Web Science Summer School
9-13 July 2012
The objective of Web Science is to understand the complex, cross-disciplinary dynamics driving the development of the Web. Web Science is a young discipline, which suffers from mismatch between, on the one hand, the scientific and societal relevance of the research topics involved and, on the other hand, the lack of trained researchers who study these topics. This school was aimed at PhD students to help them understand the wide variety of theories and scientific methods needed to study Web Science problems.
The school was attended by 44 PhD students and junior researchers from 10 countries, including the US, Australia, Ethiopia and Indonesia. More than 50% of the students were female. There were 12 tutors who were all leading researchers in the Web Science field. The background of students and tutors varied; the majority had computer science training, but there were also social scientists, lawyers and economists present.
The program consisted of a mix of lectures (11 in total) and work sessions. Lectures were scheduled for 75 minutes, in which the tutor spent about 45 minutes explaining a key topic in Web Science, leaving ample time for questions and in-depth discussions. The topics of the lectures covered the range of theories and methods relevant for Web Science. A typical example was the talk by Nosh Contractor, a social scientist from Northwestern University, who discussed how techniques from social-network analysis could be applied to the Web. For the work sessions the organizers had prepared a “Call for Proposals”. Students were asked to write a grant proposal about a Web Science topic of their choice. Students had to divide themselves up into groups of four, as much as possible with mixed background. In the proposal they had to cover scientific and societal objectives, data issues (e.g., availability, privacy), and the Web technology involved. Tutors helped the students during the week in this process. On Friday every group made a pitch presentation about their proposal, with the tutors acting as review panel. The best proposal was awarded a prize by the panel.
The lecture sessions were lively and highly interactive. This contributed to the excellent social atmosphere of the school. The students typically came from mono-disciplinary research settings and really enjoyed the cross-disciplinary nature. Working on the grant proposal was challenging; it took most groups quite some time to get a grip on the topic they wanted to study. This was also good because it made them involve a range of tutors with requests for suggestions and feedback. The final presentations exhibited a range of creative ideas formulated as realistic project proposals. A number of proposals would stand a very good chance to get funded.
Although the organizers were relatively late in sending out a Call for Participation the School was fully booked. The line-up of the lecturers, who were almost without exception internationally well known, helped in this. The format of the work sessions worked out well. Writing a grant proposal forced students to think about fundamental issues in Web Science theories and methods. The school as a whole helped the tutors to understand what is needed in Web Science education. This is an important outcome as many universities are now setting up graduate and undergraduate Web Science programs.
Schools such as this one are somewhat different from the regular scientific workshops in the Lorentz Centre. It is the opinion of the organizers that the facilities of the Centre are an excellent fit for such schools, in particular in emerging, cross-disciplinary fields. The offices provided the study and work environment required by the school format. The heavy downpourings of rain during this Dutch summer week could not prevent making this a memorable event for all involved.