|No, dear, it's probably NOT |
an invitation to THAT ball, but rather
a reminder from your supervisor
about that missing chapter of yours
- Why did you decide to do a PhD in IP in the first place?
- How are you feeling/did you feel while doing it? Ever thought of dropping out of the PhD?
- Is/was the PhD experience as you expected?
- Are you finding it/did you find your PhD useful to enrich your professional expertise?
- Are you thinking/where you thinking of remaining in academia upon completion?
- Is there something they did not tell you about life after a PhD that you would have liked to know in advance?
- Would you recommend doing a PhD in IP?
- Any other point worth addressing!
As you will see, their assessments are both thoughtful and very candid (which is way they are so valuable), and in some cases given upon condition of preserving the anonymity of respondents (I will refer to anonymous contributors as Katfriend #1, #2, #3, etc).
Initially, my idea was to cut and paste their stories, but eventually decided against it: I thought that providing their full accounts as they emailed them to me would have been more helpful to perspective PhD students and might enhance discussion in this forum.
Katfriend #1: There is not just a single formula to make the PhD experience work for you
"I see my decision to apply for a PhD as a natural outcome of my affinity to writing. Already at law school, I used to write articles and case notes. I developed a passion for exploring things that other regarded either too obvious or too complex to think about. From the very beginning, I viewed the PhD studies as a natural step forwards, if I want to become an academic one day. And in this respect, PhD gave me exactly the freedom to do things as I wanted, the flexibly to manage my time according to these different goals, to travel and to meet new people and to respond to challenges.Soon, however, I realized that not everybody came to PhD studies with the same vision, and that this personal motivation is strongly reflected in the attitude to work of my colleagues and/or their willingness to discuss things. This is especially true in countries of the continental Europe, where PhD is not necessarily seen as a start of an academic career, but merely as a further qualification of a lawyer.
Second, I realized that what you get from PhD depends not only on you, but also on your supervisor. You can be at a great institution, but if you do not have backing for your vision or plans from your supervisor, you might have trouble to execute it. Also, I realized that there is no perfect fit for student-supervisor tandem. Some people just need more freedom, others more looking over shoulders. I personally found all I expected in my studies, and what I did not found at my home institution (eg internal discussions), I arranged elsewhere (online, at other institution, conferences, etc).
Thank goodness: you can
say that you may expect
different things from a PhD
and not be wrong
My plans are definitely tight together with academia, but this passion did not come with PhD studies, but was here already before.
My recommendation for future students would be: i) to give yourself an honest *reason* why do you want to do a PhD (in three years you can do spectacular things outside academia, so why bother?); and ii) if you convinced yourself, then ask yourself if this *reason fits the institution* where you want to apply (do they have only nice stipend, or also great connections to industry or an amazing library?); lastly, iii) spend more time thinking about the *selection of your supervisor* (if possible); if you feel he/she is not the right match, do not worry to suggest a change; I have seen many colleagues being frustrated about their communication with their supervisors. Try to avoid that."
Katfriend #2: Do not do a PhD for your career, but for yourself
"I decided to do a PhD for knowledge rather than career reasons because I had questions and wanted them answered. I have to say, I absolutely enjoyed the experience and never thought about dropping out. The PhD (and the studentship that came with it) gave me the opportunity to explore a topic I was really interested in without having to worry about anything else. For me, the key to making it work was self-discipline: when I sat at my desk, I focused on my work (=keep Facebook, Youtube, etc closed). As soon as I finished for the day, I did not work at all. This way, I made the required progress and actually finished in 3 years.
I think there is a certain expectation of unhappiness though: starting with everybody telling you that it is impossible to finish in 3 years unless you work non-stop (not true!). In my case, I went through a phase of insecurity when all my friends started having meltdowns and everybody kept asking me not how but how bad I felt. It seemed like PhD students by definition have to be stressed out or they are doing something wrong. Since I was not, I started to panic.
Oh well, both ...
Now that I have finished, I am still not sure if academia is for me. And still, I do not regret the decision to do a PhD and would do it again -- and this is despite the lack of impact that the PhD has made on my life so far.
Overall, I would not suggest doing a PhD to anyone for career reasons. 3 years (minimum) are simply too long unless you are interested in the topic and I mean REALLY interested."
Sabine Jacques (University of Nottingham): The importance of supervisors and getting time off from the PhD
"Having always wanted to specialise in IP law, I found myself having difficulties to satisfy my thirst for knowledge during previous degrees. IP law merely being an optional course in my home country, I ended up daunted by the fact that I was not prepared enough to exercise in the field I intended. It thus came naturally that I found myself contemplating several PhD programmes and am incredibly happy with the experience so far (I am currently finishing my second year). Not only do I have the pleasure to deepen many IP questions but I also pick up transferable skills such as in depth thinking from different view points, time management, building a professional network and communication and research skills. Of course, there are moments of doubts and it is not an easy ride but that is also why good supervisors are mandatory. Even though I had been warned as to the solitude of a PhD research student, I never realised what I was getting myself into until being in it.
This is why I believe that two things are really important to my experience.
... are probably true!
The first element is to have good supportive supervisors who are approachable when you need to contact them. Sharing my feelings over the PhD with my colleagues, I value the impact of being well surrounded. Therefore, I recommend future PhD students to get in touch with possible supervisors beforehand to see whether the relationship can be a successful one. The other element for me is to secure a non-PhD related activity (and especially a group one) to combat the loneliness which might appear during the four years. As at the end of the day you remain the only one working on your project, I find it important to share an activity with other people, as much as taking some distance from the project for a couple of hours.
However, I find myself ill-equipped to recommend the PhD route to just anybody. The PhD being such a personal journey, I do not see how a single experience can serve as guidance. For me, it definitely was the right thing to do."
Tyrone Berger (Monash University): Commitment is key
"I decided to do a PhD in IP in the first place because my wife was an academic, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. It was a decision to do further study, which meant a sacrifice of sorts. Now a few years into my thesis, I have a sense of duty to myself and my family to follow through. I am feeling confident (privately), but such confidence is not well received in academia.
For the most part you are left on your own. There are University regulations, of course. But what you do with that time is up to you. In the end, you get out what you put in ...! I work hard at developing my craft.
I would like to remain in academia upon completion, if they have me. The key is to find that decision-maker that is prepared to give you an opportunity. Panels interviews don't do it for me as there is no transparency or genuine feedback. I am an academic now regardless of tenure etc. I have too much invested! Where that takes me only time will tell.
I would absolutely recommend doing a PhD in IP but commitment is everything, and that is not for everyone."
Cédric: PhD is not the only way!
Believe it or not, doing a PhD is not
the only pleasant thing to do in Paris
"I first enrolled to ... be able to get paid for the classes I was teaching (I needed this status to be an 'official' adjunct lecturer at the law school, as required in France). I realized later that writing a thesis was not my vocation, and I stopped. Years later, after I came back from a stay at a foreign university, I decided to go for the PhD again, after I understood that the 'Doctor' title is a plus if you want to work abroad. In other words, I wrote a monograph not for the pleasure of helping science, but for more trivial reasons!
The moments of fun while doing your PhD are rare, and exclusively solitary. Writing and thinking lead to isolation, and socially you have nothing to share on what you are doing. Plus your friends do not see the point of doing this - and they are right!
I think that embarking a PhD adventure is only partly useful to enrich one's own professional expertise, because you can also improve your professional skills by writing several articles rather than loose sweat, blood and faith in a doctoral thesis.
I was thinking of remaining in academia upon completion of my PhD. Yet, ironically having finished the PhD precipitated the end of my academic career!
I would recommend doing a PhD only at certain cumulative conditions: do it in a different country from your own, get full funding (but not from your parents!), write it in English, choose a topic that will help you find a job afterwards.
Any other point? Well, why write a PhD when you're young? It's an experience you can live later - when you retire for example!"
Katfriend #4: There are difficulties but also pleasant surprises along this journey"I am not sure when I started my PhD what I really expected. I did not expect that there would be as many extremes - extremely good days when I felt I was making real progress - and bad weeks, when I questioned what I was doing, and why. At times I loved it, and was grateful for the mere opportunity. At other times, it was an object of annoyance and irritation, most often when the relationship with my supervisor, and other colleagues in the department was at its worst.
I also did not expect to be treated with disdain by academic staff, or feel unsupported - it was almost as if I was a doormat to be trodden over. One professor even stated quite openly that there are ‘students of status - and students without status.’ By this he referred to those with research council funding versus those without.
A group of doctoral candidates keenly
awaiting the return of their supervisors
I think the biggest thing I wish I had known was to expect the unexpected and prepare for the unknown. Be aware that it will be far from easy, do not expect to be treated with respect from the department, and be ready to have days where things do not go to plan. It is part of the test, but nobody will ever tell you that.
As for a PhD in IP – I have no regrets about doing the PhD. It is however not the thing itself but the process that is important. I regret the department where I did it sometimes, but without the town, and without those years, I would not be doing what I am doing now, and I would not have had the experiences or travel I have had. I also would not have some of my closest friends. The PhD is a journey – but again, nobody will tell you that. Prepare to be told nothing, and to learn everything yourself – it is a fantastic lesson in self-discovery."
Katfriend #5: I felt isolated and did not receive the guidance I needed
"I began life as a PhD student in IP with a certain amount of confidence and optimism. I had just completed an LLM at a prestigious law school with flying colours and successfully passed a very tough bar exam. What’s more, my legal education had brought to the forefront my interest in theory and abstract thinking. My teachers picked up on this and noted that I was naturally inclined towards the academy. Writing a PhD seemed to me, and to those around me, as the natural next step towards a career.
I found the PhD experience very difficult. I hoped for guidance on how to make the transition from being a good law student to becoming a good legal academic. In my mind, this involved some senior figure showing me how to produce good legal scholarship. But this tuition was not readily available. Over the course of three years, I met with my academic supervisor very infrequently – roughly every two or three months. She is a nice person, but far too busy for serious academic supervision. She rarely gave intelligible feedback; it felt like we were always speaking two different languages. In three years, I don’t think she ever read anything I wrote. Even more problematically, it felt like the whole institution had failed to define its vision of good legal scholarship. This left me completely rudderless. I did not know what to write about; I did not even know the type of questions that I should be asking.
There is no way around this fact: it was an isolating, lonely, and incredibly frustrating time. It was a real sink or swim environment. Some students sunk and flunked out of the program. That prospect of failing horrified me, as did the idea of having no source of income and no positive references from my last employer. So I doubled down and worked as hard as I could. I took no holiday for over two and a half years. I regularly worked twelve-hour days and ate all my meals at my desk. But in doing so, I became a much better scholar. I defined for myself a vision of good legal scholarship and tried to produce something fitting of that description. Ultimately, I completed my PhD (which barely passed) and accepted a post-doc position at another institution. For which, my PhD supervisor provided a reference (but which I drafted myself).
Perhaps, therefore, this was a success of sorts. But it came at a high price. At the end of five years of doctoral and post-doctoral study, the constant stress levels have taken a serious toll on my health. I developed a heart arrhythmia, very serious insomnia, and suicidal behaviour. I was subsequently diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and dysthymia (chronic depression). The anti-depressants are helping a little. I cannot ascribe all of these problems to my PhD. I am probably the type of person naturally inclined towards these illnesses. But it certainly feels like my experience as a doctoral student contributed significantly towards these maladies."
Katfriend #6: What happens after the PhD? Sadly, not much it would seem"I do not remember having very clear expectations of what I wanted my PhD experience to be before I started it, but it has definitely been more isolated and lonely than I had hoped. I had also thought that, being part of the fairly small IP research cluster at my law school, I would have a lot more interaction and perhaps a greater sense of camaraderie and equality even with the more senior and more established members of staff. This, however, was not the case, and over the course of my PhD I have been made very conscious of my status as a student first and foremost, rather than as a junior researcher and hence more of an equal.
One thing that I would have really appreciated being told before starting on an IP PhD was how difficult it would be obtaining an academic appointment, especially within my current jurisdiction (the UK) [this is something that also this blog addressed here].
Classic PhD moment:
a supervisor and his PhD candidates
Notwithstanding the importance of IP, it remains very much an optional subject as it is currently taught in most universities, and many of the junior positions I have seen advertised so far are either not in IP or require the appointee to be capable of teaching at least one foundational law subject. In addition to the dearth of IP-focused academic positions, there is also the more general and now seemingly ever-present problem of a dearth of positions for junior academics in law in the first place. Even where these are available, most of them seem to be for fixed-term research and teaching positions, which are not particularly conducive for building a career, implementing longer-term research plans, or giving one any sense of stability and permanency.
I began this PhD with the intention of remaining in academia for my foreseeable working life, and that is still my primary aim. But I also have a sense that this is increasingly becoming one of my few remaining options. While I qualified as a lawyer in my home jurisdiction, I now feel both too underqualified and too overqualified to return to legal practice, having been away from it for so long. This is also something I wish I could have been told before starting my PhD – that towards the end, I would feel ill-equipped to return to legal practice even if I wished to, and potential employers might share the same perception."
"It goes without saying that I have gained a lot from the PhD and it has been a privilege to have the opportunity to complete one. However, I also think it's important to articulate that there's a huge structural flaw with IP PhDs, which is reflective of the broader field of humanities scholarship. There is no incentive for supervisors to offer anything more than a cursory check on what a PhD researcher investigates. This means that everything from the question being answered, the method, the refinement, the exploration and the product is a vastly inferior version to what could be produced if there was more of a collaborative, cooperative spirit. The disappointment of many PhDs should provoke a deep reflection on IP scholarship as a whole, but without incentives to do so, it will continue in its sorry, hamstrung state, where a lot of research is repetitive and fails to enhance understanding or advance the field, and scholars are made through sheer survival."
However, it seems that in most cases the way the PhD experience actually turned out depends a lot on the relationship (or lack thereof) with one's own supervisor.
It would be interesting to hear from PhD supervisors how they perceive their role and what guidance they practically offer their students [also: do they ever think whether THEY are doing the right thing for their students, rather just than questioning what their students are actually trying to write?], as well as the experience of both those enjoying/struggling with/hating their own PhD adventure (past or present) and those that have decided or even never considered [BREAKING: they do exist] doing a PhD.