PhD Personal Statement

March 29, 2019

This was my personal statement for a funded PhD project in The Geodemographics of British Streets: This PhD will develop a method that creates a public geodemographic classification; that in addition to utilising the best of open data; couple these with other data sources and generate more timely and accurate measures of populations and their contexts. The project will develop innovative techniques that utilise street geometry in their specification, estimation and testing; as the site for social interaction and the construction of neighbourhoods.

After seven years working with YWAM (a global youth movement), training and equipping small agile teams of young people for short-term cross-cultural charitable projects, I was invited last year to help an old bookshop get its systems in order. To my horror, the outgoing bookshop manager explained to me that there wasn’t even a handwritten record of what new books were for sale on the shelves. If a customer should enquire whether a particular book was in stock, you just had to look at the shelves with them to see if it might be there.

Encouraged that at least things could get no worse, I decided I needed to put the technology in place to bring the bookshop (which this year celebrates its 200th anniversary) out of the 19th century and into the 21st. So cancelled all my other commitments and I signed up for a few courses on Udemy, so that I could spend a few weeks starting to learn Python and SQL and Javascript and whatever else might be necessary to begin keeping track of the necessary data to competently run a bookshop. And I loved it!

I have always been good at thinking scientifically and analysing data, and I read Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. But when the 2008 Financial Crisis broke out in my second year I became very disillusioned by the negative impact that people doing clever things with numbers seemed to be having on the world. I had spent the summer before working with a Christian charity in India working with drug addicts, and I decided the world had more pressing needs than rigorously proving that calculus worked properly – so I managed to complete my degree by switching to Theology, and I have spent the last ten years trying to mobilize and train teams of youthful Christians to engage with some of those pressing needs: the refugee crisis in Greece, modern-day slavery in India, rebuilding society in post-genocidal Rwanda.

However I have come to realize that if I want to have a significant long-term impact then I need to make better use of those mathematical, logical, analytical skills that I have allowed to become somewhat underused. And I have come to see that there are people using those skills not just to make even more money for themselves, but to make the world a better, more open, more connected, more prosperous, more sustainable, place for all of us.

While it is a few years since I have been in a rigorous academic environment, I am eager and ready for the challenge. If anything, I think I am that much more curious and full of questions, and have over the last few years learned the necessary time management and communication skills to channel my motivation and initiative to focus on the proper priorities.

I hope this shows why I have both the motivation and the necessary skills for this course.

I have recently bought a house in Liverpool and I don’t want to move or have to commute a long distance. All the Liverpool projects seem interesting, and I’m impressed with Alex Singleton and Dani Arribas-Bel’s commitment to Open-Source Science. So I would be interested to pursue research in any of the projects listed.

But if I had to choose, my preferred project would be LV35 – The Geodemographics of British Streets. Since reading Jane Jacobs on The Death and Life of American Cities, I have been fascinated by the ways that urban planning influences social behaviour, and chastened by the evidence for the iniquitous effects of utopian schemes on human interaction. Nevertheless, I remain deeply utopian, and so am interested in exploring how geodemographic data science might provide the raw material for greater success in creating flourishing urban environments.