyone doing a PhD on a topic aligned with Internet Studies. As social media has permeated virtually every subject and sector to some extent, it’s quite common to be working in virtually any Department but studying a traditional topic through an Internet Research lens. I’m based in an Educational Technology department for example – which is online-focused and techie, but I don’t think anyone else attends the Association of Internet Researchers conference, for example.
Interdisciplinary research is novel and rewarding but comes with a compromised sense of identity and security of being ‘a [subject]-ist’ and in this sense the OIISDP was very reassuring as it showcased what does bind Internet Research together – in terms of topics, theories, and methods. Even the topics which seemed at first glance to be less relevant to my current work were fertile ground for developing new ideas. Although I was attending with near-final PhD draft in hand (literally – I got the first copy printed whilst I was in Oxford), I came away with several ideas for new ways of examining my data, and developing new potential projects. In addition to the student presentations, alumni, careers, and research methods sessions, the range of topics presented by OII faculty included:
- Helen Margetts: Political turbulence: How social media shape collective action
- Andy Przybylski: Internet Gaming Disorder: Investigating the clinical relevance of a new phenomenon using robust scientific methodology”
- Heather Ford: How facts (in the form of Wikipedia articles and PhD theses) travel
- Bernie Hogan: Social networks from metaphor to method to monetization
- Luciano Floridi: The nature of power in mature Information Societies
- Ralph Schroeder: Rethinking social theory after the Internet: Media, technology and globalization
- Sanna Ojanperä: Big Data in development
- Taha Yasseri: Collaborative knowledge creation and collection
- Vicki Nash: The politics of protecting children online
- Joss Wright: Discovering Internet filtering
- Grant Blank: Cultural values and digital inclusion
- Kathryn Eccles: Introduction to Digital Humanities and crowdsourcing for cultural heritage
- Eric Meyer: Big Data knowledge machines
- Huw Davies: “It’s the (political) economy stupid”: rethinking digital inequality
I’ve been following the work of the OII for a while so I had a good idea of what to expect in terms of content in the programme, but something which I hadn’t expected beforehand but viewed as a major benefit is the social network that OIISDP-ers become part of. I was able to have informal chats with several of the faculty members whilst I was there, and have formed firm friendships with the students in the 2016 cohort. There’s a paper on the horizon and I know that when I follow up on my new ideas in the future, I have a network of folks with a range of different specialisms who I could approach for collaborations. It’s also great to catch-up with other OIISDP alumni at conferences, and the community keeps the conversation going through its Facebook group. Hopefully I’ll be able to pop in as an alum and ‘proper academic’ to say hello to a future cohort one day 🙂
Applications for the 2017 OIISDP are currently open – apply at http://sdp.oii.ox.ac.uk/apply/ – closes 20th February. Good luck!