‘PLATO helped me become confident in my skills and capabilities’
Four PLATO PhD researchers share their experiences – and provide top tips for future doctoral students.
Emilija Tudzarovska-Gjorgjievska, Dominika Proszowska, Jose Piquer and Elena Escalante Block.
The Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the European Union (PLATO)
PLATO was a European network of leading research universities and professionals from the policy advice, consulting and civil society sectors, training 15 PhD researchers to contribute to solving key policy issues for Europe.
Coordinated by ARENA Professor Chris Lord.
The programme was organised as an Innovative Training Network (ITN) under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA). MSCA is the EU’s reference programme for doctoral education and postdoctoral training, managed by the European Research Executive Agency (REA) on behalf of the Commission.
‘It has been a great privilege to be part of such an amazing network, full of incredible professionals, whom I can also call friends!’
As PLATO is now concluded, Jose and three of his fellow Early Stage Researchers (ESRs), Dominika Proszowska, Emilija Tudzarovska-Gjorgjievska, and Elena Escalante Block, share their PLATO experiences.
Which part of the PLATO training do you value the most? Anything particularly useful?
Dominika: There are two things which in my opinion have to be mentioned:
First, a rich, wide and multidisciplinary academic network – the gift that keeps (and will keep) on giving. It has proven useful already on several occasions: in finding new collaborators, getting useful pointers to the literature, and advertising paper calls for panels. Basically, in all aspects of academic life, from helping to network at huge – and thus sometimes intimidating – international conferences, to finding the next job, the PLATO network has been of great help.
Second, PLATO taught me how to properly ‘do academia’. We have got solid grounds in everything that is currently valued and wanted on the academic job market. International mobility, collaborative research, writing for diverse audiences, knowledge of how to competitively apply for grants ... you name it. It helped me to make the best out of my PhD time and various arising opportunities; it helped me to become an effective young researcher, but most importantly: to become confident in my skills and capabilities.
Jose: I think I valued the constant effort to bridge the academic world with the policy world the most. And making sure that academic research is relevant beyond the academic silos is something I’ve particularly valued from the PLATO network. In terms of ‘usefulness’, I value the wide-ranging scope of the training programme: from policy and media training to infographics and data visualisation or public speaking skills. At a more general level, being part of PLATO has been particularly useful when it comes to setting up, developing, and maintaining collaborative research networks.
Emilija: The most valuable part is the variety of skills and competence offered to us by the series of PLATO trainings, but mostly the academic presentation training skills and the workshop where we were working on our CVs.
Elena: The Plato schools were incredibly helpful in allowing me to present my work throughout the PhD process. I was able to get valuable feedback on my research design as well as learn more about theories of legitimacy during our first meeting in Oslo. Overall, these schools allowed me to be more comfortable in presenting my work in front of others. That is especially valued now that I have to present several papers for my postdoctoral position.
Has there been any unexpected outcomes of PLATO?
Dominika: Friendships. The PLATO PhD experience brought us really close together, despite the distance and differences in our scientific methods and/or approaches. This PhD community helped me to get through the toughest times and, well, make tons of fun memories. Doesn't matter how well respected and serious academics some of us become, I will forever remember how we enjoyed night rides in shopping carts or jumps into the ice-cold waters of the Norwegian fjords. I am really grateful for being part of this wonderful group. I will forever cheer for each of the PLATO PhDs and wish them very best in their crazily ambitious and inspiring professional and personal endeavours!
Jose: I definitely did not plan to finish my dissertation in the midst of a pandemic. But more specifically, I’ve been relatively surprised that such a complex, trans-national project like PLATO could come to fruition without major internal disruption and, most importantly, with enduring personal bonds: Everyone can still count on almost anyone in case of need. This is somewhat unexpected, considering other experiences and possible outcomes.
Emilija: COVID-19 certainly had a major impact on the dynamic of producing deliverables, especially publications, and the job market search in a period of lockdowns. It also had different impact on the ESRs with or without additional parental or family duties, which certainly had some impact on the dynamics of the final outcomes.
Elena: Perhaps the friendships I made. I knew that I was going to meet different people and that they would become my colleagues, but little did I know that they would also become close friends of mine.
Based on your own experience, do you have any top tips for future PhD students in your field?
Dominika: Go out there! Don't close yourself in an office or behind your screen. Join different networks, participate in method schools and conferences. A PhD is not only about getting it all written and done, but also about learning how to be an academic. And I don't think there is any better way to do it than through getting yourself out there – observing the pros, learning from others, trying it out yourself. And have fun while doing it!
Jose: I have plenty, but if I have to highlight a few today, I’d say:
- There are plenty of rabbit holes awaiting down the PhD road. Just don’t spend too much time inside them. Don't worry, you will soon learn to realise when you are inside one. From there, everything looks messier and paralysing. So get out quickly.
- It might be intellectually rewarding, as much as frustrating to think about all the problems of your PhD. It’s way more practical to focus on possible solutions right away. You won’t learn this quickly or easily. But you must be attentive, always.
- Concentrate on improving your questions, rather than giving a definite answer. And try to make the questions look interesting for anyone who would not care much about politics. But sometimes it will be impossible. If you’re genuinely interested, just try to answer them.
- Don’t try to reinvent the wheel; it’s a waste of time and energy. Instead, concentrate your energy where you can make a contribution, however modest.
- Although most ideas you will consider original have already been said and belong to others, they may not have been presented in the same way. This is also a small contribution. But I am sure many will disagree, especially those who believe they originated the idea. So be polite and generous in attributions. But say what you want to say.
Emilija: The PhD journey is a unique opportunity for self-growth, both on professional and personal level, and anyone who has an interest in academic research should try to take this path. Once in the PhD world, make sure to surround yourself with a team of colleagues, especially in terms of support, and to have an excellent supervision, in order to make it through this remarkable, but also challenging journey.
Elena: I think for all PhDs – no matter the specific field of study – pragmatism and organisational skills are key. Be as pragmatic as possible in making decisions along your PhD. The reality is that you cannot always analyse as much as you think you can at the beginning of your journey. Regarding organisational skills: Set goals for yourself from the start of your PhD and try to stick to them as closely as possible. This will guarantee that you will graduate on time.