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Leverhulme doctoral studentships

Magna Carta Runnymede

Academics at Royal Holloway continue to pursue the ambitions of the Magna Carta, which was sealed just a few miles away, by tackling today’s threats to our freedom and personal liberty. In today’s digital age we need champions who can use their knowledge and influence to help protect the principles we value.

Working with local and international partners we are helping to ensure that principles established on our doorstep 800 years ago are passed on to the next generation.

As part of this, we established the Magna Carta Doctoral Centre. This Centre creates an exciting opportunity for talented researchers to define a framework for privacy and individual rights. Located in our School of Law, the Centre brings together a group of more than 40 academics working across science, arts and social sciences, law and economics.

Multi-disciplinary research projects that examine the impact of digital technologies on personal liberty, address the global challenge of how to balance freedom, privacy and security and embrace the spirit of the original Magna Carta have been made possible through our Leverhulme Doctoral scholarships.

2017/18 doctoral projects

Students interested in proposing projects for the 2017/2018 academic year should contact the relevant Director of Graduate Studies mentioning their interest in a Leverhulme Magna Carta award. The scholarships, which include UK/EU fees and a stipend of £16,296 p.a. for three years, will be awarded on the basis of outstanding academic achievement and the potential to produce cutting-edge research.

2016/17 doctoral projects

Twelve doctoral projects will be starting in the 2016/17 academic year and are described below. Please contact the person named in each case for further information.

Space, freedom and control in the digital workplace

Project Title: Space, freedom and control in the digital workplace

Departments: Geography and Management

Contact: Professor Phil Crang

Project outline: The use of digital technologies is transforming the organisation and experience of paid work, across a range of economic sectors and occupations. This poses pressing questions for working lives and workers’ identities, both in relation to their organisational control and their expressive potentials. Digital technologies are thus central to contemporary debates over the personal freedoms of employees.

This project is designed to advance those debates through a distinctive focus on the relations between ‘digital sociomaterialities’ and ‘workplace geographies’. Physical workplaces are not just where work happens; they both shape the emerging character of that work and are shaped by ongoing work practices.

What implications do new digital work geographies have for:

  1. workplace surveillance (the monitoring and control of employment)

  2. workplace display (the shaping of personal employee identity performance for commercial audiences)

  3. workplace (de-)territorialisation (how paid work is separated off from, or entangled with, other social activities)?

This PhD will explore these digital geographies of the workplace through three linked case studies.

Self-harm among male prisoners

Project title: Developing a collaborative model of information sharing about self-harm among male prisoners

Departments: Law and Information Security Group

ContactDr Emily Glorney

Project outline: This project will be an interdisciplinary investigation of freedom and the rights of individuals within the criminal justice system in the current age, which is central to the legacy of Magna Carta. It will investigate the experience of self-harm by male prisoners, staff perceptions of deliberate self-harm and the structural responses to this behaviour with a view to developing a model of information sharing about self-harm that supports the protection of prisoners and staff.

As part of this protection, the model will give consideration to how information about self-harm is produced, circulated, curated and protected.


Market manipulation and high frequency trading ..... 

Project title: Market manipulation and high frequency trading in cryptocurrencies and other electronic markets

Departments: Economics and Computer Science

Contact: Professor Alessio Sancetta

Project outline: The goal of the project is to define formally market manipulation and abuse from a statistical point of view (i.e. in terms of observables only) in high frequency trading, and test whether some electronic markets are prone to market manipulation.

In the specific context, market manipulation means that some economic agents send orders to the market in order to create a fictitious snapshot of the market conditions. The intention is to induce other agents to place orders that will result in a profit for the market manipulator. Such “manipulating” orders are fictitious because they are unlikely to be filled, but create a false view of the demand and supply schedule in the market.

This practice is often referred to as spoofing. Such practice is unlawful in regulated electronic markets, and discouraged in unregulated markets such as foreign exchange. However, trading in cryptocurrency such as bitcoins happens in completely unregulated markets where such practice can freely be used. Data availability in these markets provides a unique comparative framework on which to devise theories, statistics and tests for market manipulation.

Casualities of war 

Project title: Casualties of war: using modern technology to remember the dead, support conflict analysis and develop natural language processing algorithms

Departments: Economics and Computer Science

ContactProfessor Michael Spagat

Project outline: This project will develop software that will:

  1. Automatically code detailed conflict event data from raw source material with good accuracy

  2. Streamline more accurate human coding of conflict event data.  

It will enjoy cooperation from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program and Iraq Body Count, two of the most important operations in the world for building human-driven conflict event data. These links will give us a massive “ground truth” of accurate transformations of journalistic articles into coded events that contain at least times, locations, perpetrators, weapons and casualties.  

We already have a prototype system that performs these tasks well on the Iraq Body Count database and media archive. Success of the project will improve the quality and streamline the coding of armed conflict data, enabling the collection of accurate event data for more conflicts than are currently covered by the global community of conflict scholars and independent activists. Moreover, the work will improve the quality, increase the speed and reduce the costs of the data collection process for conflicts that currently are receiving coverage.   

Observing the observers: network transparency....

Project title: Observing the observers: network transparency in a connected world

Departments: Computer Science and Law

Contact: Professor Kostas Stathis

Project outline: One implication of receiving services on the web, especially when such services are accessed from mobile devices such as smartphones, is that they turn people into prosumers (consumers and producers) of data. For example when using a car navigation app, on top of registration data that we must provide to use such an app, we subsequently produce auxiliary data profiling the routes we take and the locations we visit for as long as we use the app. At the same time we also consume what other people produce, for example, the location of their vehicles that allow the app to determine whether there is traffic en-route and advise us on how to avoid it.

One assumption that we normally make as data prosumers in such an interconnected context is that the personal information that we offer to service providers is only available to them so that they can improve their services to us. As a result, we often accept conditions of use that we rarely read carefully. Consequently, more often than not, we avoid answering the question of how our personal data is being used in practice and for what purpose.  

This project will study the development of an underlying technological framework to explore the required mechanisms to support transactions of electronic services to take place in a transparent and accountable way.


British majority attitudes towards individual freedom ... 

Project title: British majority attitudes towards individual freedom in minorities

Departments: Psychology and Law

ContactDr Hanna Zagefka

Project outline: This interdisciplinary project will examine the attitudes of the white British majority towards various ethnic minority groups which are resident in the UK. Majority members’ attitudes towards ideals of democracy and freedom, as originally specified by the Magna Carta, will be related to their views on minority identity expression: to which extent are minorities granted the right to assert and express their minority identity and assert their distinctiveness? To which extent do people feel these rights need to be curbed in our modern, digitalised society, to ensure societal cohesion?

For example, while some white British majority members are accepting of expressions of ethnic, religious and cultural differences (e.g. the wearing of head scarves), others are not. The psychological processes underlying the formation and maintenance of these attitudes toward individual freedom will be examined; and they will be used to explain and predict why and when attitudes towards different minority groups might differ.

The investigation will rely on psychological concepts such as perceived intergroup threat and anxiety, and sociological concepts such as superdiversity. The investigation will especially focus on how new digital technologies impact on intergroup attitudes and attitudes towards individual freedom.

Role of personal values in restorative justice ....

Project title: The role of personal values in restorative justice or other forensic settings

Departments: Psychology and Law

Contact: Dr Anat Bardi

Project outline: This interdisciplinary project will examine the role of personal values in restorative justice or other forensic settings, asking for example:

  1. How do personal values predict willingness of victims of crime to take part in restorative justice programmes?

  2. Do their values change during the programme?

If possible, the project will also examine these questions in offenders.

The project combines social/personality psychology with criminology and is particularly suited for candidates that have practical experience in working in forensic settings and, in particular, in working in restorative justice programmes. Candidates should have a first degree in psychology but a Masters degree in psychology would be preferable.

Restorative justice programmes organise contact between the offender and victim of a crime, but little is known about individual differences in willingness to take part in such programmes and in the changes that individuals experience whilst participating in such programmes.  An important individual-difference variable is personal values. Values are broad life goals (e.g. social justice, benevolence, social power, security) that serve as basic motivators and guide people’s lives. As such, values guide decisions and behaviours. 

The project will include a series of studies including online studies with the general population and studies with actual victims and possibly offenders, hence the project is particularly suitable for applicants with practical experience with such populations. Connections to restorative justice programmes that would help recruit participants would be highly desirable. 

Deriving vernacular geography through Machine Learning 

Project title: Deriving vernacular geography through Machine Learning from social media content, investigating efficacies of the approach and potential uses of this information while protecting personal identity, privacy and freedoms

Departments: Law and Computer Science

Contact: Peter Adey

Project outline: References to places or locations permeate many aspects of day to day living and professional activities, using a mixture of what might be called ‘official’ or formal place names as might be found on a published map or gazetteer, and informal or alternative names.

The latter may be termed ‘vernacular geography’ and are names that, for example, people local to an area may use, or that may be in use by certain social or community groups. Knowledge of these names, and the areas or locations to which they refer, is significant in, for example, responding to emergency calls or improving web search and information retrieval operations using place names/identifiers.

Ordnance Survey, the national mapping agency for GB, is interested in approaches to identify vernacular place names and the approximate areas or locations to which they apply, in order to improve gazetteer data nationally. Also Ordnance Survey is interested in exploring applications of advanced analytics using spatio-temporal social data.

Digitising independence? Greenland, Denmark and the Fourth World 

Project title: Digitising Independence? Greenland, Denmark and the Fourth World

Departments: Geography and Law

Contact: Klaus Dodds

Project outline: Inspired by postcolonial and Fourth World theorising and postcolonial digital humanities, this project explores how digital technologies and cultures meet the needs, visibilities and representational demands of indigenous peoples in Greenland, including the capacity of the Government of Greenland (GoG) to function as a legitimate expression of indigenous self-representation of a community of around 56,000. 

Intergenerational differences in the perception and use of apps... 

Project title: Intergenerational and class based differences in the perception and use of apps for type 2 diabetes

Departments: Law and Information Security Group

Contact: Jonathan Gabe

Project outline: The aim of this project is to explore perceptions of health-related apps among those with type 2 diabetes, with the intention of informing policy regarding the practicality of the use of these apps among deprived groups. It is thought that such apps offer people individualised information and advice which may allow them to take control of their health.

At the same time this raises questions about the security and privacy of such information. In particular, the availability of this information can lead to surveillance of the body, the implications of which are yet to be explored. Furthermore, it is unclear to what extent these technologies increase individual freedom when it is widely acknowledged that access to technologies is not equally distributed or experienced among different groups in society.  

Culture, Music and Nation ...

Project title: Culture, Music and Nation: Tuning Modern Indian Nationalism with Indian Classical Music

Departments: Music and PIR

Contact:  Anna Morcom

Project outline: This PhD research aims to analyse Indian classical music ‘tradition’ in the ‘digital age’ of 21st century when India, among other technological advancements, has witnessed the emergence of social media and its rising influence on Indian masses; it has also seen a substantial rise in individualism as against tradition.

The project will aim to answer the larger question of how Indian classical music can connect to the notions of nationhood in contemporary times, given the post-1991 developments in India. 

The impact of perception of risk in the nascent era of genomics... 

Project title: The impact of perception of risk in the nascent era of genomics as a consumable technology in Society.

Departments: Law and Computer Science

Contact: Hugh Shanahan

Project outline: Genomics (the determination of the entire sequence of DNA in an individual and the interpretation of that data) has become a commodity. The present generation of sequencing technologies can sequence a human genome for well under $10,000 and can be done in a matter of days. Correspondingly metagenomics, where the genomic content of an environment such as soil samples and the microbiotia of human cavities such as the large intestine and uses the same technology is also a commodity.

The key issue is the analysis and interpretation of that data.There is great promise of enhanced diagnosis, insights into environments and dealing with food security. However - the analysis of these data sets now involve highly complex computational pipelines that are built with the cooperation of large teams of Software Engineers, Data Scientists and Biologists.

This needs to be considered as computation on an industrial scale.The predictions made by these pipelines use Machine Learning technique where the software detects highly complex patterns in the data which any team of human experts simply could not detect. As noted by Sculley et al.* Poorly designed pipelines are susceptible to a variety of errors that creep in over time but are not detected as the prediction is deemed “reliable” when first deployed. Prediction could have a serious impact on human rights:  this project explores these impacts.

*D.Sculley et al. SE4ML: Software Engineering for Machine Learning (NIPS 2014 Workshop)




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