EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in My Life in Data

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: School of Computer Science


Our 21st century lives will be increasingly connected to our digital identities, representations of ourselves that are defined from trails of personal data and that connect us to commercial and public services, employers, schools, families and friends. The future health of our Digital Economy rests on training a new generation of leaders who can harness the emerging technologies of digital identity for both economic and societal value, but in a fair and transparent manner that accommodates growing public concern over the use of personal data.

We will therefore train a community of 80 PhD students with the interdisciplinary skills needed to address the profound challenges of digital identity in the 21st century. Our training programme will equip students with a unique blend of interdisciplinary skills and knowledge across three thematic aspects of digital identity - enabling technologies, global impacts and people and society - while also providing them with the wider research and professional skills to deliver a research project across the intersection of at least two of these.

Our students will be situated within Horizon, a leading centre for Digital Economy research and a vibrant environment that draws together a national research Hub, CDT and a network of over 100 industry, academic and international partners. Horizon currently provides access to a large network of over 75 potential supervisors, ranging from from leading Professors to talented early career researchers.

Each student will work with an industry, public, third sector or international partner to ensure that their research is grounded in real user needs, to maximise its impact, and also to enhance their employability. These external partners will be involved in co-sponsorship, supervision, providing resources and hosting internships. Our external partners have already committed to co-sponsor 30 students so far, and we expect this number to grow.

Our centre also has a strong international perspective, working with international partners to explore the global marketplace for digital identity services as well as the cross-cultural issues that this raises. This will build on our success in exporting the CDT model to China where we have recently established a £17M International Doctoral Innovation Centre to train 50 international students in digital economy research with funding from Chinese partners.

We run an integrated four-year training programme that features a bespoke core covering key topics in digital identity, optional advanced specialist modules, practice-led team and individual projects, training in research methods and professional skills, public and external engagement, and cohort building activities including an annual writing retreat and summer school. The first year features a nine month structured process of PhD co-creation in which students, supervisors and external partners iteratively refine an initial PhD topic into a focused research proposal.

Building on our experience of running the current Horizon CDT over the past five years, our management structure responds to external, university and student input and manages students through seven key stages of an extended PhD process: recruitment, induction, taught programme, PhD co-creation, PhD research, thesis, and alumni. Students will be recruited onto and managed through three distinct pathways - industry, international and institutional - that reflect the funding, supervision and visiting constraints of working with varied external partners.

Planned Impact

We intend the Horizon CDT to be the place where partners come to find their future employees and to engage with the opportunities and challenges of digital identity and personal data. The key beneficiaries of our research will be:

- Commercial private sector companies that will engage with our CDT students during their research and/or employ them after graduation. Our partners include companies developing digital identity technologies as well as user companies across a range of sectors (consumer goods, entertainment, transportation, energy and others).

- Public sector and third sector organisations that are concerned with the use of digital identities to support civil society including broadcasters, healthcare providers and campaign groups.

- The public whose personal data forms the focus of their research and who will ultimately use and come to depend upon digital identities.

- Research communities spanning computer science, engineering, psychology, sociology, business and humanities.

These will benefit in various ways.

- Commercial, public and third sector companies will benefit from being able to recruit from a pool of talented PhD graduates who bring an in-depth understanding of digital identity and a proven ability to work in interdisciplinary teams. They will also benefit from being able to participate in co-creation of PhD research to ensure focus on relevant challenges and be able to exploit results of this PhD research.

- The public will benefit through a greater understanding of the opportunities and challenges of digital identity.

- Research communities will benefit by opening up promising new interdisciplinary fields.

Our Impact activities will be driven by Professor Derek McAuley, the Director of Horizon, who has a track record of establishing industry labs, spinning our companies and who is currently acting CIO of the TSB funded Connected Digital Economy Hub. Key activities will be:

- All Horizon PhDs will be carried out in collaboration with an external partner who will be involved in drawing up the initial topic, recruiting students, shaping the PhD proposal, supervision, and hosting at least one internship

- We will continue to organise knowledge exchange events within Horizon that are open to our network of over 100 external partners, including our annual Horizon Research Conference.

- We will encourage the release of applications, open source software, and open datasets wherever collaboration agreements allow.

- We will actively encourage our students to spin-out new ventures, including providing seedcorn funding through Horizon.

- We will engage our students with our two partner catapults, the Connected Digital Economy Catapult and the Satellite Applications Catapult.

- We will actively encourage industry visits through guest lectures on our "Broadening Horizons" core taught programme.

- We will also encourage companies to define, steer and sponsor the first year interdisciplinary team projects.

- Our students will complete a module on Public and External Engagement and are encouraged to engage in public events and exhibitions.

- Horizon's journalist-in-residence will help expose students research to the wider world through regular blogposts, while the University's marketing and communications team will help them develop press releases.

- We will provide training in research publication as part of the Professional Skills module and mentor publications through the Practice Led Project and the annual writing retreat (where students present and critique draft papers).

These impact activities will be supported by a professional online presence with posters, demos and podcasts made available through our website and associated YouTube channel and twitter feed, and with individual PhD profiles being posted on our own site and on external networking portals such as LinkedIn and ResearchGate.


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