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Thinking about doing a joint PhD?

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Publié le jeudi, 04 août 2016

Since March 2015, Cyril Wealer is enrolled in a joint PhD (cotutelle) at The University of Luxembourg and The University of Sheffield. We were curious to get his feedback on his experience under cotutelle. Read what he had to say about it. 

Tell us about yourself and your academic background.

I am currently enrolled in a joint PhD in Psychology at The University of Luxembourg and The University of Sheffield (UK). Before I started my studies I completed vocational training as a substitute primary school teacher in Luxembourg. After one year of teaching in Luxembourg, I studied for a License 3 in Social Science with an emphasis on Education at Sorbonne V University – Paris Descartes, graduating in 2012. I subsequently obtained an MSc in Education and an MSc in Cognitive Sciences from The University of Edinburgh.

Since 2015 I have been a PhD student in the Language and Cognitive Development group at the University of Luxembourg and the Human Communication Department at the University of Sheffield. My PhD is jointly supervised by Dr. Pascale Engel de Abreu (University of Luxembourg) and by Dr. Silke Fricke (The University of Sheffield).

What is your PhD research about?

My research focuses on language and cognitive predictors of literacy development. The objective of my research is to develop a theoretically motivated preschool language and pre-literacy programme in Luxembourgish that is appropriate for young children growing up in multilingual Luxembourg and to test the programme's effectiveness using a longitudinal research design. In the context of multilingual Luxembourg, I am particularly interested in a range of questions related to cross-language transfer of pre-literacy skills. Specifically, I am analysing whether the pre-literacy programme in Luxembourgish has knock-on effects on children’s responsiveness to literacy instruction in German during the 1st year of primary school.

Why did you choose to pursue your PhD under cotutelle?

I think the University of Luxembourg is on a very good path to become an institution well respected internationally for its innovative research. However, it's still a very young university and might not be highly visible on the international radar yet. I always found that the UK academic culture best reflects my understanding of studying and conducting research. In addition, UK institutions consistently rank among the best in the world. Hence, when my potential supervisor from the University of Luxembourg (Dr. Pascale Engel de Abreu) told me about the possibility of doing a cotutelle with a British University, I immediately thought that it was a great idea and that we should try to set it up. The cotutelle with The University of Sheffield came about because in Dr. Silke Fricke we found a 2nd Supervisor with the perfect academic background for my project.  

Can you explain us how does cotutelle work in practice?

I am fully registered in two universities and benefit from a supervision and doctoral training from both universities. However, I will still submit only one thesis that will be examined by the two universities. Officially, I will only defend it one time in Luxembourg as Luxembourg is the lead institution, which will result in two PhD degrees / joint PhD degree.

In terms of time I am spending around one semester (3-4 months) each year at my partner University in Sheffield. I am free to choose when I spent my time there, but it obviously mainly depends on the stage of my research. In my first more theoretical year, I spent a longer stretch in one go in Sheffield, but now in my second year my Sheffield stays are limited to  shorter more sporadic visits (around 2-3 weeks) because I conduct the empirical work of my PhD in Luxembourg. During the last year of my PhD I will again spend a longer period of time in Sheffield.

I think it is fair to say that a cotutelle creates greater logistic challenges because you move back and forth quite a bit and you basically have to fulfill assessment regulations at two institutions, e.g. an annual review at each institution. However, the University of Luxembourg and The University of Sheffield work very well together and are very helpful when it comes to setting and synchronizing the requirements for passing my PhD.

Would you recommend others to pursue their research in cotutelle format?

Yes I clearly recommend pursuing research in a cotutelle format. I think the internationalization trend surely has established itself in academia and more students than ever study abroad and/or in joint location programmes.

I particularly enjoy being exposed to different academic environments and exchange ideas with people from different backgrounds. You will definitely find your viewpoints and scientific thinking challenged to a greater extent in a cotutelle. In addition, you will also benefit from a greater variety of input and feedback, which in my opinion, has been invaluable for the quality of my project.

A final highly beneficial advantage of a joint PhD, which importance cannot be overestimated, is the added value of international networking that will not only widen your horizon but also your employment opportunities.