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Scholarship details

RTP2021 R2 Analysing Virtual Influencers: Celebrity, Authenticity and Identity on Social Media

Status: Open

Applications open: 15/07/2020
Applications close: 1/09/2020

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About this scholarship

The concept of celebrity has rapidly expanded during the era of digital and social media, with visual social media platforms such as Instagram, YouTube and Tiktok providing new arenas for fame celebrity to flourish online (Leaver, Highfield & Abidin, 2020). Digital platforms can launch careers seemingly overnight, through the affordances of social media and the reach of networked communication. Yet online fame can be extremely fleeting, requiring online influencers to carefully calibrate evoking both authenticity (balancing the sense of being real on platforms driven by performance) and identity (the self behind the selfies).

One of the newest and most evocative online stars are virtual influencers, that is influencers who are ‘not real’ in the conventional sense. The most well-known virtual influencer is Lil Miquela, who has more than 2.5 million Instagram followers, has released music singles, performed live interviews at Coachella, been a brand ambassador alongside Millie Bobbie Brown for Samsung, but is not an actual person. Instead, Miquela is a transmedia character created by a design company. Nor is Miquela alone, with more and more virtual influencers appearing on Instagram and beyond, often securing lucrative marketing and modelling contracts. Yet the existence of virtual influencers provokes a range of new and important questions about their role in the digital and social media ecosystem.

This project will analyse the importance, history, trajectories and impact of virtual influencers as emergent personas whose existence is at the intersection of visual social media, online celebrity, and digital technologies. The project will likely include textual analysis, ethnographic observation and social media analysis to examine the way virtual influencers operate, how audiences respond to them, and what is happening behind the scenes as businesses build these online entities.  In mapping the role of virtual influencers, this project will cast light on to significant changes to the visual social media landscape and answer important questions about the influence an online.

The project will be located within the discipline of Internet Studies and the Centre for Culture and Technology (CCAT), working with world leaders in the areas of visual social media and online influencers.

  • Future Students
  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Higher Degree by Research
  • Australian Citizen
  • Australian Permanent Resident
  • New Zealand Citizen
  • Permanent Humanitarian Visa
  • International Student
  • Merit Based

Total value of the annual scholarships (stipend and fees) is approx. $60,000 - $70,000 p.a.

Curtin PhD Stipends are valued at $28,092 p.a. for up to a maximum of 3.5 years.

Successful applicants will receive a 100% Fee offset.

Scholarship Details


All applicable HDR courses

·         English language IELTS level of 6.5

·         Future Higher degree by research applicants

·         Hold or expect to obtain First Class Honours, or be regarded as having an equivalent level of attainment;

·         Have completed an undergraduate Bachelor degree in an area relevant for the doctoral research program;

·         Proficiency in Japanese would be preferable, but not essential.

Application process

To apply for this project opportunity applicants must submit an email to the contact Project lead listed below. The email must include their current curriculum vitae, a summary of their research skills and experience and the reason they are interested in this specific project.

The Project Lead will select one preferred applicant for this project and complete a Primary reference on their behalf. 

After confirmation from the Project Lead that they will receive a primary reference for this project the applicant must submit an eApplication for admission into the applicable HDR course no later than 1st September 2020.

All applicants must send an external referee template to their chosen external reference. 

All references are confidential and must be submitted by the referee directly to no later than 1st September 2020.

Scholarship applications submitted without a primary reference or a completed application for admission will be considered incomplete.

For further information on the application process or for more RTP2021 Round 2 scholarship project opportunities visit: 

Enrolment Requirements

Eligible to enrol in a Higher Degree by Research Course at Curtin University by March 2021


To apply for this project opportunity email your current curriculum vitae, a summary of their research skills and experience and the reason you are interested in this specific project to:

Name: Associate Professor Tama Leaver


Contact Number: (+61 8) 9266 1258

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