Human Rights & Technology Fellowships

Proposals Due Oct 29 by 5pm

The MIT Center for International Studies announces a new fellowship program in human rights and technology, and invites proposals from MIT undergraduates.

The program will support students’ research, participation in a working group, and other activities.

It is intended to produce new knowledge about the relationship between human rights and technology—i.e.,how technology can enhance human rights work, and how the use of technology can impede human rights.

For example, satellite monitoring, crowd sourcing, forensic anthropology, cell phone networks, new media and the like can be creatively employed to address human rights abuses. Conversely, the control and surveillance afforded by new, electronic techniques can impinge on individual freedom and lead to large scale violations of human rights.

Research should provide new insights into one of these phenomena, underscoring the interplay of technologies and human rights norms and practice.

Human Rights & Technology Fellows will receive $2,000 to pursue their research proposal. The research may be done any time from when the award is made until August 31, 2019.

Applications will be accepted until Monday, October 29, at 5:00 pm. A faculty committee will select six fellows from among the applicants.  The awardees will be announced on November 12.

All full-time undergraduates at MIT are eligible.

The application should include:

  1. A description of the research problem to be addressed, how the research will be conducted, and what outputs are anticipated  (1000-word limit)
  2. a brief statement of the applicant’s interest in human rights (200-word limit)
  3. a CV
  4. one letter of recommendation from faculty, or someone comparable

Submit applications in pdf format to:

John Tirman, Letters of recommendation can be submitted in any form. Questions can be directed to John Tirman via email.


Applications are not limited to any particular topic within the frame of human rights and technology.  We are particularly interested in four broad areas:

Migration and refugees. There are 244 million migrants and 65 million refugees worldwide, and, prospectively, they are subjects of international human-rights law. Their political, civil, economic, and cultural rights need monitoring, articulation, elaboration, and protection.

Biotechnology. Governments and international organizations are hard at work to balance the benefits and harms rising out of the expansion of the field of biotechnology. Topics in biotechnology that engage human rights are, among others, cloning, eugenics, potential discrimination (based on genetic screening), indigenous rights, biodiversity, and the ethics of research methods.

Privacy and surveillance. Access to encrypted communication, big data mining, drones, interactive global cooperation, cyber spying, copyright, the creative commons, and even game design are potentially affected by human-rights considerations.

Documentation, witnessing, archives. The use of technology by the human-rights community has long been central to documentation, which is essential to human rights practice. Acts of witnessing and the tasks of documenting and archiving are increasingly transformed by new technological applications.


The Fellows will be responsible for describing a research method—how, where, and by what means research will be pursued—and then carry out that plan between November 12 and August 31. IAP and summer are optimal times, but the work can be done any time and at any pace in that period.  We can help place a Fellow in a NGO or other organization if that would be helpful.  The stipend can be used for any research-related purpose, such as travel, video production, data acquisition, and so on.


All Fellows will participate in a working group that brings them together monthly for discussions of human rights, technology applications, research methods, and each other’s projects.   At some point, each Fellow will present his/her project to the group.


The findings or product of one’s research can take several forms, including a scholarly or policy paper, a video, an invention, a new process of, for example, data gathering or documentation, an exhibit, or any number of other possibilities. Anticipated outputs should be included in the application, but the final product may differ depending on one’s research experience.

There may be other events and activities in the program in which the Fellows can participate, such as conferences.

Thank you for your interest and participation.