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Postgraduate Study

Information Society Doctoral Programme (ISDP):

Information Society Doctoral Programme (ISDP) Overview

The Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility (CCSR) at De Montfort University, is the only research centre in the UK specialising in the ethical and social issues of computing and information systems. Members of the Centre have been supervising research students since 1993. The Centre has established the Information Society Doctoral Programme (ISDP) to concentrate the research student / supervision efforts.

The purpose of the programme is to capitalise and continue to grow our already existing research base. It will attract high quality research students by advertising our research strengths and supervision capabilities. By providing information to students, applicants, members of staff, internal and external stakeholders and observers, ISDP will raise the visibility of the CCSR and streamline procedures. It will allow us to improve our experiences which will then feed into further research avenues and thereby provide students with an enriched research experience.

The standard offer of a PhD place at De Montfort University is on to a four year doctoral programme. All students on the Information Society Doctoral Programme are research students of De Montfort University and are subject to the University's Code of Practice. You should always consult this when you submit any paperwork, such as your registration, transfer, extension requests etc. to ensure you are filling in the correct form.

Dr Ben Fairweather
T:
+44 (0)116 207 8098
E: nbf@dmu.ac.uk  

 

Application Process

Applicants should complete the Application Form and submit it to De Montfort University. Reference forms should be passed to the two referees for completion.

The admission points onto the ISDP are 1 October, 1 January and 1 April.

Applications are accepted for full time (typically 36-48 months) and part-time (typically 56-66 months) modes. It is possible for students based overseas to study on the 'International Programme' where the students spends almost all their time in their home country. However, the admission requirements for such students are higher than they are for students who study in Leicester, an experienced local supervisor to the student is also required.

ISDP research students have to complete several milestones: register for their research degree (within 6 months of enrolment if full time). Submit a major report (after 12-15 months if full time). Finally submit their thesis and undertake an oral examination (after 36 months if full time). Additionally, all research students must complete an annual review.

 

Teaching

Supervision in the ISDP is carried out in teams consisting of at least a first and second supervisor. In many cases we will have an additional second supervisor and external advisors. This is due to the interdisciplinary nature of our research, which often requires different areas of expertise.

Students accepted on the programme will be enrolled on a variety of research training courses according to university regulations and requirements and faculty requirements. CCSR's contribution to these courses lies in the area of research ethics.

Additional to university regulations, members of the ISDP will participate in the following activities:

  • Student research seminars (where students present their research and discuss it with other research students)
  • Reading groups (where students can suggest topics and texts for collective deliberation and discussion)
  • Mock vivas (as preparation for the final examination)
  • Participation in ETHICOMP conferences
  • Other appropriate activities defined by the current research student needs

CCSR has a lively research culture, which includes research seminars by recognised scholars in the field. These are often linked with guest lectures in the undergraduate and taught postgraduate programmes we are involved in. In the academic year 2005/6, for example, we had research seminars on privacy (Andrew Adam, Reading University), technology and anthropology (Daniela Cerqui, Reading / Lausanne), IT and gender (Alison Adam, University of Salford), and the ethics of games technology (Andy Bissett, Sheffield Hallam University).

CCSR has a tradition of providing students with a work space, and access to computers and other necessary resources for research within the Centre.

Students will not only be taught but they will also normally be given the opportunity to present their research in progress to appropriate audiences. CCSR is the organiser of one of the major conferences in computer ethics (ETHICOMP) and students will normally be expected to present at least one paper on their research at an ETHICOMP conference or other relevant conferences given the specific combination of disciplines, topics and approaches. Also, students will usually be invited to present their research findings during a lecture to undergraduate students of the Centre.

Some of our students have developed their own taught modules for undergraduate studies and have had the opportunity to teach these.

 

Possible Projects

Ideas of possible research projects to be pursued in the ISDP

In order to be offered a place as a research student in the ISDP, applicants have to submit a research proposal that outlines their proposed research. The university provides generic guidance on writing these Research Proposals. The principle of the ISDP is that students develop their own research projects. However, experience shows that there are many applicants who are interested in doing a PhD in the area of social and ethical aspects of technology but who would appreciate guidance on suitable topics. For these individuals this list contains possible topics. They should be understood as inspirations that will need to be developed in more depth by the potential student, and which can be adapted and interpreted to enable them to fit more closely with the interests and background of the potential student.

Networks of technology ethics

Ethics is often described as a way to see and problematise issues in technology. It is the basis of policy and regulation and an inspiration for personal and professional behaviour. This proposal would take a different and descriptive view of technology ethics. It would explore how the meaning of ethics is negotiated between the different stakeholder groups and what the mechanisms, translations and enrolments are that have taken place to lead to the current position. The project could take an Actor-Network Theory view of ethics and explore, for example, the development of technology ethics in the European Union.

Environmental concern into IT purchasing decisions 

As individuals a very large majority of people care about the environment, and are willing to modify their personal behaviour because of it, However, in the workplace, the same people’s actions often are very environmentally destructive. This research therefore would ask whether organisations can be encouraged to bring environmental concern into IT purchasing decisions. What information would be useful, how does it needs be presented, what other enablers can be brought to bear, and how can inhibitors be overcome? One suitable way of researching this would be action research: possible research sites in the UK has been identified, but students able to gain access to a further or different research site, especially in another country would be particularly welcome.

Security discourses

The media are full of high profile news regarding cyber security threats. Enormous damages are assumed and the threats seem to extend to all citizens of modern societies. This project would undertake a critical discourse analysis of the current cybersecurity discourses. It would investigate how these publications come into being, which evidence is used, how they are financed and how they relate to each other.

Electronic Voting Can Usability, Security and Privacy be simultaneously achieved? 

Much research has been conducted into electronic voting, with proposals made for how votes can be cast that enable sufficient simultaneous security and privacy simultaneously, or sufficient simultaneous usability and privacy, but never yet all three simultaneously. This project would investigate those and other requirements on electronic voting systems, and investigate whether usability, security and privacy in principle could be simultaneously achieved, or whether there is a fundamental irreconcilability about them.

Ethics of emerging technologies

The ETICA project has identified a number of emerging technologies that are likely to be socially relevant in the next 10 to 15 years. These technologies are likely to raise ethical issues that are currently developing. From this research a number of possible PhD projects may arise. Most of the individual technologies are in need of further investigation. A different approach could be a comparative analysis. One suitable way of addressing these issues would be that of disclosive ethics.

More Details

Privacy in a world with extensive data mining

The vast expansion of digital data has led to innovative techniques to mine that data for commercial and governmental purposes. This includes technology that uses mobile phone signals to track movement around shopping centres, automatic number plate recognition systems that help combat crime, postcode-based systems to generate insurance quotes, search-engine databases that serve tailored advertisements, and search results up, etc. There is plenty of scope here for researching how the technologies in question may be made in less privacy-intrusive ways, whether people would have the same attitudes to these technologies (and behaviours) if they understood them more fully, how we need to transform our understanding of privacy as these technologies become more prevalent and integrated, and various proposals for re-establishing privacy as a practically respected right.

Religion and approaches to technology

Research on information technology and information systems is based on a number of ontological, epistemological and methodological views. The literature tends to say that researchers need to select the approach most suitable for their specific research question. It is not obvious, however, whether resesarchers are in a position and willing to explore possible alternatives. One reason is that individual researchers have a particular worldview which may imply some views and rule out others. An important part of such a worldview is constituted by religious beliefs. This project could explore to what degree the views of researchers are linked to, or even determined by, their religious convictions.

Computing and Ethics Education

Much work has been put into developing codes of ethics for computing professionals, which by their nature tend to be lists of injunctions. Virtue theory suggests the promotion of good moral character should be a goal. Educationalists suggest the promotion of good moral character depends on morally desirable behaviour being rewarded, more than morally undesirable behaviour being punished. How can the ethics education of computing professionals and prospective computing professionals (and computer users) be more better in line with such an insight? Can existing software tools, for ethics education and for ethically sensitise professionals be adapted to fit better with rewarding morally desirable behaviour, or can a new tool be developed?

Current ethical approaches and their application to technology

Much work on computer and information ethics concentrates on a relatively limited number of ethical theories (i.e. utilitarianism, (Kantian) deontology and virtue ethics). While there are numerous scholars in the area who employ other ethical approaches or develop specific new ones (e.g. information ethics, disclosive ethics), there is scope for a further broadening of the field. Possible PhD projects in this area would look at neighbouring fields, such as medical ethics, bioethics or business ethics and explore to which extent they could inform debate in computer and information ethics.

Globalisation, language dominance, and media audience fragmentation:

Fairweather and Rogerson, in two papers, discuss how through promoting globalisation, ICT may be leading to increased dominance for a small number of languages, while at the same time internet trends are leading to media audience fragmentation, which may pull in the opposite direction. What evidence is there for the overall effect? What further factors are at play? What technological and societal trends might come to bear on the issue in future?

Fairweather and Rogerson: The Problems of Global Cultural Homogenisation in a Technologically Dependant World

Fairweather and Rogerson: Politics and Society after De-Massification of the Media

Technology ethics as management/policy fashion

There has been much research on management fashions in the area of business studies. Such fashions follow typical patterns in terms of attention paid to the object of fashion over time. Public attention to ethics rises and falls. The project would apply the ideas of management fasion and explore to what degree ethics in general and technology ethics in particular can be interpreted as a fashion.

Disabled people’s attitudes towards enabling technologies

Much is made of the potential for ICT to help people with impairments overcome those impairments. Does the experience of disabled people match those claims, or have they just changed the nature of the disability? On a more detailed level, does the experience of disabled people match the claims made about particular products? What is the origin of this mis-match?

Social network analysis of technology ethics

While there has been much research on technology and ethics, it is not always clear whether this research has an impact on technology research and development, or whether it is an example of a closed circle of initiated individuals talking to each other. One way of coming to a better understanding of this would be to undertake a social network analysis of individuals in the area of technology (or maybe only ICT) and ethics. This could be done by exploring memberships of projects, authorships, editorships, websites etc. Such an analysis would provide a deeper understanding of the social structures behind technology ethics

Settling in the ISDP

The first thing you should do when coming to the ISDP is find your supervisors and arrange an initial meeting with them to clarify all details.

Seminar: The ISDP runs a two hour seminar for all research students, at least every other week in termtime. The seminar is conducted by the ISDP coordinator, the Director of the CCSR, Prof B Stahl and other staff. Attendance is mandatory for all full time UK research students. Students are asked to send apologies if they cannot attend.

The purpose of the seminar is to help students develop links, understand the work of others, overcome feelings of isolation and allow the development of a shared research culture. The seminar allows all students to present their work at appropriate stages of the research. It also covers other issues of shared interest, such as relevant theories, questions of methodology and similar issues.

Mailing list: It is important that you are subscribed to the ISDP mailing list. This list is used to communicate with students about all matters relevant to the ISDP. You can sign up to the list here.

Locker for the hot desking suite: All ISDP students have access to work spaces in the hot desking suite. Every student can request a key to one of the lockers in the suite from the CCSR Director.

Out of hours access: Research students can access the University building, including their office space in the Gateway House 24/7. In order to be allowed out of hours access, students must fill in a form and get it signed by their first supervisor. The supervisor can also provide the form itself.

Web page: On joining, each student should contact the ISDP webmaster (GH 5.80) to ensure thier personal profile page is created on the ISDP site and to ensure that it contains the correct information.

Records of discussion: An online system is provided on MyDMU for you to record the meetings you have with your supervisor. You should fill in a record after each meeting. If you are a student from outside the European Union, completion of those records is a vital part of proving that you are actually here and studying.  

Supervisors

All DMU students have at least two supervisors, sometimes three. The first supervisor should be your first port of call for any queries. We typically meet with all supervisors about once a month for full time students. As a general rule, you should prepare a text and send this to your supervisors no less than three working days prior to the meeting. The idea is that the supervisors will give you feedback to allow you to develop your ideas.

It is important to realise that ownership of the research project lies with the research student. Your supervisors do not tell you what to do or how to do it. They provide guidance and give input to shape your thinking. Responsibility for accepting or rejecting this guidance lies with the student.

Your first supervisor is also your personal tutor: the member of staff in the University who you should go first to if you have personal, emotional, family, health, money or other welfare issues. Do not worry about going to the same person who comments on your academic work: indeed if they know the personal issues going on, they might be more sympathetic about you not having done as much work as they were hoping.

List of supervisors.

Please note that not all of these supervisors are accepting new students. 

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