The MIT Center for International Studies invites applications from MIT undergraduate and graduate students to become Human Rights & Technology Fellows. The program aims to generate new research and understanding of how human rights are enhanced by the use of technology, or, conversely, how human rights are threatened by certain uses of technology.
The research project an applicant proposes should engage any of several issues in this broad mandate. The project should be their own design, and yield a product at the end of the academic year.
The Center will award $2000 to each Fellow to pursue their project. Attendance and participation in monthly working-group meetings is mandatory.
“The HRTF is a great, low-stakes and high-benefit grant opportunity where students are free to explore issues through the framework of human rights. We are given a lot of intellectual guidance from the fellowship administrators and from our peers, and have multiple discussions over the spring semester to hone and shape our projects. I am deeply grateful for John and Anat for this opportunity and for their consistent support, intellectual guidance and patience in helping us develop, focus and execute our projects. The application process is easy, the guidance is instructive, and the rewards of discussion are abundant.” (Kevin Lee, 2019-2020 fellow, and PhD candidate, Department of Urban Studies and Planning.)
"This fellowship has been a rewarding and insightful experience for the connections, conversation, and resources and support. We are thankful for all of your work dedicated to organizing this program and hope to stay in touch as we continue building and distributing our platform for unionized workers!" (Max Raven, Mechanical Engineering ’21; Natasha Hirt, Architecture ’22; Peyton Shields, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science ’22, and Evan Hostetler, Mechanical Engineering ‘22. These 2019-20 fellows worked together to build a social media platform to promote activism for workers' rights.)
Applications will be accepted until Monday, October 26, 2020 at 5:00 pm. A faculty committee will select six fellows from among the applicants. The awardees will be announced on November 2, 2020.
All full-time students at MIT are eligible. Awards will be made to four undergraduates and two graduate students. They will be evaluated in separate pools.
The application should include:
- A description of the research problem to be addressed, how the research will be conducted, and what outputs are anticipated (1000-word limit)
- a brief statement of the applicant’s interest in human rights (200-word limit)
- a CV
- one letter of recommendation from faculty, or someone comparable
The proposed project should not “piggyback” on other projects the applicant may be undertaking. Successful applications will propose stand-alone research or original, collaborative work.
Submit applications in pdf format to: John Tirman, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Letters of recommendation can be submitted in any form. Questions can be directed to John Tirman via email.
We recognize that the coronavirus emergency limits research methods. Please consult MIT’s Covid-19 policies at now.mit.edu/policies. For example, students must conform to MIT rules about travel (https://now.mit.edu/policies/mit-travel-policy/) and refrain from any interactions that may expose you to infections.
TOPICS OF RESEARCH
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 260 million migrants and 70 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 coronavirus crisis. While we are still in early stages of understanding the significance and consequences of the coronavirus, some aspects are clearly relevant to human rights and technology. How vaccines and therapies are developed, the bias against older people and those with comorbidities, how restrictions are applied, and questions of surveillance and privacy, among others, are examples of worthwhile topics.
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 2 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 during the year, 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 will participate, such as conferences, workshops, and the like.
Thank you for your interest and participation.