It sounds too good to be true Team building activities for kids: A free combined master’s and doctorate degree on the World Wide Web and a stipend of 13,000 pounds a year. Yet half of the free spots at the University of Southampton went unclaimed last October because the four-year course of study failed to attract enough eligible applicants.
“People think you have to be a computer scientist to study the Internet,” said Dr. Leslie Carr, deputy director of the university’s new Internet doctoral training center. “We need economists, sociologists, political scientists, and linguists so that we can fully study the impact of the World Wide Web on our lives.”
The U.K. is introducing post-graduate education in the Internet for the first time. The course is funded by Research Council UK’s Digital Economy program. The program focuses on the impact of new technologies on people and society. The program funds 10 places each year for five years along with matched funding from the university.
According to Wendy Hall, professor of computer science at the University of Southampton, the Internet is a new discipline that is preparing the professionals of the future. In a few years, companies, organizations, home services and ministries will be looking for professionals who can understand how people use the Internet, what its impact is and how it will continue to evolve, Ms. Hall said.
“Everyone who does business online needs Internet specialists, but right now they don’t realize it yet. Our graduates will be able to analyze issues such as Internet fees, consumer behavior or the use of new technologies to improve security, such as Twitter alerts,” Ms. Hall says. “The Internet is an amazing technology that affects our lives and has a profound impact on society, and yet it has not been studied anywhere until now. You can study technology in the computer science department and human behavior in the sociology department, but we provide an opportunity to study the Internet in all of its hypostases, at the intersection of the sciences.”
Even though there are no job openings for Internet specialists yet, companies and organizations are showing keen interest in the course and are offering internships to students, Ms. Hall says. Internet specialist jobs are likely to begin to develop as people try to appreciate the rapid growth of information technology. Students will prepare for new advances, such as the semantic web, the next-generation Internet that machines will be able to understand and use. “In the future there will be a great demand for professionals with interdisciplinary skills and an understanding of both technology and aspects of business. When the Internet came along, there was a big demand for web designers. And the jobs of the future are for Web scientists,” Ms. Hall predicts.
People with different backgrounds can shed light on the success of the Internet and the dangers it harbors. “The Serious Organized Crime Agency is interested in the darker aspects of the Internet. The criminal world is very active in using the World Wide Web – there are dark equivalents of sites like eBay,” Mr. Carr said, “this is past tense of see just one area where an Internet specialist can help.
Conor McCabe, a 24-year-old student, was enrolled in the course after earning a degree in computer science and working for a year in a public education department in Northern Ireland. “I heard Wendy Hall’s story and it interested me,” Conor says. “Studying here gave me a chance to learn new skills and work on a team. Internet specialists will be great employees, and I’m sure there will be a lot of demand for us.”
The course of study includes a year at the university equivalent to an Internet master’s degree, technical training in Web page development and an interdisciplinary view of the Internet’s impact on society. The next three years are devoted to a research project in combinatorial engineering and qualitative research.