EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Web Science Innovation

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Electronics and Computer Science

Abstract

Web Science is the science of the World Wide Web and its impact, both positive and negative, on society. The Web is a socio-technical mixture of the people, organizations, browsers, policies, applications, standards, data centres, shopping baskets and social network status updates that have come to shape our everyday lives and global futures. Web Science offers the insights necessary to understand the flow of data and knowledge around the globe, and the social and technical processes that can turn gigabytes and terabytes of raw data and into valuable new applications or evidence-based policy. Web Science helps us appreciate the threats to our online identities but also the opportunities of allowing our personal digital avatars to participate in new kinds of online businesses, online politics and online social engagements. Web Science offers a basis for innovating new personal practices and new social formations, and the ability to predict the consequences for the UK's digitally connected citizens. With an integrated understanding of these research areas, Web Science doctoral graduates will be able to innovate in the shaping of Web growth and Web policy, positioned to lead UK industry and government to reap the maximum economic and social value from its emerging digital economy.

The Centre will recruit 13 excellent candidates annually from a variety of science, engineering, social science and humanities backgrounds. It will provide a cohort-based, 4-year doctoral programme with an initial training year that combines foundational aspects of Web Science research with technical aspects of the Web's architecture, an intensive training in interdisciplinarity and a grounding in innovation. A student-centred process of PhD research selection will begin at the end of the first semester with students starting to negotiate a potential project topic and multidisciplinary supervisor team with members of the Supervisor Forum. The CDT will offer a thorough programme of postgraduate research and professional training in co-ordination with the University Research and Graduate School. Complementary cohort-specific training will be offered to support and enhance the opportunities offered by the CDT (e.g. more intensive team building courses or communication training to prepare for specific industry events). The cohort experience is maintained throughout the PhD with frequent team-based events including collaborations with industry partners and international research exchanges.

The Web Science CDT will use a multidisciplinary training approach that has successfully cut across traditional disciplinary silos in research practice, institutional structure and University administration. Its novel cohort-based training environment creates a socially cohesive and self-supporting group of students that successfully integrate their diverse disciplinary expertise in collaborative teams. Its programme of cross-cohort activities encourages mentorship, thus making the CDT self-sustaining and allowing it to amplify the research leadership of the supervisory staff. The net effect of these cohort benefits is to allow each student to undertake more challenges and to achieve more excellent training outcomes than possible in an individual training regime.

Planned Impact

The proposed CDT in Web Science Innovation will have significant economic and societal impact, as it develops a substantial cohort of students equipped to navigate the disruptive transition to a digital economy. The training methods utilised by the CDT are based on a model of intensive industry partnership, thereby situating students directly in contemporary industry contexts and engaging them in a range of communications with industrial partners. This training context will develop important leadership skills, and will contribute to the formation of a better-skilled and more entrepreneurial workforce in the Digital Economy. Graduates will be able to understand the challenges and opportunities of the web from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, and therefore will have impact for a range of local, national and international businesses, within diverse sectors. As the proposed CDT combines both technical and societal approaches to Web Science, they will be able to identify and deploy effective digital solutions that have social traction. This will have considerable social impact creating a workforce capable of a holistic and therefore more effective approach to innovating in the digital economy.

Engagement with government will also allow for impact on a policy level. As interdisciplinary approaches to topical issues are developed through the CDT training, a cohort of graduates who can analyse and synthesise across perspectives will develop, providing cogent expert advice to policy makers. This societal impact will be significant, as key contemporary topics, such as online privacy or internet child pornography, are becoming increasingly complex and significant.

The CDT will also cultivate graduates who are adept at public engagement and outreach, having developed skills by engaging in a range of public activities throughout the course of their training. The ability to communicate broadly and clearly with a range of audiences, and to engage as leaders in a broad economic field, will be at the heart of the training.

The research undertaken by the postgraduate cohort, directed towards Web Science Innovation, and conducted in close co-operation with a network of industry partners, will generate significant new intellectual property within the UK economy. A particular innovation focus for the CDT will be Open Data, which amplifies the opportunities for value creation downstream from the original data creators and publishers. Our students will have the skills and opportunities to develop a range of novel and socially authentic Web services, through partnerships brokered by the Open Data Institute with government organisations, large firms, SMEs and startups.

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