Doctoral conference at the European University Institute

Opening the boundaries of the academic job market


Flavia and Bastien, PhD candidates at Sciences Po, explain how the CIVICA Research doctoral conference helped them prepare for the professional academic market.

How can young researchers prepare for entry into the professional academic market? How can they get to know the various opportunities and practices? How can they enhance their research and teaching activities? 

The international doctoral conference How to Prepare Yourself for the Academic Job Market organised by the EUI from 15 to 17 December 2021 in the framework of CIVICA Research sought to answer these questions by bringing together 15 doctoral students and 21 faculty members from the eight member institutions of the CIVICA alliance. Young researchers were able to share a diversity of experiences and questions.

We talked to Flavia Canestrini and Bastien Charaudeau Santomauro, PhD candidates at Sciences Po, about their experience of the conference.

What are you currently researching? What has attracted you to this area of research?

Flavia: I am a PhD candidate in History at Sciences Po. My research seeks to better understand when and how economic and financial interactions became sources of leverage and power in international diplomacy. My dissertation is on the use of economic sanctions as a foreign policy tool in the Reagan administration. While working toward my MA in History, I became interested in the politics of international economic relations. After the First World War, sanctions emerged more systematically as an instrument of foreign policy to replace the use of military force. Its use has evolved over time, and its recourse has become more frequent, especially starting the 1970s and has only intensified since. I sought to better understand this process in its relationship to trade liberalisation and globalisation, and how countries promoted both policies in an apparent paradoxical way.

Bastien: I am a 5th year PhD candidate in Migration Law at the Sciences Po Law School. The Alpine border between France’s and Italy’s regimes is what I am looking at in my research, from both an ethnographic and theoretical perspective, considering the following question: how is it that, in a highly law-centric system, a whole category of individuals is deprived of the rights they are legally entitled to? In other words, through which daily legal concepts and operations is exclusion designed at the border? Studying migration law is fascinating because it’s transnational, technical, and highly political, and thus directly connected to issues of global justice and ethics. Migration law lies at the foundations of contemporary states and finely illustrates the ambivalent role of law in relation to social struggles, individual rights, and state power.

What did you appreciate about the format of the CIVICA Research doctoral conference and its content?

Flavia: Regarding the format, I appreciated the small, interdisciplinary, and diverse group of people attending it, which allowed me to interact with everyone and really exchange our thoughts on the academic job market. Before the beginning of the conference, we had the chance to share what we expected from it by proposing and then rating the topics we were interested to hear about. I particularly appreciated this collaborative side of the conference, with the organiser taking our interests and expectations into account before finalising the program.

Bastien: Being engaged in interdisciplinary research, I truly appreciated the interdisciplinary and international character of the conference. The fact that participants and speakers were from all CIVICA partner universities was a privilege in itself. The conference was articulated around skill-oriented and down-to-earth workshops that addressed extremely practical aspects of building one’s academic career, including informal conventions and useful tricks to stand out in applications. Additionally, the balance between activities and informal time to exchange was ideal and allowed the participants to learn, relax and bond altogether.

Which of the conference topics/activities did you find particularly relevant for your research career and why?

Flavia: In particular, it was very helpful to have young professors come and share their own experiences in the academic job market by showing us their motivation letters or job talk presentations. It was extremely helpful in learning how to approach the job market and present ourselves and our research.

Bastien: Most activities were highly engaging and relevant. This stems from one feature they had in common: they were led by young but experienced scholars who underwent all sorts of selection processes not so long ago as (successful) applicants and were then part of selection committees. In other words, their experience and knowledge of application processes on both ends of the spectrum were very acute. I particularly enjoyed the sessions that incorporated live writing exercises (teaching statement and cover letter) and those with essential and concrete advice on how to stand out in an application (job interview and research statement).

One of the main goals of this event was to help doctoral researchers prepare for their future career. To what extent did you learn anything new about other academic job markets in Europe?

Flavia: Although we are all aware of how hard it is to find an academic job, we do not usually talk or share our thoughts about the realities of it. Most of the sessions in the conference were very pragmatic in discussing the challenges of the academic job market and giving valuable tips on how to improve our chances to succeed and find a job.

Bastien: I will highlight three learnings that I believe are valid for all job markets in Europe. The first is the need to create an identity as a researcher. This identity should be clear and public: what you are working on, what methods/disciplines you marshal and what the stakes of your research are. The second is the imperative to network. All in all, research is a collective undertaking. Thoughtful networking makes you identifiable and helps you understand, in due time, how a given department or research centre operates. It’s also the premise to any sort of—sometimes unexpected—collaboration. The third is to learn how to explain your research project in simple terms, without specialised language. In many selection settings, committee members will not be specialised in your topic.

Flavia Canestrini is a PhD candidate in History at Sciences Po. Her research seeks to better understand when and how economic and financial interactions became sources of leverage and power in international diplomacy. Her dissertation is on the use of economic sanctions as a foreign policy tool in the Reagan administration. Following a chronological order, she analyses three different case studies: the sanctions against Poland and the USSR, the economic measures against Nicaragua, and the sanctions against South Africa.

Bastien Charaudeau Santomauro is a PhD candidate at Sciences Po Law School, a Fox International Fellow at Yale University, and a Fellow of the French Collaborative Institute on Migrations (ICM). He is a graduate in Political Philosophy, Law and Migration Studies. He holds a BA in Humanities and Social Sciences (Sciences Po, 2013), an MA in Political and Legal Philosophy (Sorbonne University, 2015), an MA in Economic Law (Sciences Po Law School, 2016) and an advanced MA in Europe and Migrations (IEE - University libre de Bruxelles, 2017).

CIVICA Research brings together researchers from eight leading European universities in the social sciences to contribute knowledge and solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. The project aims to strengthen the research & innovation pillar of the European University alliance CIVICA. CIVICA Research is co-funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. To stay up to date with CIVICA Research developments and opportunities, subscribe to the newsletter.

Interview conducted by Science Po’s editorial team

Photo credit: European University Institute