Data Network Studentship image

Relating to Data: understanding data through visualisation

Three funded PhD Studentships

ESRC White Rose Doctoral Training Centre (WRDTC) Network (Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York)

Deadline for applications

5 March 2016.

Relating To Data: understanding data through visualisation is a network of three funded PhD studentships which focuses on how people relate to data through their visualisation, the narratives and meanings people attach to visualisations and the potential understanding produced by them. Staff at the Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York will supervise the successful candidates, with one candidate being located at each of the three universities. The Network brings together supervisors with expertise in data visualisation, big data/data power and user-centred digital design with two world-leading and award-winning data visualisation agencies, Clever-Franke and Visualising Data. As such, it provides exciting opportunities for three excellent PhD students interested in contributing to the social scientific study of data in society.

Data are proliferating, acquiring new powers and playing an increasingly important role in society. The main way that people get access to data is through visualisations (the visual representation of data and statistics in charts and graphs). Given this, greater understanding of the social role of visualisations than currently exists is needed. Little is known about:

  • Whether visualisations are effective in communicating data,
  • How engagement can be evaluated given the diversity of purpose, context and audience,
  • Whether effectiveness measures can be automated and digitised,
  • How and whether visualisation design can be more user-centred
  • What skills people need to make sense of visualisations and relate to data through them.

Researching these questions is vital in order to develop greater understanding of how non-experts can engage with data and so participate in data-driven social, cultural and civic life.

The Network will explore whether and how visualisations: make data accessible; shape understandings; might advance critical appreciations of complex phenomena. It will advance conceptual understanding of the social role of visualisation, engaging with contemporary debates about data and empowerment, the politics of data and issues of transparency and visibility in and through visualisation. As such it will contribute to the emergent field of critical data studies, which understands data and their visualisation as actors in unequal data societies. It aims to produce freely available resources for professional data visualisers, social scientists keen to use visualisation to make their research data accessible (thus advancing social science) and the general public. As such, the knowledge it produces will have broad impact.

The Network will meet three times per year. Two meetings will involve all students and all supervisors, and the other will involve all students, supervisors and partners. Each HEI will host one annual meeting, arranged by the students. Meetings with partners will take place at the beginning of each academic year, to provide direction for the forthcoming year. The students will meet with each other bi-monthly between network meetings throughout the duration of the network, to report on progress, exchange ideas, support each other and ensure project progression.

Studentship topic 1: Developing Visualisation Literacy

  • Principal Supervisor: Helen Kennedy, Department of Sociological Studies, University of Sheffield
  • Co-Supervisor: Alex Hall, Department of Politics, University of York
  • Partner: Visualising Data – contributing £1,000 cash to cover training, travel etc

Find out more about this Studentship and how you can apply

Studentship topic 2: Engaging Diverse Users in Visualisation Production and Evaluation

  • Principal Supervisor: David Beer, Department of Sociology, University of York
  • Co-Supervisor: Rosemary Lucy Hill, Department of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds
  • Partner: Clever-Franke – contributing £1,000 to cover travel and accommodation costs during 2 x 8 week periods of fieldwork

To apply, visit:

Studentship topic 3: Measuring Visualisation Engagement

  • Principal Supervisor: Christopher Birchall, School of Media and Communications, University of Leeds
  • Co-Supervisor: Paul Clough, Information School, University of Sheffield
  • Partner: Visualising Data & Clever-Franke – Clever-Franke contributing £1,000 to cover travel and accommodation costs during 2 x 8 week periods of fieldwork

To apply, visit:

Entry requirements and eligibility criteria

  • There are two possible modes of study, called +3 (= three years PhD study) or 1+3 (= one year MA Social Research (for social science research training) + three years PhD study). Applicants applying for a +3 award must demonstrate that they have completed a relevant social science Masters programme which has provided them with relevant training in social research methods.
  • For 1+3 and +3 awards, applicants must hold at least a UK upper second class honours degree or equivalent.
  • These awards are only available to nationals from the UK and EU and are not open to applicants who are liable to pay academic fees at the international fee rate. UK applicants will be eligible for a full award (paying fees and maintenance at standard Research Council rates). EU applicants are normally eligible for a fees only award, unless they have been resident in the UK for 3 years immediately preceding the date of the award.