Even More Thoughts on SDP 2008: The Network Definitely Continues…

Monica BulgerThis week we ask Monica Bulger about her experiences at the OII as an SDP2008 (and Web Science exchange programme) student. She writes ..

On the first day of SDP 2008, Barbara Barbosa Neves delivered her presentation on Internet and social capital and, when an audience member suggested she look into Barry Wellman’s work, she replied, ‘Barry Wellman is my advisor.’

That’s when I knew this summer institute was going to be different.

There were 29 of us, plus mentors and guest speakers, crowded into a single conference room at the Oxford Internet Institute for two weeks, about 6 hours per day. Our mentors included the developer of the World Wide Web, creators of e-mail, former Chief Scientist at DARPA, Internet privacy specialists, and founding members of the Web Science Research Initiative. The graduate students were from all over the world, representing several disciplines, including Computer Science, Law, Communication, Information Science, Political Science, Media Studies, Economics, and Education.

An accomplished, precocious group that wasn’t afraid to ask questions, we quickly established a challenging, funny, and engaging rapport. Together, we presented, debated, ate, punted, picnicked, hiked, and studied. We explored Oxford together, often getting lost, and we also attempted to define Web Science and apply it to our research interests, often getting lost there, too.

One afternoon early in the program, Jonathan Zittrain had an informal session on the lawn at Balliol. We discussed the ‘meta’ stuff of research presentations – how to engage our audiences during the first few minutes, how to field questions, how to manage audiences when discussions get contentious. Our conversation shifted to a discussion of challenges we faced in interdisciplinary research, and future directions of the Internet and technologies.

Despite its seemingly short timeframe, the SDP was a transformative experience for many of us. By design, the program prioritized in-depth feedback on our research from several specialists in the field, including our graduate student peers. Our work was the focus of the two-week program and we had many opportunities for direction and mentorship.

Most importantly, we built networks. We immediately friended each other on Facebook and started sharing photos. We used a backchannel during the presentations to keep abreast of each other’s different disciplinary interpretations and to share expertise, when appropriate. We ate lunch together every day, continuing our discussions with both peers and mentors. We met with our mentors formally and informally, which challenged us to advance our thinking. Many of us made contacts that led to jobs and additional funding.

Over the past year and a half since the SDP, I have had daily contact with the friends I made in Oxford. We share our research challenges and successes, ask each other questions, and keep each other updated on our lives. Several of us were awarded Web Science Research Initiative fellowships which allowed us to extend our research work and continue our collaborations at Oxford, University of Southampton, Harvard, and MIT.

Our small group continues its impressive accomplishments: Elisabeth Staksrud has published three book chapters and journal articles about protecting children from pornography on the Internet, Christine Madsen traveled to Nepal to test her theories about the future of libraries, Sonny Zulhuda teaches courses on Internet law, Jennifer Barrigar published a chapter on Internet privacy, Matthew Weber recently returned from a research stint at Reuters in Oxford, and several of us have advanced to candidacy or completed our doctoral degrees.

A few of us returned to Oxford in March 2009 as part of the Web Science Research Initiative and then traveled to Athens to present at the Web Science Conference. Also in the Spring, Christian Pentzold and Malte Ziewitz organized a workshop in which scholars from around the world discussed the interplay between networked digital media and social order.

As Yana Breindl and Matthew Weber have already mentioned in their reflections [read Yana on the SDP2009 book, read Matthew on Web Science], through the OII’s Summer Doctoral Programme we found our disciplinary home.

Our group continues the debates and supportive discussions started on the backchannel of OII and lawns of Balliol.

The SDP2008: Web Science sought to generate dialogue and debate between students from different disciplinary backgrounds in order to identify topics for fruitful collaborative research and shaping curricula in this emerging field.

The “SDP2008: Web Science” sought to generate dialogue and debate between students from different disciplinary backgrounds in order to identify topics for fruitful collaborative research and shaping curricula in this emerging field.