Doctoral Training Centre in Web Science

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


The centrality of the Web for scientific research and economic activity has not been matched by our understanding of its complex relationship with the embedding society. In part this is because of its Protean nature and ubiquity. It exists at a variety of scales, from engineering protocols to websites, small communities to giant e-government and e-commerce systems. It is engineered technology, and a network of overlapping social networks.Hence the Web's study is legitimate from many disciplinary perspectives. To engage with it as a first-order object requires an interdisciplinary overview, grounded by an understanding of its engineering principles, that currently few researchers can achieve. The aim of this Doctoral Training Centre (DTC) proposal is to create a cohort of researchers that (a) have appropriate research skills, (b) have a breadth of understanding of multidisciplinary approaches to the Web, and (c) are a coherent community.Such a cohort will enhance our understanding of the Web in a number of ways. They will carry out deep and committed research, which they will be able to situate in a wider context. The number of researchers will create a critical mass, able to promote Web Science in the academic community and help make it a hub for research investment over the medium term.The DTC aims to produce PhDs to fill the need, but who are also aware of each other's work and the work of relevant fields. This community awareness will be fostered in a number of ways. Students will: (i) begin with an MSc to equip them for the technical methods required for Web Science; (ii) have a base in the School of Electronics and Computer Science and the Web Science Research Initiative (WSRI) wherever their main location; (iii) share a core introduction to relevant disciplines, and to the protocols that make up the Web; (iv) be partly assessed on interdisciplinary group projects; and (v) attend joint research seminars. In this way the DTC will add value compared to a stream of isolated DTAs.The DTC will avoid introspection, and will be outward-looking. The Web is an international phenomenon, and WSRI is affiliated with other Web Science labs in a global network. All DTC funded students will be offered the opportunity to spend up to 3 months studying at one of these labs, or in an industrial placement. Furthermore, WSRI will host international scholars of all levels from other labs, and students will be able to attend their seminars and discuss their work.The creation of a cohort of researchers will be beneficial for the Web and our interactions with it. The continuing health of the Web is clearly a matter of interest for everyone, and this DTC will help develop a set of researchers able to understand the Web at varying scales, from varying points of view, and with a clear perception of the international dimension.A PhD in Web Science will be a valuable asset in many industries operating in the digital economy, including e-health, the media, finance or e-defence, where quality of service provided depends both on technological developments and the integration of technology into a social context. Issues such as security, privacy and collective intelligence matter just as much as methods of inference or the structure of the Web. The breadth of understanding that Web Science provides will also be vital in the software and hardware development companies which not only add value to the British economy but also support the Web itself.Finally, the Web is an important tool for government, in terms of communication and coordination within itself, and of delivery of services and supply of information to citizens. Once more, Web Science would enable an understanding of the technology and the social context for the next generation of government officials, allowing them (a) to apply current Web technology to existing problems, and (b) to engage with the future development of the Web in socially beneficial ways.


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