During the summer of 2015 I attended the OII Summer Doctoral Programme. I applied because I thought it would be a good way to start off my last year in the PhD and (finally!) bring together the different parts of my doctoral research. A friend and colleague, Cameran Ashraf, had attended the 2013 SDP and had recommended I apply. Noting the positive terms in which he spoke of this programme certainly generated high expectations on my part. However, these were surpassed by the personally and professionally transformative experience that I had at SDP this past summer.
From the first day it was clear that this was much more than an academic gathering or a place to discuss ideas and works in progress. The combination in terms of disciplines, experiences, backgrounds and personalities present within our group enabled a process of community building that began almost immediately. This allowed attendees to develop a sense of comfort in sharing their ideas, debating them and getting feedback in an honest, open, respectful, and productive environment. Beyond the terms of our research, the exchanges and interactions at SDP had the rare quality of getting participants to reflect on core components of our outlook on the world, such as the preconceptions, assumptions, and beliefs underlying our academic and everyday practice. This was done in an setting characterized by trust, intellectual rigor and respect that allowed us to push each other to sharpen our ideas, go beyond our comfort zone, and even address the difficulties, challenges and (sometimes) risks associated with our research.
The schedule at SDP combined in equal parts presentations by OII and guest faculty, students, and social activities. These three parts were organically woven into a two-week long intensive experience that was as challenging as it was enjoyable. Presentations by guest faculty were representative of the wide range of state-of-the-art research done across the disciplines tackling the role of digital technologies in the lives of individuals and societies. While, given the diversity of the group, not everybody was an expert in each of the subfields and topics presented, this made for very interesting discussions full of productive engagements between people with complementary perspectives. Student presentations showcased dissertation proposals, chapters and other works in progress. Each of these presentations was given full attention by the faculty and the group of students, and as a result created a context were productive feedback and positive engagement were the norm. Finally, the range of scheduled and impromptu social activities were crucial building blocks of a genuine group atmosphere and community building process that transcended the academic and formed lasting personal bonds.
All of this, it must be said, was made possible by the hard work, enthusiasm and clockwork organization of the OII SDP faculty and staff, led by Vicki Nash, whose warmth, cheerfulness, and intellectual generosity are imprinted on this program’s DNA. At the height of summer, set amongst Oxford’s thousand-year old architectural and historical landmarks, beautiful gardens and hubs of cutting-edge scholarship, the SDP manages to integrate creative work and fruitful intellectual exchange into a challenging and welcoming environment that strengthens both individual careers and community ties. I can’t wait to visit again.
Huge thanks and props to the OII SDP staff team (Jordan Copeland, Tim Davies, Karen Mead, Duncan Passey), as well as the featured faculty (Andy Przybylski, Chris Foster, Greg Taylor, Bernie Hogan, Ralph Schroeder, Rebecca Eynon, Marcus Foth, Reynol Junco, Scott Hale, Homero Gil de Zúñiga, Jonathan Albright, Kerk Kee, Christoph Lutz, Taha Yasseri, Stuart Shulman, Helen Margetts, Joss Wright, Eric Meyer, Kathryn Eccles, Vicki Nash, William McGeveran), and of course the amazing #OIISDP2015 cohort!
Luis Felipe Alvarez León is a PhD Candidate in Geography at UCLA studying the political, economic and regulatory dimensions of the digital economy.