Why did you choose to study a doctorate in Law?

I had questions that needed answering!

I am currently pursuing a PhD in European penitentiary law. I have always been interested in the broad field of criminal justice, even before law school. However, the decision to study for a PhD, merging criminal with European law, was made much later, while writing my master’s thesis. During that time, I read through extensive literature on the interaction of European law with national legal systems. Yet, and while other aspects of the criminal justice process were covered quite extensively, there was little mention on prison matters; in other words, it was unclear to what extent European law shapes the life of inmates, if at all. Essentially, I spotted what seemed to me to be a research gap in the discipline.

Here exactly lies my motivation: I had questions, and was dissatisfied with the answers – or rather, lack of answers. My curiosity has led the way since.

Why did you choose to undertake research at the University of Birmingham?

My choice was greatly influenced by the superb quality of academics affiliated with the University. Graduating from my masters, and having a specific research question in mind, I set off with the purpose of finding a suitable supervisor, willing and able to guide me through the perilous paths of postgraduate research. I eventually approached Dr Marianne Wade. Having read her papers, I knew Marianne to be an excellent researcher. Upon meeting in person, I quickly discovered she would prove an outstanding supervisor and mentor as well. Without a second thought, I applied for a place at Birmingham, and here I am!

Furthermore, I chose Birmingham due to its interdisciplinary orientation. With a wide array of research clusters, bringing together scholars from various fields and disciplines, the School provides a golden opportunity for those seeking to engage with complex, multifaceted matters.

What are the best things about your course?

Once more, the highlight of my PhD has to be my supervisors! They have proven very considerate and a great help, supporting me in my research, and looking after my overall wellbeing. They are also very approachable, nice, and plain fun, completely the opposite of the stern, aloof, out-of-reach stereotype one may be used to, when dealing with academics elsewhere.

Furthermore, I very much enjoy studying in such a research-intense environment – there are always events (including workshops, seminars, and training sessions) going on, and researchers with whom to have a stimulating conversation, exchange ideas, or simply ‘grab a cuppa’ and relax.

What is life like as a researcher at the University of Birmingham?

Studying for a PhD could be quite lonely. You no longer have to attend lectures and seminars on a weekly basis; instead, it is just you and your research. Thankfully, the University addresses such issues head-on. There are many activities offered to postgrad researchers from the School itself, both virtually and in-person. These are always welcome, as they enable you to mingle with the research community, all the while sharpening your research – and networking skills!

Finally, special mention goes to the lovely cafeterias spread out throughout the campus, providing us with the necessary fuel to push on; and to Old Joe, of course, for keeping us company at all times.

What support have you received during your PhD?

Birmingham Law School provides for a diverse selection of training sessions, covering all the essentials of PhD life. These include topics such as how to properly write a thesis, conduct research, navigate through the library collections, deal with the ethical and societal considerations of your work, and so on. My personal favourite has to be the teaching sessions, offering preparation and advice on how to deliver a lecture or seminar, interact with students, provide mentorship, etc. Wishing to eventually join academia myself, such lessons are invaluable.

There are also grants and scholarships advertised throughout the year, awarded on the basis of merit – I suggest everyone keep an eye out and make use of such opportunities, since they definitely allow you to take your research profile to the next level!

Outside your research, what experiences have you gained and how will they help you in the future?

Improvise, adapt, overcome! Your research can get really complicated very quickly, branching out to areas you never imagined, nor know anything of. However, and with the guidance of your supervisors, you learn to adjust and evolve alongside your topic. A researcher rarely walks in a straight line, but has to constantly adapt – a lesson undoubtedly applicable to ‘real life’ situations as well, and a useful tool towards academic and personal growth.

Other lessons include learning how to respect deadlines, coping under stress and time pressure, and communicating your research effectively and straightforwardly to those possessing no prior knowledge or expertise on the topic.