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The University of Southampton
Web Science Institute

Steven White

Steve was awarded his PhD in 2019 and is currently working as an Academic Practice and Development Manager at Arts University Bournemouth.

Why did you choose to study Web Science?

I was involved in online learning at the university and so it was a great opportunity to explore this area, develop my career and obtain a PhD. Having worked at Southampton Uni for a while, I had also noticed that the university seems to treat students better than staff, so switched.

What was you PhD research topic?

My research focused on how the development and implementation of online learning (particularly Massive Open Online Courses) seemed to challenge conventional roles and organisational structures in universities. Higher education researchers had already identified this ‘third space’ in HE, but my research argues that the role of technology should be accounted for in co-constructing a ‘socio-technical third space’ in which new hybrid roles develop whilst existing academic roles were to some extent unbundled.

Tell us about the iPhD programme

MSc year; PhD years; interdisciplinary study – very hard work at times, but I thoroughly enjoyed these aspects of the iPhD. It was a fantastic opportunity and we saw the significance of Web Science demonstrated as the world around us changed over the course of the programme. Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, we were talking about the ‘Filter Bubble’ way before it was mentioned in the media (I remember trying to explain it to non-Web Science friends), the power of Google, cybercrime, big data, data science, technological determinism, the properties of social networks and the potential consequences of commercialising them online. All and much more so relevant and consequential for society today.

What training did you receive?

Pretty good overall – all uni PhD / PGR training is available to you. The careers training was great, you also get involved with team-building events and have the opportunity to attend conferences, if you have the freedom to travel. Writing retreats are great when you need to write and are available through both the CDT and the Digital Economy Network – free!

What work experience did you get?

I worked on Massive Open Online Courses at Southampton which was very relevant to my prior career although my subsequent work hasn’t gone in that direction.

What is your current role?

I was lucky that my research into the ‘third space’ in education helped me understand that space very well, and equipped me to ‘carve out’ a corner of it which is now my current role in a university. Although the technology/Web element of the course is not crucial in my day-to-day work, my overall Web, technology and information literacy is certainly useful. The research skills and inter-disciplinary work I developed over the course are invaluable, however. I work in a ‘space between’- just like Web Science.

What were the benefits of being part of the CDT?

Our cohort was great, very supportive and I've stayed in touch with many of them via an online social network.

What are your future ambitions?

I currently work in an academic/educational development role – my skills are in communicating with a range of people, understanding the underlying motivations and needs, and helping them articulate themselves appropriately. I want to continue to develop this work and eventually work freelance as a consultant. If such a role doesn’t exist, I will work hard to ‘carve it out’.

Any advice to prospective Web Scientists?

Think about your interests and goals and make the most of the opportunities available to you with that in mind. Use your own initiative to network and get things done – once you’ve done the MSc, you have the freedom to make anything happen. And make sure you’ve worked in a few jobs first so you’ll remember not to moan about what the CDT is providing!

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