PhD Studentship Opportunity – Big Data Analytics (Technological Risks and Solutions for Protecting Human Rights)

Three-year PhD studentship to undertake research on big data analytics (technological risks and solutions for protecting human rights)

About the Project

The Human Rights, Big Data and Technology (HRBDT) Project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and based at the University of Essex’s Human Rights Centre, analyses the challenges and opportunities presented by the use of big data and associated technologies from a human rights perspective. Drawing on the wide range of expertise of its interdisciplinary researchers and partner organisations, the Project considers whether fundamental human rights concepts and approaches need to be adapted to meet the rapidly evolving technological landscape. The work also brings together practitioners, State, industry and United Nations’ officials, and academics in the fields of human rights, big data and associated technologies to assess existing regulatory responses and whether reforms are needed in order to maximise effective human rights protection.

About the Studentship

This funded three-year doctoral studentship is associated with Work Stream One of the Project.

  • Work Stream One

Work Stream One acts as a hub for the other three Work Streams. As well as providing the overarching framework within which the other Work Streams operate, this Work Stream seeks to advance knowledge and understanding of how big data and associated technologies are reshaping the conceptualisation and meaning of human rights. It seeks to provide insight into the nature of, and connections between, the positive and negative human rights implications of big data and associated technologies. It maps the wide range of threats posed, and opportunities offered, by big data and associated technologies. It also maps and analyses the existing and developing legal responses at the national, international and multi-stakeholder forum levels. Finally, it analyses proposed solutions, overlaps and tensions between different approaches.

  • Big Data Analytics – Technological Risks and Solutions for Protecting Human Rights

We are seeking to appoint a PhD student to work on issues associated with the application and human rights implications of big data and associated technology – including current and potential uses of big data analytics, including future trajectory. The research will consider issues that can arise with technological measures regarding securing identity and protecting human rights, and will identify current and emerging areas where technology can result in positive and/or negative human rights implications. Examples include anonymity, the risk of re-identification through knowledge extraction and privacy by design. The research will also consider technical, legal, procedural and operational safeguards and remedies to protect human rights in the digital age.

The studentship, which is one of five to be associated with the HRBDT Project, will be under the supervision of Dr Chris Fox and Dr Daragh Murray (to be confirmed depending on the specific topic chosen). Other members of the Work Stream will also provide guidance and support. The successful candidate will work with their supervisors and the Work Stream team to develop their precise PhD project.

Candidate Profile

The successful candidate will have a first degree and a postgraduate qualification, at least one of which should be in computer science, law or a related discipline. Candidates with mixed disciplinary backgrounds are strongly encouraged to apply.

The successful candidate will be able to demonstrate:

  • An in-depth knowledge of technical issues surrounding big data and associated technologies;
  • An awareness of theoretical issues associated with international human rights law and of potential rights implications of big data and associated technologies;
  • An ability to undertake qualitative research of a high standard;
  • An ability to write work of publishable quality; and
  • An ability to disseminate research findings to a range of stakeholder and expert communities.

Candidates will also need to show that they can work as part of a multidisciplinary team and assist with the broader activities of the HRBDT Project, including the organisation of meetings and impact engagement activities.


The award is for three years and is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). It covers annual home/EU fees and, for UK residents, provides an annual maintenance grant of £14,553.

Under ESRC rules, UK residents are eligible for a full award (fees and annual maintenance grant). EU citizens who are not ordinarily resident in the UK and do not meet the residential eligibility criteria set by the ESRC are eligible for a fees-only award. Overseas students (non-UK, non-EU) are not eligible for an ESRC award. Please click here for more information on ESRC eligibility.

The details of any funding package will depend on eligibility and potential applicants are encouraged to discuss their individual circumstances. Part-time applicants will be considered.

Eligible candidates can apply for a Research Training Support Grant (£750 p.a.) and Overseas Fieldwork Support (£450 p.a.), and the successful candidate will receive Proficio funding from the University of Essex.

Additional Information

PhD students associated with the Project will benefit from the University’s professional development scheme Proficio, which provides a wide range of courses in advanced research methods (including the world-leading courses run by the Essex Summer School in Social Science Data Analysis and the Human Rights Centre’s Summer School in Human Rights Research Methods), career management, communication skills and public engagement. The holder of the doctoral studentship will also be a full member of the University’s Human Rights Centre.

In the recent Research Excellence Framework, 77% of research at the University of Essex was classed as ‘world leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’ (REF 2014). We offer world-class supervision and training opportunities, and our research students work at the heart of an internationally-acknowledged and well-connected research community.

How to Apply

Applications must be made online through the University of Essex’s postgraduate application page: Please apply through the School of Law.

The following information is required for the application:

  1. A letter of motivation/personal statement (1,000 words), detailing special areas of interest in this field and explaining aspects of your academic and professional background that are relevant to the studentship. If you will require a Tier 4 student visa to study in the UK, then your letter should refer specifically to your reasons for wishing to study in the UK;
  2. An up to date CV;
  3. Two academic references, dated;
  4. A sample of recent written work;
  5. A sample research proposal including proposed methodology (1,000 – 2,000 words);
  6. Official transcript(s), in English or a certified translation, of your academic results to date, showing marks or grades;
  7. Evidence of any academic or English language qualifications that have already been awarded and that you have cited in your application.

Applicants are asked to notify Ms Catherine Kent <> that they have submitted an application.

Closing date: Friday 9 June 2017 

Interviews will be held by Skype or in person at the University of Essex and are expected to take place during the week commencing Monday 19 June 2017. The successful candidate would be expected to start on Thursday 5 October 2017.

Informal enquiries should be made to Ms Catherine Kent <>.