A Doctor of Philosophy (or PhD) is in most countries the highest university degree. It requires from the PhD candidate to write a thesis or dissertation based on an extensive three or four years of researches. During all this time the candidate benefit from advices and guidelines from a supervisor. The PhD candidate’s work must be innovative and expands the boundaries of current academic knowledges in the field concerned.
LawWorld had the chance to interview Hikari Saito a PhD candidate who agreed to share with us her feedbacks about doing a PhD in a common law country. Thanks to this exchange, we learn how a PhD is going through the eyes of someone who is currently doing one. We hope this interview will help students who may hesitate to do a PhD in a foreign country in a language which is not their mother tongue.
Many thanks to Hikari for answering to our questions.
Fatou Hondier: Hello Hikari, could you briefly present yourself and your academic background?
Hikari Saito: I am a PhD student at Kobe University in Japan, and University of Aberdeen in UK. I have completed LLM in International Commercial Law at University of Aberdeen with distinction, and LLM at Kobe University as the best law and politics master student of the year, LLB at Kobe University.
Fatou: You are currently a PhD candidate at the University of Aberdeen in the UK but also at Kobe University in Japan. Why did you decide to do a PhD? What are the advantages?
Hikari: Before completing my master’s degrees, I was planning to be a lawyer in Japan. Over two master’s degrees, I was fortunate to learn various areas of international commercial law from professors across the world. They inspired me a lot and I simply wished to become like them in the future. At the same time, meeting many practitioners doing international commercial dispute resolution within and outside Japan, it was surprising for me to know that many practitioners have obtained or are willing to obtain PhDs. As international commercial dispute resolution is developed by practitioners, practitioners’ role for academic research is crucial. However, it is true that good practitioner skills do not necessarily translate into good academic skills. Academics must have deep knowledge as well as analytical skills, which are slightly different from the skills required for practitioners. As such, I thought it would be better for me to go through the academic training at the early stage of my career.
The reason I chose Aberdeen was very simple. I gained good experience over my master’s here and I believed I would be able to learn more over a PhD. As I am considering work in Japan, it is beneficial for me to have a Japanese PhD because Japanese academics need to teach and research in Japanese. Although I have never heard anyone who has completed two separate PhDs, I just hope my challenge may encourage more dual PhD programmes in the future.
Fatou: Can you tell us more about your PhD’s topic?
Hikari: My topic is about enforcement of mediation settlement agreements. I have been interested in dispute resolution mechanisms for international commercial disputes, such as international litigation, arbitration, mediation and other ADR mechanisms. Last year, a brand-new convention for enforcement of mediation settlement agreements were concluded in Singapore. I am currently analysing this convention and will research how this will impact upon the current and future system of ADR mechanisms.
Fatou: Can a PhD student can benefit from scholarships to cover living expenses?
Hikari: I think the answer is depending on the university. There was one full scholarship prepared by Law School, University of Aberdeen. I was not selected for this scholarship but I was awarded the scholarship from the Japanese, Heiwa Nakajima Foundation to cover the living costs. There are many scholarships available for PhD students. I highly recommend everyone to apply for as many PhD scholarships as possible.
Fatou: Based on your own experience, how is a PhD concretely organized regarding the tasks and schedule?
Hikari: When the university was open for face-to-face teaching, I had meetings with my supervisor every two or three months. During this period of lockdown, we communicate through emails. I usually send my draft to him, he returns my work with his comments, and I revise the draft based on his comments. Most of comments I have received, require me to clarify what I wrote. In the UK, law PhD dissertations are supposed to be published as a book. We need to make sure everything is understandable for people even without the background of your area. At the same time, I have been taught how to analyse existing literature critically and improve my writing skills.
Fatou: What advice would you give to an international student who would like to do a PhD?
Hikari: It is challenging for anyone to leave their home countries and pursue legal research in different languages. The experience and knowledge you will gain through this tough time, is definitely an asset for career and life in general. I hope a PhD outside your home country would be an option for you.