On the migrating behaviour of joint-PhD students
Portraits of two French joint-PhD students at UBC.
Being a PhD student can be fun! While many of our colleagues picture their thesis research as a lousy job (and will probably strongly disagree with our bold, initial statement), we wish to maintain our position for one simple reason: we are “joint-PhD students.” In a nutshell, this means that we get to carry out our research in two different institutions, spending roughly half of the year at each, thanks to an official agreement between our two universities. Twice the fun! (In case you are still having doubts, it also means that we more than double our chances to get access to proper cheese and wine on a regular basis. Think about it.)
Although this alternating behaviour can be socially awkward (e.g., “Hey, see you in six months!”), and can certainly be compared to the
behaviour of the migratory species we deal with on a daily basis (such as tuna), we both see it as very beneficial with regards to our PhD theses.
Why? Besides avoiding part of the Vancouver monsoon season, it is a great opportunity for us to be part of two very different teams. While the Sea Around Us Project has a global scope, our two other institutes have more technical and locationspecific skills and a regional-based approach. So we may have twice the fun – and erhaps twice the workload – but we also get twice the impact in our respective fields (global and regional).
“I work on marine ecosystem modeling using the Ecopath with Ecosim
(EwE) and EcoTroph software. My research aims to better understand trophic functioning (i.e., food chain interactions) and its variability throughout various marine ecosystems, and to eventually address concerns about the potential impacts of fisheries on this underlying trophic functioning at a global scale.
I spent my initial stay at the Fisheries Centre’s Sea Around Us Project (under the supervision of Dr Pauly) from February to September 2012, and came back in February 2013 after returning to my home institute, Agrocampus Ouest in Rennes, France (under Dr Gascuel’s supervision). Originally, I was not convinced of the usefulness of this joint-PhD idea, seeing it as constraining rather than anything else.
However, I quickly changed my mind, as the gains created by the Sea Around Us Project/Agrocampus Ouest collaboration clearly outweigh the disagreements caused by moving every six months.
“In the end, personal comfort appeared less valuable in the long run, as this joint-PhD offers me a great deal of experiences that would not have been conceivable otherwise. The only drawback I see is that, naturally, I miss wine, cheese and beautiful French ladies half of the year!”
Frédéric Le Manach:
“Compared to Mathieu, I organized my joint-PhD the other way round: my main lab is the Fisheries Centre’s Sea Around Us Project (under Dr Pauly’s supervision), and I recently returned from a six-month period at the Centre de Recherche Halieutique in Sète, France (supervised by Dr Cury). I focus on global fishing access agreements, and look at the economic, social and ecological implications of these complex deals generally held between developed and developing countries. Ultimately, I would like to be able to propose a framework for these agreements that would be as fair as possible to all stakeholders.
“I feel that being part of these two teams is highly beneficial to my thesis: Vancouver provides ISSN 1713-5214 Sea Around Us (ONLINE)
me with the global scope of my research, which includes a fair amount of discussion on international relations and economic/political games from the developed countries’ perspective.
While the team in Sète offers me a remarkable body of knowledge on regional fisheries, for example, in the Indian Ocean and in West Africa.
By combining both aspects, I feel like I will be able to cover my research topic more thoroughly than if I had to work with only one of these research groups.”
From a personal perspective, we also believe that studying in two different countries, with two different approaches, is mind-opening, in the sense that we get to work with different people, who use different tools, and who certainly have different perspectives on the world out there.
We do hope this will be reflected in our future employment opportunities, as we might be able to work under a wider array of situations than other “regular” students.
On a more academic matter, an official joint-PhD agreement (in contrast with other widespread, less official, partnerships) also has other benefits, such as the fact that our degrees will be delivered
by two partner universities, as we are registered at both. This means that our diplomas will be recognized in both countries, and that until we graduate, we can access the financial, technical and human resources available at both universities – something which other less formal partnerships may not allow. Finally, we also believe that this is
a relatively easy and fairly efficient way to further collaborations between different institutions, which in turn allows us to label the fun we have as “useful.”
The bottom line is that, apart from the tiny disagreements involved – such as becoming homeless every six months – we would sign up again if we had to do another PhD