Advice to candidates: How do I know if the SDP is right for me?

Victoria NashThe OII’s Summer Doctoral Programme brings together doctoral students from around the world for a fortnight of study with leading academics in a multi-disciplinary environment that aims to provide constructive advice and support for students’ doctoral thesis research. SDP Director Dr Victoria Nash answers the questions of a theoretical ‘prospective candidate’ (PC)…

PC: The OII’s research covers a vast range of topics and disciplines: law, economics, politics, digital humanities, etc etc. How do I know if I will fit into the mix?

VN: The most fundamental requirement is that our SDP students must be writing a thesis or dissertation about some aspect of life with the Internet. Beyond that, it’s the place to be if you have an open-minded approach to how best to study the Internet. Our typical cohort includes students from a wide variety of disciplinary and methodological traditions, and what they all share is a genuine intellectual curiosity and a willingness to consider these different perspectives.

PC: How much am I expected to know (or care) about other discplines? What is the benefit of (for example) a law student, or economist engaging with people and ideas from outside their own discipline?

VN: The simple answer is that you’re *not* expected to know about other disciplines, but you are expected to be interested in their possible contribution to your research field. One of the perks of running SDP is seeing all the water-cooler conversations striking up outside the formal seminars. So, for example, we’ve previously taken students focused on online privacy, some studying it from a sociological perspective, others from a regulatory one. Each may have knowledge of a common core of literature, but can still learn from the other’s expertise. Or in another case, students may not share a common disciplinary or even topic approach, but could have similar interests in applying a particular method. In each case there has to be a basic willingness to step back from your own work and see how others might understand it.

PC: Are any disciplines (or research methods) favoured over others when you review the applications?

VN: No!

PC: Do you accept candidates who study the Internet from outside the social sciences (eg the sciences and humanities)?

VN: Yes, we certainly do, but with the proviso that most of our teaching will draw on social science theories and methods.

PC: Do I have to study ‘the Internet’, or could my thesis research involve other ICTs?

VN: We interpret the Internet in a very broad way, as a ‘network of networks’ that incorporates use of many ICTs. We do have faculty who have focused specifically on the use of particular technologies e.g. mobile phones, or grid computing, but in each case the interest stems from the fact that they are ‘wired’.

PC: I’m not a techie! Is that a problem?

VN: Nor am I. Possibly a bonus if you want to engage in some of the SDP conversations about building your own data-scraping tools, but it’s certainly not required.

PC: Should I have a clear idea / plan of what I want to get out of the programme?

VN: Yes, this is really vital. First of all, the programme is going to cost you or your sponsor quite a bit of money and you have to be sure it’s worthwhile. But more importantly it will help to frame your application and your participation. For example, everyone who attends will benefit from the peer network established, but only those who have a genuine motivation to learn and a sense of their work’s weaknesses will be able to use the two weeks to really make progress on their thesis.

PC: When is the ideal point in my doctoral studies to apply to the programme?

VN: We usually say not too near the start of the first year, or end of the last so that there is a real opportunity to apply the lessons of the Programme. In American-style PhD programmes this means that you should apply when you have reached the dissertation stage.

PC: I haven’t decided a thesis title yet: is that a problem?

VN: You won’t be ruled out of the application process but we do often give priority to those who are more advanced in their study. If you don’t have a final title yet, at least give us a provisional one, and an indication of the likely area.

PC: I haven’t started on my data collection yet: is that a problem?

VN: No, that’s fine.

PC: If my application is not accepted, can I still apply for subsequent year/s?

VN: Absolutely! We always have more good applicants than we can accept, and sometimes an application is stronger when the applicant’s work becomes more advanced.

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Daily research seminars and discussions are led by an international group of leading researchers; all students are also asked to present their research to their peers in informal seminars.