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Inspirations for a PhD, an interview with Jill Hunter

7 Mar 2018 20:51 | Izabela Zonato Villas Boas

Interviewed by: Izabela Zonato

At UNSW she supervises post-graduate and under-graduate research students and she teaches in the LLB, JD and LLM programs as well as in Criminology (Faculty of Arts and Social Science) and in the Forensic Psychology Masters Program (Faculty of Science). Her fields of research and 6they typically focus on the criminal trial. Her empirical research has focused on juries and also on the role of mental health expertise in refugee determinations. Her publications include 10 books, a monograph report and numerous articles and chapters in books.

1.      We know that a Master student from last year was accepted to take a Ph.D. with you in Sydney. How do you see this relationship? I mean, how did you identify him, for example.

Alexandre Brandao was a really excellent, intellectually curious student in the class of 2016-17. Essentially, Alex was in the right place at the right time. His talent, an opportunity and some luck intersected. Both he and I share an interest in the impact of social media on criminal trials and on courts and just after I finished teaching at the Institute last year I was asked if I had a project that my university might advertise for a Scientia PhD scholarship. With Alex in mind, I put forward the Social Media, Courts and Community project. Alex competed internationally and was one of two successful applicants.

2.      Could you talk about this teacher relationship with students who want to continue in the academic career?

Academic careers are undoubtedly competitive. This means that its important to be as well-positioned as possible to get that first academic position and to be skilled in all that academia requires. A PhD equips a person with the ability to undertake and complete innovative and sustained research. It is also an important credential for an academic resume, especially nowadays. Your IISJ Masters’ theses will provide very good preparation for a PhD. It might also give you a possible basis for publishing an article – also a very useful addition to your resume.

The supervisor/student relationship is a unique one – ideally it is one of trust, friendship, mutual respect - and gentle guidance.

3.      Can you talk a little bit about your PhD and the "set-backs" you had during this?

I expect you know the answer to this question. My son might prefer not to be referred to as a set-back, but yes, I did have my first child in the second year of my PhD studies. It was particularly challenging, and for the whole of my pregnancy I blamed my husband bitterly! Young Paul David Hunter did not turn out to be a set-back (either for my PhD or for my happiness – quite the opposite on both counts). Pregnancy meant I had a definite deadline. It could not be extended (and there was a danger it might shift earlier) so I threw myself into my PhD in a very intense and focused way. I did not complete it before Paul was born, but I got close. I finished it when he was 3 months old, and took 2 years to complete my doctorate.

4.      Do you have any advice for people who want to take a PhD?

  • 1.    Choose a topic that really means something to you. It will be with you for a long time, so you should really want to answer your research question.  If the field of study (broadly understood) is a core part of the LLB curriculum all the better, it means that your completed thesis might make your job prospects even stronger.
  • 2.   Remember that a PhD is an apprenticeship to becoming a scholar. It should be your very best work, but it is not your last opportunity to write on the topic. Indeed, it is probably your first - so make your topic one that is not too big for a PhD.
  • 3.  Give your supervisor the very best draft that you are capable of achieving in the timeline you have set yourself. A short excellent portion of a chapter is always preferable to a complete but patchy chapter.
  • 4.      Don’t have a baby at the same time.
  • 5.      If you ignore the above rule – or even if you obey it, make sure you are very well organized, very focused and waste not a moment of time. Plan. Plan further, and then sit down, and write out your chapter frameworks. Shape your thesis conceptually. Planning gives you a map. It gives you confidence, and as long as you remain flexible – as your plans will change, probably constantly (because it is very likely to be an imperfect plan) but you know where you are heading.
  • 6.      Keep yourself well-informed, open to new ideas, but focus on finishing. You must read widely – always, but you are also ready to start writing the first draft chapter if you have a plan to draw your thesis into a coherent whole.
  • 7.    Often the first chapter you write should be the central part of your narrative (I didn’t realise this, unfortunately - but I did start with my favorite chapter).
  • 8.      Publish articles from your thesis as you draft your chapters.
  • 9.     Enjoy. For me, in the first year I was motivated by a short holiday after each chapter. In the second year, no time for holidays.
  • 10.  Don’t forget your friends.

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