The Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Summer Institute, or AnOx for short, occurs each year at the historic University of Oxford in Oxford, UK. At UM Communication Studies, participating in AnOx has become a lively tradition for our emerging academics, researchers, and teachers. Each year the Department of Communication Studies attempts to have one or two Michigan doctoral students selected for the summer program. If selected, the Department provides full funding for the trip.
Sometimes Michigan communication Ph.D. students are already immersed in the world of media policy before attending the program. Other times, our students (like myself) have expertise in other areas of communication studies with the hope of broadening their research agenda. Hence, my personal goal was to learn about contemporary issues and theories related to media policy, and integrate these perspectives into my understanding and ideas for new research.
I am pleased to say that primary goal was accomplished, though not without some initial uncertainty… As someone who works with researchers in the Department of Communication Studies, Department of Psychology, and School of Information at UM, I like to think I draw on a solid range of perspectives. Entering the Oxford Media Policy Institute, however, represented an initial reminder of the limitations of my knowledge base. My own work takes a psychological approach to understand how people engage with new and emerging technologies (e.g., Facebook, Snapchat, Google Glass). And this approach is mostly absent from big picture discussion of media policy actors and implications.
Fortunately, I was relieved to find a group of open-minded individuals that included some scholars, some lawyers, some professionals working at NGOs, and others. Beyond the students from Michigan and Annenberg Schools of Communication who apply each year, a very diverse group of participants contribute to total social experience. The program attempts to incorporate a wide range of nationalities and specialties given range of influences on media policy and global flows of information. There are a few required assignments, but the crux of the program is the interaction and debates among participants.
Not surprisingly, the program is an extensive time commitment. From 9 AM to 5 PM, a range of speakers, panels, and participant presentations reveal the latest ideas and research related to media law policy. This included heated discussions on well-known issues such as the Ukraine-Russia propaganda war, Edward Snowden, Facebook’s intenet.org, and censorship across the world. Immediately after the workday ends, we moved on to check out local Oxford activities, attractions, and, of course, pubs. The latter outlet is where some of the most interesting, and sometimes significant, conversations take place. Indeed, it is the discussion between participants that the organizers feel is most essential to the continuity of the Oxford program.
Before long, I had established friendships with policy advocates with very different work from my own. From what I have heard from past students, these connections stay with you long after the last day of the program. For instance, I already have plans to see a participant who works for the World Bank when I visit Washington D.C. this year. After the museums and mugs of ale, we wandered back through the old streets to our “colleges” – adorably compared to the “houses” of Hogwarts. I was told that colleges are an important aspect of Oxford culture since students supposedly have more allegiance to their college than the larger University. Given the intensive work and social schedule, the two weeks in Oxford pass by exceedingly quickly.
In parallel with the AnOx Media Policy Institute, the famous Oxford Internet Institute (OII) also hosts a summer program in July. The two institutes focus on different aspects and perspectives related to media and technology. I spent one of my days at the Internet institute since my core research is centered on communication technologies. Most importantly, the timing of the two institutes allows for an annual football (i.e., soccer) game between the policy and Internet camps! For this reason, OII participants looked me at skeptically on the day I attended and accused me of being a spy for the coming match. Luckily, our policy team successfully defeated the Internet team 4 to 1 (or something like that) due to my espionage.
This year it happened to be that the Oxford trip was the first leg of an extended academic travel adventure taking me around Europe and North America. Following Oxford, I visited other communication researchers and professors in Amsterdam (ND), Montreal (CA), and Colorado (US) before returning to Ann Arbor. The University of Michigan encourages and facilitates its engagement with other specialists across the world during the Ph.D. process. In doing so, we are given the opportunity to build a far-reaching network of researchers, and expand our scopes beyond the United States job market. Overall, my travels to Oxford and beyond provided a memorable set of experiences and social connections before I begin my first search this fall for post-Ph.D. jobs.