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DPhil in Social Data Science

DPhil in Social Data Science

The DPhil in Social Data Science provides an opportunity for students to formulate and address novel research questions at the intersection of the computational and social sciences, supported by the multidisciplinary faculty at the OII, Engineering Science, Statistics, Mathematics, Computer Science and other departments across the University of Oxford.

Students are expected to pioneer new approaches to study the design and use of technology, exploiting fast expanding possibilities in large-scale data collection, artificial intelligence, and statistical modelling. This degree will train students to develop and adapt techniques such as network science, machine learning, experimental studies, and algorithm auditing to inform the deployment and regulation of technology, and understand its impact on individuals and society.

Beyond the technical skills, the programme will also provide students with a solid grounding in social science theory and research design, and critical thinking about the impact and ethics of AI and technology. Ordinarily, students will be expected to have training similar to that offered within the MSc in Social Data Science, or from disciplines as applied mathematics, computer science, and human-computer interaction, but gaps may be filled with courses from the MSc curriculum as well as other existing courses at the University.



Our DPhil students’ research spans a wide range of topics, normally linked to the research of one or more of our faculty supervisors. Students will be supervised by at least one academic, although some students will have more than one supervisor—for instance one from the computational sciences and one from the social sciences.

This system allows doctoral students to dig deeply into research questions at the intersection of disciplines while also being able to place these questions within the broader disciplinary contexts.

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 study, design, or regulation of computing and communication technology and information systems. 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 3 stages:

  1. Formulating a research question: You will focus on developing your research questions, and research skills. All doctoral students take five foundation courses designed to give the necessary foundation for undertaking interdisciplinary research.
  2. Research and Analysis: You will outline the structure of your thesis, which includes data gathering, experiments, and other steps. Students will use this time to prepare conference and journal articles, present their work at seminars and conferences, in direct collaboration with their supervisor(s).
  3. Writing up your thesis and submitting: You will concentrate on any final data gathering, analysis, experimentation 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 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:

  • Demonstrate in-depth research experience in at least one of the social data science areas
  • Be able to generate impact on the policy and design of socio-technical systems based on social data science research
  • Have an in-depth knowledge of specific contemporary social and political science theories and data science approaches to tackling research questions related to these theories
  • Have made an original contribution to the current state-of-the art for analysing large-scale human behavioural data and information systems, and either have developed new methods and approaches to better study human or algorithmic behaviours in socio-technical systems
  • Design, execute, document, and disseminate research that applies tools and methods from computational science to address interdisciplinary research question about the use, design, and impact of technology and information systems
  • Have 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

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.


Key Information

Student Experience

Oxford from Above


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 and facilities

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. OII students have access to IT infrastructure at both the departmental level and at the University level. This includes access to shared collaborative software, server space, and computing resources, including but not limited to ARC, Oxford’s high-performance computing cluster. 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 their studies, 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 Advisors 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
  • Entry as Probationer Research Student
  • Foundations and Frontiers of Social Data Science
  • Applied Analytical Statistics
  • Research Design for Social Data Science
  • Foundations of Visualisation
  • Other training as agreed between student and supervisors
  • Thesis: formulating a research question
  • Transfer to DPhil status
  • Thesis: analysis
  • Confirmation of DPhil status
  • Thesis: Writing up and submission

Stage 1: Formulating a Research Question

Stage 1 usually occurs in 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. Courses must be passed in order to transfer from PRS to DPhil status.

Social Data Science students take five compulsory foundation papers, designed to provide students with core skills, methods, theories and concepts required to undertake the remainder of the degree. These include laboratory and practical exercises to ensure that students are competent with particular techniques.

DPhil students will also complete other training as agreed with their supervisors and the course providers. This may include content from the MSc in Social Data Science, the MSc in Social Science of the Internet, or partner departments involved in the Social Data Science programme.

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. Details of the Transfer of Status process can be found in the DPhil Graduate Studies Handbook.

Stage 2: Research and Analysis

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 primarily to research, including for instance data gathering, method development, experiments, 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 and travel away from Oxford. During this time, students are expected to work on conference presentations and journal articles, learning scientific writing in direct collaboration with their supervisor(s).

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: this applies to students who have transferred to the DPhil from an Oxford MLitt, MSc or MPhil as well as to those who enter as a PRS student.

The OII’s Graduate Studies Committee expects students to complete the confirmation interview by the end of the third year of study 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 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, narrowing down your research direction, as well as 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 experiments, 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 faculty member s are eligible to supervise DPhil students. The supervision areas are intended as a guide only: we recommend to contact a faculty member directly if you would like to discuss their suitability to supervise you.

Fees and Funding

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.

Common OII Funding Options

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) – one of fourteen Doctoral Training Partnerships accredited by the ESRC as part of a new Doctoral Training Network.

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


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 offers 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 covering course fees 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.

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

The DPhil in Social Data Science is designed for students with core quantitative and computational skills who wish to develop their skills further, using computational techniques (such as, e.g., machine learning, statistical learning, and network science) and large-scale data analysis for the study of information systems and technology.. Theses in Social Data Science might also develop new computational approaches for analysing human behavioural data online. The DPhil in Information, Communication and the Social Sciences is instead designed for 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. Theses in this programme might include quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods applied to a broad range of social science questions about digital phenomena and could address questions about technology policy or practice.

Should I apply for the MSc or the DPhil in Social Data Science?

A substantial amount of training in our programmes happens at the MSc level. It is therefore expected that applicants to DPhil programmes already hold a taught masters or other advanced degree. For Social Data Science, applicants should examine the content covered in the MSc in Social Data Science and are advised to apply for the MSc if their current experience covers less than half of the content taught within the MSc programme. DPhil students will work with their supervisors and the Programme Director to identify any further areas of specialised training that is needed for their theses and opportunities to meet these needs from across the University. DPhil students will usually take the Foundation courses from the MSc Social Data Science programme unless they already have equivalent training.

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 faculty from the OII and partner departments in the University. 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.

Is the 2,000 word limit on the written work a minimum or maximum?

2,000 words is a maximum. Many students who find that their best work exceeds this length choose to submit a 2,000-word extract from that longer piece of work. We recommend that your chosen piece: demonstrates your capacity for independent or original thought; is systematically analytical rather than purely descriptive; addresses a clear question or problem; where relevant, draws on data or literature sources to support its main arguments; expresses its arguments with clarity and precision.

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.  

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 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. 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.