Is This Heaven? No, It’s OII SDP

Stacy_BlasiolaStacy Blasiola is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is the editorial assistant for the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media and Social Media + Society. She is working on her dissertation proposal, “Algorithms and the Misrepresentation of Self in Everyday Life.” You can find her on Twitter @blasiola.


The time I had with my cohort at the OII SDP remains one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had in my academic career. As an American, I’m struggling not to use the word “awesome” but seriously, it was awesome. I’ll tell you a little bit about why, and I hope you’ll forgive the overwhelming nostalgia. Dr Nash has created a two week program that lasts a lifetime. Looking back, I think there are two key aspects of the SDP that make it happen: The people and the place.

The SDP brings together doctoral students who are in an advanced state of their degrees. This means that all of the participants are going through similar challenges and struggles. In the months leading up to OII SDP 2014, I was done with courses and focused exclusively on prelim preparation. As OII SDP 2013 alum Iona Literat noted, this can be an overwhelmingly lonely time. Academic writing is creative, and yet it can be difficult to find inspiration given the solitary nature of the work. If you don’t know it now, you’ll find that having peers makes doing the work a lot more fun, and it also opens doors for collaboration. When you spend two weeks at the Oxford Internet Institute with a cohort of enthusiastic, young scholars, you emerge with some new friends and a powerful support group.

As part of the self-described “best OII SDP cohort ever”, we continue to encourage each other. Since leaving the OII, I’ve worked with several members of my cohort on the Graduate Student Advisory Board for the journal Social Media + Society. We are planning panels for upcoming conferences, and a few us are co-authoring papers together. We visit each other when we travel, and we share rooms at conferences. And even now, as I write this, I’m chatting on Facebook about my dissertation with a fellow SDPer. This is what people mean when they say you make friendships that last.

In addition to the people, the place was what made SDP memorable for me. As an American, it’s an experience to be somewhere that has history. And when you think of all the scholars who have been through Oxford, a sense of amazement takes over. Everywhere, the city reminds you of its great thinkers of centuries past, and being in the presence of it all makes for a special time.

But more than just scenery, there’s something intangible about the environment that you can draw on. There’s a creative current that flows through the buildings; it’s in the smell of the old books, and etched on the walls. I wanted to tap into that feeling. Every day I made sure to spend some time alone. I got a library card for the Bodleian and spent hours in Duke Humfrey’s (that’s the library featured in Harry Potter and A Discovery of Witches) working on my dissertation proposal. I visited several of the museums. I rented a bike for the week exploring every back street I could find, and I’m sure I wasted a day in Blackwell’s Books. Although these were moments I spent with myself, they were far from solitary. In fact, they were regenerative.

As you can probably tell, I remember my OII SDP experience fondly. It was an opportunity to make lifelong friends, meet future collaborators, experience the beautiful city of Oxford, and be reminded of the reason we’re all doing this thing called academia.

Falling back in love with the halls of academia: top 10 moments from SDP 2014

Lindsay_Megan_2014Megan Lindsay is a fourth year doctoral student in the School of Social Work, Arizona State University. Her research focuses on the use of ICTs and the impact these technologies have on human development. Her work has primarily focused on dating relationships and whether ICTs play a role in the way partners interact, particularly the new ways of relating, and building a sense of identity and intimacy. She has spent the past two years working with a multisite research team to produce and test a dating safety smart phone application targeted toward college females.

At the beginning of a PhD programme, we start out with great energy and nearly child-like excitement for the process — at least I did. However, as time pressed on, I began wondering where the momentum went and how I could get it back.

The Summer Doctoral Programme is perfect for students looking to renew their energy and fall back in love with the halls of academia. Whether you are a first-year PhD student still trying to define a research question or struggling through the painstaking process of actually writing your dissertation, the Oxford Internet Institute’s Summer Doctoral Programme reminded me of all the things I loved about academia and reinvigorated me in a way I had not thought possible.

The SDP, in and of itself, is a masterful montage of what an academic career potentially entails and its picturesque setting oftentimes made me feel as if I were a character in a movie. For that reason, I decided to share my “top ten movie moments” from my time at the OII during Summer 2014.

Here’s to the moments I’ll never forget:

1. Oxford. The city of Oxford, loaded with buildings hundreds of years old, has such a rich history that it is both humbling and inspiring to explore.

2. Magical powers not included. However, you can actually study in the same place where Harry Potter became a wizard.

3. The food, the food, the food. Participants are treated to delicious and ornate meals. Thank you, Mom, for forcing me to attend church activities explaining table etiquette.

4. Tea time. Post-dinner conversations concerning our shared research interests with coffee, tea, and delicious after-dinner chocolates that melt in your mouth. The Kenneth Burke analogy of academia seems all too fitting.

5. The cameos. During our first week, Vicki Nash, SDP Programme Director, informed us that the one and only Professor Judy Wajcman was going to be visiting the OII for a social function to which we were all invited. A meet and greet with one of the greats ensued. We did, however, resist the urge to ask Professor Wajcman for her autograph, but she graciously posed for a photo with us, a photo proudly displayed on our Facebook walls, and someday, our office walls.

6. The Bill Spectre Ghost Tour. A ghost tour was a fun reminder of our own mortality and the things in life that are just too difficult to quantify. A fun introduction to the “dark side” of the city.

7. To punt, or not to punt? Do it. You will like it more than you think. Mostly because it’s the perfect chance for calm relaxing connection with nature — or a great reminder that motor skills are not everyone’s gift.

8. Sports Day. Imagine running, very quickly, with an egg on a spoon. Well, it shows the carnal competition everyone already knows exists in the academic world.

9. Happy Hour. After you lose the egg race — at least in my case — you can enjoy a cider (or more) at the local pub. They will have you feeling merry in no time.

10. Lifelong friends. Although you come as strangers, after punting and the egg race and the other exciting experiences enjoyed at the OII, what you are left with is a group of new friends, academics like you, who just shared a once-in-a-lifetime experience and are forever connected because of it. The last day will include many hugs, email exchanges, and maybe a few tears.

You may be wondering why the prestigious people of Oxford would encourage this range of experiences, but I have no doubt it was a strategic scheme. If you plan to continue in academia, for life, be prepared to step out of your own serious thoughts — take delight in the feast, fun, and people around you. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us” — a reminder from one of Oxford’s greatest stars, J.R.R. Tolkien, that we should learn to enjoy our journey.

SDP 2014 Students with Judy Wajcman

SDP 2014 Students meet Judy Wajcman

Through days and distances: could your dissertation use some space-time disruption?

Caroline JackCaroline Jack is a graduate researcher and doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Her dissertation (in progress) is a history of corporate-sponsored economic literacy campaigns in the United States during the latter half of the twentieth century, in which she analyzes institutional understandings of media’s potential to induce personal transformation amongst members of the public. She posts media ephemera and other archival findings on Twitter: @cjack.

If you’re in the middle of researching and writing up a thesis, you’ve likely spent the last few years finding your footing. You’ve been figuring out which questions interest you and learning how to choose the methods best suited to addressing those questions. You’ve been learning the theoretical canon in your discipline. Perhaps you’re in an interdisciplinary field, and you’ve been learning more than one disciplinary canon. At any rate, your committee’s blessing to begin your dissertation work signals that you’ve developed an understanding of one or more traditions of scholarly theory and practice.

Now, there’s a general sense in the academy that interdisciplinarity is a good thing, that a diversity of theoretical and methodological orientations will make for richer work. But in practice, the process of developing an academic identity asks each of us to figure out where we stand in relation to the methods, practices, values and theoretical orientations that are traditional for our discipline. Despite our admiration for interdisciplinarity, we may find disciplinary silos springing up around us.

Randy Lynn (OII SDP 2013) argues in this blog that the OII experience not only surmounts academic balkanization, but fosters a better future for the academy–one in which scholars identify and critique structural problems while taking a participatory, collaborative approach to envisioning new ways forward. And Ioana Literat (OII SDP 2013) meditates upon the deep personal connections that have their seedtime at OII. The academy of the future that Randy argues for doesn’t spring up overnight: it spools out through the friendships and collegial relationships Ioana describes. If we are to be the future of the academy, it is something we will become with each re-connection at conferences, with each collaboration on new works, and with each chat or email or Facebook post (or even the occasional snail-mail postcard sent on its slow path through days and distances).

Perhaps it’s my own disciplinary background in communication that leads me to think about OII SDP in terms of time and space–an obsession of media scholars for many a year. The historian Harold Innis, for example, wrote in the mid-twentieth century about different media forms and their tendencies to favor space or time in their transmission of meaning. Innis’s acolyte Marshall McLuhan argued that radio and television made a global village of the entire world. Media scholars in our own moment attend to the potentially ubiquitous, instantaneous and global reach of networked digital technologies across space and time (yet caution that intersections of income, class, gender, race, sexuality and other social categories influence both access to and use of these technologies). Thinking about the OII SDP experience in terms of time and space, I can’t help but see the experience as one in which we enter a point of richly generative rupture.

You’ll travel to an unfamiliar place, far from home. You’ll likely have at least a little bit of jet lag and a touch of culture shock. For a few weeks, your ordinary temporal routines will go out the window. And I think that these things are really crucial. The dislocation, disruption, and disorientation of travel to a faraway place can invite a traveler to become more open to his or her surroundings, to take things on their own terms, and to be unabashedly curious. The tutors and staff of OII nurture that sense of openness, and clear a space for us as participants to be fruitfully disrupted together. To be the seed of something new.

New SDP scholarship fund for outstanding students at the Creative Industries Faculty, QUT

John Hartley,

Prof. John Hartley, founding Dean of the Creative Industries Faculty, QUT.

We are really delighted to announce the establishment of a new SDP scholarship fund for outstanding students at the Creative Industries Faculty (CIF) in Queensland University of Technology. The scholarship has been established thanks to a very generous personal gift from Prof. John Hartley, who was the founding Dean of the Creative Industries Faculty and is a longstanding friend of the OII. The scholarship will enable outstanding CIF PhD students in the field of digital media and communication to attend our annual Summer Doctoral Programme, and will be available for the next 5-6 years with matched funding possible to support a second student if more than one excellent candidate is selected by OII.

This scholarship is particularly meaningful to us as it crystallises the longstanding relationship we’ve built with QUT around the Summer Doctoral Programme. In addition to sending excellent students every year, the Faculty hosted the programme in Brisbane in 2009 with great professionalism (and better weather than the typical Oxford summer…) providing a really memorable experience for our own faculty as well as the participants.

In addition to the obvious synergies of research agendas and educational goals, we’ve made many firm friends amongst the faculty during that period, two of whom (Jean Burgess, now Director of Research Training, and Marcus Foth, the Founder and Director of the Urban Informatics Lab) started out as students in our second SDP cohort in 2004. We thus see the establishment of this scholarship as a wonderful recognition of the value of SDP, from both an individual and an institution whom we greatly value working with. Thank you!

Victoria Nash, SDP Director

Marcus, Jean and Ralph Schroeder (OII) at the SDP2009: Brisbane

Marcus, Jean and Ralph Schroeder (OII) at the SDP2009: Brisbane

Students at the SDP2009, undertaken in partnership with the Creative Industries Faculty, Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Brisbane. The thematic focus was on 'Creativity, Innovation and the Internet'. Credit: andresmh

Students at the SDP2009, undertaken in partnership with the Creative Industries Faculty, Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Brisbane. The thematic focus was on ‘Creativity, Innovation and the Internet’. Credit: andresmh

Catching up with the SDP alumni

[posted by SDP Director Vicki Nash]

It’s one of the perks of convening the OII Summer Doctoral Programme that I get to keep in touch with the programme’s alumni as they complete their theses, apply for their first academic positions, and generally go on to achieve great things. When recently looking up what’s been published lately by the ex-SDPers, I was firstly struck by the tremendous range of research areas being covered; everything from organizational practice, to child protection, to networked protest, to smart cities.

The second thing was that the Internet has moved on so much – and so quickly – that many of the topics being researched today were unimaginable when the programme was launched back in 2003. As just one example of this, Cesar Albarran Torres (University of Sydney; SDP 2013) recently published an analysis of the emergence of mobile social gambling — a new form of media and cultural practice opened up by mobile platforms and social networking sites, that fuses social gambling and gaming (and of course raises policy challenges in terms of increased availability of gambling products to minors, and the merging of the gambling and mobile gaming industries and markets.) In other cases, our alumni have made significant contributions on topics which have persistent academic and policy relevance, such as the recent book by Elizabeth Staksrud (University of Oslo; SDP 2008) on children in the online world: risk, regulation, rights (Ashgate). Based on her PhD thesis, this important book examines whether contemporary regulation of online risk for children and teens is always legitimate and whether it results in the sacrifice of certain fundamental human rights.

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When the revolution comes, the OII SDP will be a model for the new academic order

Randy LynnFurther transformations in higher education are coming — and Randy Lynn (SDP2013) hopes that the future looks a bit like the OII’s Summer Doctoral Programme: encouraging international and multidisciplinary participants, collaborative and supportive relationships, and comprehensive engagement of the scholarly issues that mutually excite us. Randy is a Presidential Scholar at George Mason, with research interests at the intersections of youth, education, digital media, and social networks. He writes:

A glib title? Sure. But perhaps not as hyperbolic as you think.

After all, it’s no secret that a revolution has already come to higher education, dating roughly from the time Ronnie Reagan and Maggie Thatcher came to power on either side of the pond. The legacy of that revolution has been students as consumers, contingent faculty as a new category of working poor, and administrators second only to optometrists in how often they talk about their “vision.”

But there are other adverse legacies with which aspiring scholars must contend, such as the balkanization of academic disciplines. If truth and grant money are the two driving forces of contemporary academia, the firm belief that the particular theories and methods of my little fiefdom can beat up the theories and methods of your little fiefdom isn’t far behind.

Those of us who have forayed into Internet studies are a new type of scholar. Not because what we study is new, but because we’re uniquely situated at the threshold of what hinders academia –both old and new.

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Mitigating doctoral students’ perceived isolation: the value of young scholar networks

Ioana LiteratIt’s always nice to hear from SDP alumni; to find out why they applied, what they got out of the programme, and what they are up to now. Ioana Literat is a doctoral candidate at USC Annenberg, where she is studying participatory practices of collective creativity, as mediated by digital technology. She discusses her time in Toronto as a student on the 2013 Summer Doctoral Programme:

As doctoral students, we are in a line of work where we’re taught to emphasize the differences rather than the similarities. Find your niche, your adviser tells you. Distinguish yourself from your peers. Be an expert in your own unique domain. We are taught that the ingredients that seem key to a successful academic career are, at their core, all about difference, originality, individuality, and ultimately, standing apart from your peers.

But what if we started putting an emphasis on our similarities for a change? Taking part in the Oxford Internet Institute’s 2013 Summer Doctoral Program made me see that, although our personal circumstances and research interests may be different, as PhD students and young scholars, we are bound by the same challenges, goals, hopes and fears. Our research community can also function as a support system, but — for a variety of reasons — we do not sufficiently take advantage of this support system. My experience in the SDP in Toronto made me fully aware of how valuable this resource can be. It made me see points of convergence, rather than points of divergence, between my own personal and professional paths and those of my peers. It made me (re)appreciate the value of solidarity, whether that means sharing a call for papers, venting about the job market, or talking about motherhood in academia. It made me realize that I am not alone, in spite of how isolated I often feel, sitting in front of my laptop at my study desk.

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The Summer Doctoral Program and Toronto: The Meeting Place is the Message

Bernie HoganOII Research Fellow Bernie Hogan is a regular fixture on the OII’s Summer Doctoral Programme, tutoring and leading seminars on social networking. Having obtained his PhD from the University of Toronto he is well-placed to comment on this summer’s SDP, which is being hosted by the University of Toronto’s iSchool. So why is Toronto such a great place to hold the SDP? Bernie writes:

Originally named for a cross-cultural meeting place, Toronto, has sought to maintain that reputation to this day. Toronto is many things to many people, a place rich in cultural and ethnic diversity. It is Canada’s largest city and capital of its largest province of Ontario. Its skyline is defined by the iconic CN Tower, built for radio and television transmissions in 1976. For 34 years, it was the world’s tallest free-standing structure. Although that title has fallen by the wayside, it might still be the glitziest with its new LED array illuminating seasonal themes, from Christmas to Gay Pride to Caribana. The tower stands as simultaneously as a symbol of how communication can transcend space and time and yet how communication is so obviously tethered to one’s immediate surroundings.

CN Tower, like much of the city, is striving to keep pace in a global digital world. It’s a theme that permeates the aesthetic of Toronto’s architecture. Within walking distance of the University, the Royal Ontario Museum has had a hypermodern metallic facelift by Daniel Libeskind, while the Art Gallery of Ontario has had a more subtle postmodern hockey-themed façade by hometown boy Frank Gehry. Meanwhile, the unmistakable ‘table top’ Sharp Centre for Design for the Ontario College of Art and Design continues to charm and confuse.

Toronto’s vibrant present has stood on the shoulders of its rich past. Harold Innis, author of Empire and Communication, taught there in the first half of the 20th Century. So did one of his most strident fans: the enigmatic and wide-ranging Marshall McLuhan, whose colloquialisms such as ‘The Medium is the Message’ and ‘the Global Village’ were like beacons from a future that is only now arriving. Continue reading

“A unique opportunity to meet, debate with, and get to know some of the best doctoral students around the world”: Jaz Choi on the Summer Doctoral Programme

Jaz ChoiJaz Hee-jeong Choi is the Deputy Director of the Urban Informatics Research Lab, QUT. Her research interests are in playful technology, particularly the ways in which various forms of playful interaction are designed, developed, and integrated in different cultural contexts; her current research explores designing for playful interactions to cultivate sustainable food culture in urban environments. We asked her about her experiences both as a student (SDP2007) and tutor (SDP2012):

Ed: You were keen to volunteer as a tutor at last year’s SDP: why seek to take on this additional teaching responsibility?
Jaz: SDP is one of the events I genuinely look forward to every year. It’s a unique opportunity to meet, debate with, and get to know some of the best doctoral students around the world. Teaching can be a very pleasurable experience. OIISDP is memorably so. I hope to be able to make further contribution in the future.

Ed: You helped to organise the SDP that was hosted by QUT in Brisbane in 2009: any really memorable moments?
Jaz: The launch of the Legacy Project for sure. It seems to get better every year.

Ed: And of course, you were a student at the SDP2007 hosted by Harvard’s Berkman Center: how well did that capitalise on the amazing talent at Harvard? How much does location affect the SDP experience?
Jaz: The location has a significant effect on the SDP experience – it’s not just about the number of pubs around Oxford or lack thereof elsewhere 😉 The SDP at Berkman was such a treat – as well as the stellar line up of tutors, extra curricular activities gave us fun opportunities such as visiting labs at MIT and a BBQ at Jonathan Zittrain’s house. The most memorable experience for me personally is the unceasing scholarly discussions and debates with other participants and tutors from dawn to crashing into bed with a mixed sense of exhaustion and satisfaction. Continue reading