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DPhil in Information, Communication and the Social Sciences

DPhil in Information, Communication and the Social Sciences

The DPhil programme in Information, Communication and the Social Sciences provides an opportunity for students to pursue cutting-edge research into the societal implications of the Internet.

As a doctoral student at the Oxford Internet Institute, you and your peers will address research questions from across the spectrum of disciplines, drawing on our multidisciplinary faculty and on the complementary strengths of your cohort of peers, who are building on literature from different disciplines to answer their research questions.

We are looking for academically excellent candidates who display the potential and enthusiasm necessary to perform research that will make a difference — to ask important questions and to adopt innovative methodologies and approaches for exploring those questions.



Our DPhil students research spans a wide range of topics, normally linked to one or more of our Research Labs, Groups and Research topics.

This system allows doctoral students to dig deeply into disciplinary questions in, for instance, politics or sociology, while also being able to place these questions into a broader picture of how the Internet can be theorised and researched.

Over the course the programme, you are expected to produce an important and original piece of scholarship that will make a significant contribution to the dynamic area of Internet research. On completion, you will have the qualities and transferable skills necessary to excel in teaching, research, policy-making or business.

Whilst every doctoral project will follow a unique path, broadly there are three stages:

  1. Formulating a research question: You will focus on developing your research questions, and research skills. All doctoral students are required to take two courses which give the necessary foundation for undertaking research in this multi-disciplinary field.
  2. Gathering data: You will outline the structure of your thesis, this includes data gathering, and might include a period of fieldwork away from Oxford. Many students also use this time to start drafting journal articles, often in collaboration with their supervisors.
  3. Writing up your thesis and submitting: You will concentrate on any final data gathering, and writing up the final chapters for submission of your thesis.

In addition to the formal requirements of the DPhil thesis, all doctoral students receive regular training in the key graduate skills necessary to support their research and future employment. These range from classes on specific tools or skills such as programming in Python or using content analysis software, to more generic training such as presentation skills, academic writing and peer review.

We also provide opportunities for DPhil students to gain teaching experience through mentored assistantship roles in some of the MSc courses. There are also opportunities for taking part in organising the annual student-run Connected Life conference dedicated to sparking exchange between disciplines and showcasing emerging Internet research.

Learning Outcomes

On completion of the DPhil programme, it is expected that you will have developed your knowledge and understanding of:

  • The application of one or more of the social sciences to a detailed study of the Internet and related information and communication technologies and their societal implications.
  • Practices and technologies relevant to the Internet and related ICTs.
  • Theories and techniques of social sciences research applicable to the field of information and communication and of emerging technologies in particular.
  • Modes of communicating and applying research in the field of information and communication to such issues as the design of new technologies and the formation of public policy.
  • The qualities and transferable skills necessary to excel in teaching, research, policy-making or business in your studied field, including abilities to design new technologies and to predict and analyse their impacts.
  • Leading-edge research methods relevant to investigating emerging information and communication technologies in the social sciences.

How To Apply

All applications must be made through the University of Oxford Graduate Admissions site. Please ensure that you start the online application process as early as you can, to ensure plenty of time to complete your application. We particularly advise applicants to contact their referees as early as possible, and register their details in the draft application form well in advance of the deadline.

Both the full-time and part-time DPhil programmes have one application deadline in January. Only applications that are complete by the deadline, including receipt of references, can be considered by the admissions team.

The Oxford Internet Institute is part of the University of Oxford’s pilot on selection procedures which aims to explore actions aimed at better contextualising admissions procedures for graduate students while minimising conscious and unconscious bias. For all our courses, the socio-economic data you provide in the application form will be used to contextualise the shortlisting and decision-making processes. For details about the pilot and the actions we are taking, please see the University’s page on the Pilot selection procedure.

Student Experience

The three doors to access the OII on St Giles, Oxford.


Our induction programme is usually held in the first week of October, the week preceding the start of Michaelmas Term (also referred to as 0th week). During Induction Week students will be formally introduced to the OII’s Director, Director of Graduate Studies, Programme Directors, Graduate Studies Support team, as well as our faculty and administrative team. In addition students will be offered a full tour of the OII’s facilities and introduced to IT and library resources, followed by several informative DPhil induction sessions. There is also ample opportunity to get to know fellow students and staff through student-led social activities and an afternoon drinks reception. During October the Social Sciences Division also holds a welcome event for all new research students.

Work space

Our doctoral students are provided with hot-desk working space in the department. We are equipped with advanced video conferencing facilities and high-speed network access. The OII’s library specialises in the social sciences, technology and computing, and our students also have access to the Bodleian Libraries, the University’s main research library.

Opportunities for teaching and training

We provide opportunities for DPhil students to gain teaching experience through mentored assistantship roles in some of the MSc courses. Students will have the opportunity to attend the Introduction to Learning and Teaching at Oxford programme run by the Social Sciences Division, an interactive and discursive course in which attendees will explore common teaching formats (lectures, small groups, tutorials) and common experiences (for example, group management, preparation, presentation and delivery). Students must complete this programme if they wish to undertake a teaching assistant position at the Oxford Internet Institute.

Pastoral and Welfare Support

In addition to the pastoral support provided your college, as a department the OII seeks to support students by various means. Each degree programme has dedicated administrative support and the administrators in question will be able to help and advise students on a range of matters relating to welfare or academic matters, or point them towards dedicated sources of support elsewhere in the University. Supervisors and the Director of Graduate Studies can also serve as a source of support, in addition to our dedicated disability lead and several Harassment Officers who can assist with connecting students with the appropriate support.


Whilst every doctoral project will follow a unique path, there are common milestones that every DPhil student must pass. The information below gives a broad indication of the general milestones, but all students are advised to discuss the timeline with their supervisor.

During the programme you will move through three different stages:

  • Probationer Research Student (PRS)
  • DPhil Status
  • Confirmed DPhil Status

DPhil Milestones

(You can find detailed information on scheduling in the OII DPhil handbook.)

Stage 1: Formulating a Research Question Stage 2: Analysis Stage 3: Writing Up and Submission
  • Transfer to DPhil status
  • Thesis: analysis
  • Confirmation of DPhil status
  • Thesis: Writing up and submission

Stage 1: Formulating a Research Question

Stage 1 takes place over Year 1 for full-time students and Years 1 and 2 for on the part-time programme.

All doctoral students are required to take courses which give the necessary foundation for undertaking research in this multi-disciplinary field. Both courses must be passed in order to transfer from PRS to DPhil status.

  • Advanced Social Theory provides an overview of the major findings to date regarding the social implications of the Internet, drawing material from several social science disciplines, including communication studies, sociology, and political science.
  •  DSR Methods Core and DSR Statistics Core provides students with the core skills, methods, theories and concepts required to undertake the remainder of the degree. It examines issues concerning the application of traditional social research methods to the study of emerging ICTs as well as the use of new methods, enabled by the Internet and ICTs, in the study of an array of social research problems.

If you come from a background outside the social sciences (e.g. in computer science), you may be asked to take appropriate courses in theory and methods offered by the OII or one of the University’s Social Science Division departments during your first year of doctoral studies.

DPhil students are also welcome to take any of the OII MSc Option Papers, with the approval of their supervisor and the course provider.

In addition to these classes, students will be required to work on their thesis, and will meet regularly with their supervisor to this end. By the end of this stage, students will be expected to have formulated clear research questions and identified appropriate theoretical and methodological frameworks for addressing these questions.

Transfer of Status

As most students will enter the DPhil programme as Probationer Research Students (PRS), they will be expected to gather materials and draft a research proposal for transfer to DPhil Status between their third and fourth term in Oxford. Assuming the normal three-year programme, we expect students to complete the transfer interview by the end of their fourth term. Most students successfully transfer in the third term.

Stage 2: Gathering Data

Stage 2 usually occurs in Year 2 for full-time students and Years 3 and 4 for students on the part-time programme.

This stage of the DPhil will normally be devoted to data gathering and mapping the outline structure of your thesis. However, students will also need to make significant progress in writing their thesis, drafting at least two chapters in preparation for the Confirmation of Status milestone. This may include a period of fieldwork away from Oxford. Many students also use this time to start drafting journal articles, often in collaboration with their supervisors.

Confirmation of Status

Confirmation of DPhil Status is an essential stage on the way to the doctorate and confirms that the student is capable of producing a thesis of the necessary standard and within an appropriate timescale. It is not possible to submit a thesis for examination until DPhil status has been confirmed.

The OII’s Graduate Studies Committee expects students to complete the confirmation interview by the end of their third year for full time students; and by the sixth year of study for part-time students.

Stage 3: Writing Up and Thesis submission

Stage 3 usually occurs in Year 3 for full-time students and Years 5 and 6 for students on the part-time programme.

Stage 3 will concentrate on any final empirical work, and on writing up the final chapters for submission of the thesis. The thesis must be submitted within four years (full-time) and eight years (part-time) from the date of admission as a graduate student. In special circumstances, you may apply for an extension of time through the Graduate Studies Committee. The maximum extension permitted is two years, making six years (full-time) or ten years (part-time) of study in all.

Once the thesis has been submitted, two examiners are appointed and the examination by viva voce (an oral defence of the thesis) is scheduled.


As a graduate student you will be assigned an academic supervisor, who is responsible for your academic well-being and progress. In addition to academic supervision, you will also have a college advisor who can help with issues of student support and welfare.

You should expect to meet with your supervisor at least three to four times a term. In the early stages of your doctoral studies your supervisor will assist you in settling into the pace of academic life, help you identify your training needs in order to fulfil your research and facilitate appropriate networking across the University. As your research progresses, your supervisor will advise you on research design, provide guidance on any data collection, and comment on your written drafts. In the final stages of your doctoral studies, your supervisor will provide comments on your thesis drafts and help you prepare for milestones and the final examination of the thesis. Your supervisor may also provide career guidance as you plan your future beyond your period of study.

The following OII faculty members are eligible to supervise DPhil students. The supervision areas are intended as a guide only: please contact a faculty member directly if you would like to discuss their suitability to supervise your research proposal.

Fees and Funding

Details of fees, living expenses, and definitions of home and overseas students, together with information about potential sources of funding are available from the University’s Fees and Funding website.

There are a number of sources of funding for postgraduate students at Oxford. Details of all scholarships for which candidates may be eligible can be found on the University’s Fees and Funding website.  The scholarships are all highly competitive and are awarded on academic merit.


Clarendon Scholarships

Clarendon is one of the biggest of the University’s scholarship schemes, offering around 170 new scholarships each year to academically outstanding graduates. Clarendon scholarships are competitive, prestigious and highly sought-after. As well as providing for fees and living costs Clarendon aims to enhance the Oxford experience by offering students the chance to form lasting social, academic and professional networks. Students can apply by completing the funding sections of the graduate admissions form. As part of the admissions process, the Oxford Internet Institute Scholarship Committee will decide which applicants to nominate to the University for consideration. Further details of this scholarship can be found on the University’s Clarendon Scholarships page.


Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funding

The ESRC is the UK’s largest organisation for funding research on social and economic issues. The University, in collaboration with Brunel University and the Open University, hosts the Grand Union Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP).

The Oxford Internet Institute’s graduate degree programmes are a recognised doctoral training pathway in the partnership and our Digital Social Science pathway is provided through two routes, MSc-to-DPhil (known as 1+3) and DPhil-only (known as +3), and is available to students studying part-time as well as those studying full-time.

In order to be considered for a Grand Union DTP ESRC studentship, you must select ‘ESRC Grand Union DTP Studentships in Social Sciences’ in the University of Oxford scholarships section of the University’s graduate application form. You must complete a Grand Union DTP Application Form and upload it, together with your graduate application form, in order to be considered for nomination for the studentship.

Information about ESRC studentships at Oxford can be found on the Grand Union DTP website. Please ensure you have read all of the guidance available on the website before completing the ESRC Grand Union DTP Studentship Application Form. Questions can be directed to the Grand Union DTP Office at 

ESRC studentships are open to both Home (UK) and International candidates, read more about the eligibility criteria here.


Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funding

The AHRC provides public funding in support of research into the arts and humanities, for approximately one quarter of the UK’s research population. Oxford participates in the Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership, providing a number of scholarships each year to students working in eligible subject areas across the Humanities and Social Sciences Divisions.

Information about applying for AHRC scholarships at Oxford can currently be found on the Open-Oxford-Cambridge Doctoral Partnership website. In order to be considered for a studentship you must apply by the programme deadline and tick the relevant box in the studentships section of the application form. You will also need to complete the OOC DTP Application Form and upload it as an additional document when completing your application.


Black Academic Futures scholarships

The Black Academic Futures programme offer scholarships to UK Black and Mixed-Black students starting doctoral study at Oxford. Applicants need to apply to an Oxford department by the relevant programme deadline to be considered for the scholarship and ensure they include the ethnicity information in their application.


Refugee Academic Futures

The Refugee Academic Futures scheme offers financial support to pursue graduate study at Oxford to students who are refugees or other people with lived experience of displacement. The scholarships are open to all academic subjects. Each scholarship will cover your course fees and will provide you with a grant for living costs. Awards are made for the full duration of your fee liability for your course. Scholars will be offered opportunities to receive mentoring and a bespoke programme of pre-arrival and on course support.


Care-Experienced Academic Futures

The Care-Experienced Academic Futures scholarships offer financial support to students who have experienced being in care in the UK to pursue graduate study at Oxford. The pilot will include the inaugural award of the Oxford-Rees Graduate Scholarship, which supports care-experienced Social Sciences candidates.


OII Shirley Scholarship

The OII awards a limited number of DPhil Scholarships each academic year supported by the Shirley Scholars Fund which was established in honour of OII founder donor Dame Stephanie Shirley. These scholarships are open to both full- and part-time students (from any country) and all applicants who are offered a place on our programme are automatically considered for an award. Scholarships are awarded on the basis of merit.



You can find general FAQs about applying to our courses, studying at the OII, and choosing a college on the study FAQs page.

When should I apply?

The DPhil programme has one deadline in January.

Please ensure that you start the online application process as early as you can, to ensure plenty of time to complete your application. Only applications that are complete by the deadline (including letters of reference) can be considered by the admissions team. All applications must be made through the University of Oxford Graduate Admissions site.

How do I choose a supervisor?

Our students are supervised by OII faculty members. Please note that we will only admit students where appropriate supervision is available; please see the full list of faculty members eligible to supervise students on this programme. If having read these, you are still unsure who could supervise your proposed research (or if you are considering supervision by a faculty member from a different department within the University of Oxford), please contact us to discuss this at

Please note that it is strongly advised that DPhil applicants should contact a potential supervisor before they submit an application to check that there is appropriate supervision for their research proposal. Once DPhil applicants have identified an appropriate supervisor they should email them directly with a brief overview of the proposed research topic. The faculty member will then indicate whether they would be suitable to supervise the proposed topic.

If I need to submit English Language Test results, when are they due?

You can read more about the English language requirements for graduate study applications in the graduate application guide. This course requires proficiency in English at the University’s higher level. If you already have English language test scores at the required level achieved within two years of the start of the course to which you are applying, please include them in your application. However, you are not required to provide test scores when you submit your application.

How does the DPhil in Information, Communication and the Social Sciences differ from the DPhil in Social Data Science?

The DPhil in Information, Communication and the Social Sciences is designed for students interested in research about the Internet and related technologies and their societal implications. Theses in this programme might include quantitative, qualitative, computational or mixed methods applied to a broad range of questions about digital phenomena and could address questions about technology policy or practice. The DPhil in Social Data Science is designed for students with core quantitative skills who wish to develop their skills for analysing structured and unstructured data using advanced computational techniques such as machine learning. Theses in Social Data Science might develop new computational approaches for analysing human behavioural data and/or apply such approaches to answer a social science question.

What does a good DPhil application look like? Do you have any examples?

Here is some great advice from OII DPhil alumni Bertram Vidgen on how to write your DPhil application proposalYou can also read OII Professor Vili Lehdonvirta’s advice about picking a research topic for a DPhil application. 

What fees do I have to pay?

Course fees cover your teaching, and other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. They do not cover your accommodation or other living costs. You may have seen separate figures in the past for tuition fees and college fees. We have now combined these into a single figure.

See the University’s guidance on fee status and fee liability for information on Home/Republic of IrelandIslands and Overseas student classification. As well as covering University and College fees, students will also have to support their maintenance costs. As Oxford is a relatively expensive place to live, it is recommended that students consult the University’s guidance on living costs when planning their budget, to cover accommodation, meals and other living expenses.

Do I have to live in Oxford during my studies?

Full-time students are required by the University’s regulations to be in residence in Oxford during term time. That means a commitment to be in Oxford for at least the full nine weeks of all three terms of each academic year. You also need to be available in Oxford for several events outside full term, from the induction programme to examinations. Research away from Oxford should be discussed with your supervisor. Part-time students are not required to live in Oxford, but are expected to be present in Oxford on average 30 days per year. Please see the DPhil handbook for more details.

Do you offer any intensive, online or distance-learning courses?

We do not normally offer any of our MSc or DPhil programmes in an intensive, online, or distance-learning modality. Although we do make use of virtual learning environments and various other online components of study, both full and part-time students are required to attend in person during term time due to the collaborative and multi-disciplinary nature of our programmes, and the principles that underpin Oxford education as a collegiate university. We strongly believe that the face-to-face element of the programme is vital in providing a multi-disciplinary peer network for students to engage in ideas, discussion and debate.

We do, however, offer this programme on a part-time basis. The part-time DPhil is substantively identical to the full-time degree, but distributes the workload over five to six years for those who must fit study around work, family, or other outside commitments.

What does the schedule look like for a part-time DPhil student?

Part-time students can typically expect to spend at least 30 days physically in Oxford each year, and will be expected to commit approximately 20 hours per week to their studies. Part-time DPhil students will be expected to take core courses in Michaelmas Term of Years 1 and 2, which will mean choosing two courses in one year, and one in the other year. These courses have been scheduled to allow part-time students to take them on a single day, so students will need to be able to attend classes in Oxford one day a week for the eight consecutive weeks of Michaelmas Term, as a minimum. In addition, part-time students will need to be present in Oxford in their first year for the full Induction Week (normally held the first week of October).

There are provisions to attend DPhil seminars and supervision meetings via video conference, the latter at your supervisor’s discretion, particularly from Year 3 onwards. However, classes for the core courses and any corresponding examinations in Michaelmas Term of Years 1 and 2 can only be attended in person.