Resilient Communities Bangladesh: PROTIC PhD Scholarships

Expressions of Interest (EOI) are sought for the scholarships below as part of the IT for Resilient Communities Flagship of the Centre for Community and Social Informatics (COSI) of the Faculty of Information Technology at Monash University. Applications can only be made via the link and form available at http://monash.edu/it/protic-eoi

The duration of each Scholarship is three years and requires periods of residence in Australia and research in Bangladesh.

Expressions of Interest
Closing Date 30 April 2017

General Background

PROTIC (Participatory Research and Ownership with Technology, Information and Change) works in rural Bangladesh trialling innovative information and communications strategies though participatory action research. PROTIC has a focus on empowering women though enhancing community well-being and livelihoods in poor agricultural communities.

The PROTIC project is a partnership between Oxfam in Bangladesh and its community partner organisations, Oxfam Australia, and the Faculty of IT, Monash University, supported by the Empowerment Charitable Trust. PROTIC is part of the overall RECALL program at Oxfam in Bangladesh.

The primary goal of PROTIC is to develop current, accurate, and trustworthy interactive information (primarily via mobile technologies) for women in agriculture in Bangladesh, to enable them to act to improve their well-being and livelihoods in one of the most densely populated and ecological fragile parts of the world. There is already a very high ownership of mobiles in Bangladesh with a good 3G network. The project also aims to innovate through mobile phone applications and other rural-relevant networked technologies, in conjunction with the establishment of information networks that contribute to strengthening of local, and particularly women’s, voices in the community development process.

The aims of PROTIC are as follows:

  • to develop and implement an inexpensive interactive Bengali language mobile phone information system and other technical innovations and responsive community ‘hub’ and skills base in Bangladesh, for isolated rural communities as a model for further uptake in that country and elsewhere in the developing world.
  • to engage farming women and their village communities, local NGOs, universities in Bangladesh, Oxfam and Monash University using Participatory Action Research (PAR).
  • to give agency to community voices via the interactive mobile phone information system (a localised and personalised 'community hub'), thus resulting in the meaningful change for people in poverty;
  • to affect change in communications and information system design and implementation;
  • to affect change in how other stakeholders work with and advocate on the part of these communities, and to give them a more effective voice with NGOs and government; and
  • to evaluate and demonstrate positive effects on community capacity; and to develop significant practical and theoretical insights about information and communications and PAR to share with the development and academic communities in Bangladesh and elsewhere.

Application Procedure

The following procedures must be followed.

  1. Only students who meet Monash’s entry requirements should apply. To apply, you should submit an Expression of Interest for the scholarship in which you are interested in. Use this form only. There is no need to contact a specific supervisor for this scholarship application. In Section 3, please indicate the scholarship reference number you wish to apply for. If you wish to apply for more than one scholarship, please indicate your preferences in the boxes provided.
  2. Please read the eligibility requirements (including English) carefully. Non-eligible Expressions of Interest will not be considered. The submission of the Expression of Interest does not constitute a formal application for a Research Degree or Scholarship (see below).
  3. A short list of candidates will be drawn up and contacted for a video interview within 4 weeks of the closing date.
  4. The selection interview is mandatory. The interview panel may choose not to make a scholarship award or alter its terms and conditions.
  5. The successful candidate will then be invited to make a formal application for the PhD and Scholarship by a specified date.
  6. An application received after this closing date will not be considered.
  7. If all criteria are formally met, a Scholarship offer will be made.
  8. The successful candidate will receive a full tuition scholarship and stipend ($AUD26,682 per annum) for a single person for the period of required research residency in Australia and fieldwork in Bangladesh. Health insurance costs for the student, return air-fares and some relocation costs will be covered. Note that spouse health-care insurance is NOT covered. It is intended that the PhD research project be completed within three years. The successful candidate should be available to travel to Melbourne and commence studies in the second half of 2017.
  9. For more information, consult the Postgraduate Course Guide or visit www.monash.edu.au/international. The guide contains important information on Australian Government requirements and conditions for study in Australia, living costs, course fees, health insurance, working while you study, work rights for your spouse and schooling for your children. Information on Australian visa applications may be obtained from www.immi.gov.au and www.dfat.gov.au/missions. Please be aware that visa conditions must be met for the scholarship to be awarded. For the structure of the PhD program at Monash, see this important information. The Monash PhD Handbook also contains important information.
  10. Expressions of Interest received after the closing date 30 April 2017 will not be considered.

Mandatory English Language Requirements

  1. Applications that DO NOT meet the following requirements will not be considered.
  2. If you have not completed Academic IELTS or TOEFEL in the last two years and you wish to apply for the scholarship, the latest date for which you can take a test in Bangladesh and be considered is 22 April. For TOEFEL, it is 23 April. Please see the relevant website to register and send the results to us as soon as they become available. Test results are valid for two years from the date of the test, and must be valid when you commence your program. Also refer to the EOI form.
  3. If you have not completed an appropriate English test within the past two years. If you have completed two years of tertiary study within the past five years at an accredited university where English is the language of instruction and assessment, and is an official language of that country (specify name of institution, dates of study and attach documentary evidence).
  4. Bangladesh is not included in the Monash list of countries for English as the official language. Please review the Monash University policy on English Language requirements.

Other Enquiries

Please direct enquiries to the following:

Dr Tom Denison, Centre for Community and Social Informatics, Monash University
Dr Larry Stillman, Centre for Community and Social Informatics, Monash University

Please do NOT direct enquiries to Oxfam in Bangladesh.

The PROTIC Scholarship Program

In recent years, Bangladesh community has experienced a dramatic growth in the adoption and usage of mobile phones. According to the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission, the number of active mobile phone subscribers was at least 120 million by 2016 and shows no sign of abating.

PROTIC is a partnership between Monash and Oxfam, designed to be responsive to the needs of rural Bangladeshi communities. Furthermore, PROTIC is part of an overall interest in the Faculty in exploring issues of the place of technology in society and the grander challenges of climate change, food and human security and well-being of communities, particularly in the global south. From a skills and research perspective, this has important interdisciplinary implications for researchers and students, bringing together expertise from the technical and human sciences.

It is expected that successful candidates through their research and participation in training workshops and other events in the Faculty will contribute to the development of this new perspective.

Do not contact supervisors at this time. If you have other questions, contact Drs Denison and Stillman as above.

PROTIC 1: Information Ecology for Sustainable Development

(Supervisors: Gillian Oliver, Henry Linger, Frada Burstein)

Research Topic

The purpose of the proposed project is to explore and address the information and knowledge management (IKM) challenges faced by the international aid and developmental community (including non-governmental and private sector organisations) in the specific context of Bangladesh. The dimensions of such an information ecology are complex, involving diverse cultural influences. Successful IKM must be sensitive to this cultural diversity. The project will use relevant theories to assist in identifying the infrastructural features necessary to support decision making and knowledge transfer.

Sustainability and resilience are core objectives of aid agencies as it is imperative to ensure that the best possible use is made of the funding available. This project will contribute to achieving those objectives by focusing attention on the ways in which agencies can make the best possible use of information and knowledge and in so doing, to make a difference to people’s everyday lives.

Candidate Requirements

Candidates should:

  • ideally have a strong academic background in the information and/or social and business sciences equivalent to a first class Honours degree or equivalent and/or a Master's degree by thesis in a relevant field;
  • be able to demonstrate a high level of capacity to conduct engaged and sensitive research with different elements of the project, ranging from villages to the District NGO, Oxfam and other levels of government or business;
  • ideally have an understanding and experience of gender and cultural issues in Bangladesh;
  • be bilingual in English and Bengali. Fieldwork in Bangladesh will be a requirement;
  • have strong written and verbal communication skills; and
  • have research experience relevant to the research topic.

PROTIC 2: Interface Design for Bangladeshi Farmers

(Supervisors: Pari Haghighi, Tom Denison)

Research Topic

Mobile technologies create an unprecedented opportunity to provide farmers with access to the right information at the right time using mobile applications such as disease detection Decision Support Systems (DSS) that can assist farmers to control the spread of illness and increase the productivity of their land.

One of the important aspects in developing mobile DSS applications is user interface design. Research shows in Bangladesh most farmers have low levels of literacy. Further, since they use mobile phones mainly for making calls, they are mobile illiterate or semi-literate as well. Therefore, it is paramount to design such mobile applications and their interfaces taking into consideration the needs, capabilities and behaviours of farmers, and to ensure that the user interface match the capabilities and fallibilities of the people for whom they are intended.

Candidate Requirements

Candidates should ideally have a background in interface design and can demonstrate a high level of capacity to conduct engaged and sensitive research with different elements of the project, ranging from villages to the District NGO, Oxfam and other levels of government or business. Candidates are expected to be bilingual in English and Bengali.

PROTIC 3: Advanced Satellite Data Analytics for Agricultural Applications in Rural Bangladesh

(Supervisors: Francois Petitjean, Chris Rudiger)

Research Topic

Women farmers in rural Bangladesh generally operate small scale fields for their own subsistence and trading. However, as a larger scale collective they would strongly benefit from regional information on agricultural factors, such as growing cycles, types of planted crops, and potential diseases affecting their future crop yield. The most efficient method is the use of high-resolution satellite data, through a combination of change detection algorithms and machine learning approaches, to merge a range of such satellite data.

Optical satellite data can provide a good level of information on the type of crop and its various crop stages, after a retrieval algorithm has been trained to distinguish between the different conditions. However, the abilities to retrieve data is limited to cloud-free periods, as optical signal do not penetrate clouds. Radar signals are available at the same resolution, and while they are limited in the classification of the crop types, they have the potential to provide information at the same resolution as high-resolution optical data that can be used via change-detection algorithms in conjunction with the irregularly acquired optical data.

In this project, the candidate will be developing a merging algorithm of optical and radar data by applying machine learning approaches to allow for a continuous (6-daily) information stream, including agricultural activity within a field, crop type classification, irrigation scheduling, and crop conditions monitoring.

Training the machine learning system requires ground data for the agricultural season. As a result, the project includes extensive field campaigns as well as training of local land holders (such that data can be collected by them).

Candidate Requirements

Candidates with a strong background in computer science, physics or mathematics are required for this project. The successful candidate will have to be willing to work in (and learn about):

  • Machine learning
  • Earth observation and GIS systems
  • Previous experience in the 2 skills above is a plus
  • Needs to be willing to perform field measurements, train the local land users, and be open-minded; preferably someone who can directly communicate with the local community;
  • Should have an appreciation of agricultural processes.
  • Advanced communication skills in English are critical to this project, as well as fluency in Bengali.

PROTIC 4: Gender, Small and Medium Enterprises, Microbusiness and Mobile Opportunities

(Supervisors: Mahbubur Rahim, Larry Stillman)

Research Topic

Bangladesh represents a highly gendered society, yet research shows that rural women are also being affected by changes brought in through the use of mobile devices, despite literacy issues or late adoption. These changes also include how women are using mobile communications for their business activity.

A specific PhD topic and research program will be developed in conjunction with supervisors, in response to the following concerns:

What is the nature of the mobile-mediated SME or micro-enterprise in BD in poor rural communities, including supply chain relationships? Is it part of gendered relations of production and what are the opportunities and barriers? What are the opportunities and barriers for livelihoods? How do these enterprises create innovative business practices using mobile opportunities? Is access to the mobile phone and other mobile applications changing women's economic and social role within the family, kin, or village and how? Is mobile access creating independence, empowerment, or new forms of gendered dependency and exploitation? What are the policy implications of the research for both government and NGOs? What are the theoretical implications of such research?

The above is not intended to be prescriptive, and candidates may nominate other issues, or particular region/s or industry for study based on their particular experience.

Candidate Requirements

Candidates should ideally have a background in the human, social, economic, or information sciences and can demonstrate a high level of capacity to conduct engaged and sensitive research with different entities, ranging from villages to the District NGO, Oxfam and other levels of government or business. Candidates must have a developed understanding and experience of gender and cultural issues in Bangladesh, particularly in rural areas. Candidates are expected to be bilingual in English and Bengali, and have at least several years’ experience in working in NGOs in Bangladesh.