About the Program

The program offers a yearly competition open to iSchool PhD students. A total of 10 fellowships will be awarded. Each of the winning iFellows will receive a $50,000 stipend to support their dissertation research over a two-year period.

The competition will consist of two stages: a Letter of Intent stage and a Full Proposal stage. Only the top ranked applicants resulting from the reviews of the letters of intent will be invited to submit a Full Proposal.

  • The Letter of Intent deadline for 2016 is October 15, 2016
  • The Full Proposal deadline for 2016 is December 31, 2016

The Fellowship stipend is expected to cover costs associated with the iFellow’s involvement in the projects with which they interact and engage, including:

  • living expenses
  • travel and per diem while visiting the project
  • access to specialized research resources, including hardware, software, and communications equipment
  • attendance at conferences and workshops
  • support for other activities of value

Tuition remission has been pledged by many of the iSchools and it is expected that this will be the case for all of the iFellows.

Project Examples

The independent dissertation research of the iFellows must complement and advance the goals of the Committee on Coherence at Scale. The Coherence at Scale project is intended to examine and take steps to aggregate national-scale digital projects in order to enhance their ability to function as an integrated infrastructure; one having the potential to transform higher education in terms of scholarly productivity, teaching, cost-efficiency, and sustainability. 

To accomplish this ambitious goal requires addressing a broad range of topics such as enhancing interoperability at all levels of information, addressing multiple issues associated with scalable and heterogeneous information repositories, accommodating new forms of scholarly workflow contemporary scholarship, increasingly characterized by the use of large scale, Internet-based data and computational resources. More details on relevant specific topics are given in the section Relevant PhD Research Areas.

The iFellowship competition will use as a working definition a project or organized effort that meets at least one of the following criteria:

  • projects that collect and manage large amounts of diverse digital content intended for a broad audience having diverse interests and levels of expertise [Examples: Digital Public Library of America, Europeana]
  • projects that develop extensive systems of federated repositories incorporating leading-edge technologies [Example: The European Library]
  • projects that promote long-term public access to research articles and data [Example: SHared Access Research Ecosystem (SHARE)]
  • projects that collect formatted data from a large number of sources (both machines and persons) specific to a scholarly domain [example:  Cuneiform Digital Library]
  • projects that develop and make available information access and data analytic tools for analyzing diverse and large amounts of geographically distributed digital content [Example: California Digital Library]
  • projects that create new approaches for enabling interoperability at the repository and content level and promote rigorous testing on large collections [Example: W3C, Linked Heritage (EU)]
  • centers for creating new media, virtual environments and creative forms of information visualization and presentation [many examples]
  • organizations that engage large numbers of participants to advance institutions’ capabilities to provide digital services to education and research communities [Examples:  Educause, National Digital Strategy Alliance]
  • projects focused on creating new scholarly communication environments that capture and preserve full records of scholarly workflow and prepare assets for reuse [Example: Open Annotation Collaboration]
  • projects focused on cost analyses and business models for extremely large-scale national and international data collection and access projects [Example: Research Data Alliance, GRDI2020]
  • projects that address critical stages of the information lifecycle and effectively engage large numbers of participants in advancing goals [Examples: Digital Preservation Network, The Dataverse Network]

Large-scale projects typically involve several institutional partners and often a consortium of organizations from the academic, non-profit, government, and commercial sectors. Examples would include Internet2, the European Library, and others noted above.

Development, implementation, and management of digital infrastructure is a major undertaking in the best of circumstances and involves large groups of actors having diverse expertise--researchers, administrators, librarians, archivists, publishers, and stakeholders with many interests. Together they must address a wide range of issues associated with the information lifecycle from creation to preservation and archiving. They work within community-defined, but often externally constrained criteria toward a digital future for which the past has frequently not illuminated the way. It is clear that building geographically distributed repository systems that are interoperable at multiple levels and interact seamlessly with distributed computational services layered within larger ecosystems of organizational entities is central to meeting the demands of scholars for data and computation intensive research.

Technical Considerations

Aggregation of large-scale projects involves many tasks. For those primarily concerned with delivering content, research, and development issues cluster around:

  • facilitating information accumulation of multiple types and sometimes complex information objects
  • internal organization of data within the repository(ies) and how this is packaged and exposed
  • establishing linkages to external repositories and resources (at the systems and content levels)
  • building new access tools to allow advanced information retrieval
  • acquiring or creating data analysis, manipulation, testing, and evaluation software suited to specific information types and user needs
  • enabling new information presentation, visualization, and dissemination tools and services
  • arranging data stewardship practices across the information and scholarly workflow lifecycles

While processes related to organizational cooperation, coordination, and sharing of resources might be formulated by discussions at a high level of abstraction, many projects have evolved over an extended period of time and are wed to content delivery, management, and service strategies that are quite different from one another and cannot readily be normalized--thus attaining coherence at scale cannot be achieved through simple agreement on system and project level issues. 

To achieve coherence at scale on digital content across projects means to attain levels of interoperability at which groupings of large, distributed repositories, tools, and other services appear and function as a uniform resource or infrastructure. This requires, somewhat paradoxically, disaggregation of a project’s information and communication assets and services to the basic units and procedures that form the substrate for higher-level functionality. 

Agreement on the description, representation and structure of individual information objects must be reached, as well as specific tools, format transformation standards, vocabularies, internal services negotiation, schema, and a host of other technical considerations. The CLIR/Vanderbilt University proposal is wisely including discussion forums for addressing some domain specific requirements in a series of humanities symposia as described in their proposal. Ongoing conversations are considered essential to alignment of large-project technical and operational practices.

It is also essential to anticipate and allow for additional information in the form of annotations, new relationships, and contextual data to be added to individual information objects in a repository by new and as of yet, unforeseen actors. A dynamic system of repositories that grows and changes in step with knowledge production and dissemination can be sustained indefinitely if these considerations are incorporated into early design stages of a project. In this way, the prospects for creating new systems of effective and sustainable scholarly research and communications infrastructures and services are improved, collaborative scholarly environments will become the norm, and the larger goals of Coherence at Scale regarding transforming higher education will become more tractable.

iSchool study programs prepare students to engage in areas of research that cover the myriad of known challenges outlined above. They are well qualified to work with projects at the leading edge of research across the digital information lifecycle.

Organizational Considerations

Also important are studies related to organizational structures, coordination efforts, and governance arrangements associated with shaping and steering the processes of high-level aggregation of large-scale projects. iSchool graduate courses address organizational, cultural, and social complications associated with collaborative work in considerable detail. We believe there will be interest from students and they will be encouraged to participate in the Fellowship Proposal competitions.  

The CLIR/Vanderbilt University proposal highlights the importance of understanding projects from an interrelated and interdependent perspective and encouraging them to adopt an identity as being a member of a larger group of efforts working toward common goals.   

The Large Scale Project Examples section lists projects that are representative of the type that can serve both the interests of Doctoral Fellows and the Coherence at Scale project. This is a small but representative sample--there are many others. These focus primarily on repositories infrastructure, content accumulation and organization, information access and analysis tools and services, presentation and dissemination of findings, scholarly workflow and communication modalities, and development of new technologies related to advancing scholarship in the humanities, arts, and the natural and social sciences. 

A listing of topics attracting high levels of interest and activity is given in the Relevant PhD Research Areas section. The projects are based both in the USA and in other countries. The iSchools are an international consortium, and while we believe students will have interest in projects regardless of their geographic location, the practicalities of Fellows making extended visits to projects based in other countries introduces costs that may be excessive and prohibitive. However, in cases where the host project provides funds for Fellows to visit, suitable arrangements would be expected to include a commitment to a specific level of funding, a work plan, a statement of anticipated outcomes, and identification of any institutional constraints or related considerations that might apply.