Liu Bingyu graduated from CESL in 2014 acquiring a Master of Chinese law from CUPL and aMaster of European and International Lawfrom the University of Hamburg.She represented CUPL in the Stetson International Environmental Moot Court Competitionin the US during her master degree period and achieved the best results in school history. After graduation, she went to study in the University of British Columbia (UBC) where she achieved a doctor degree. She worked and undertook research in the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) during her Ph.D. study. She will share her experience abroad in this interview.
Q1: Why did you choose to pursue a J.D. at UBC and what is the application process?
A1: First of all, I was very interested in my research topic,and I wanted to continue to deepen my research in this field through studying abroad. Schools in the United States and Canada were my primary choices then.However, since a US LL.M degree was a necessary requirement for US doctoral degree applicationsand the quota for enrollment of doctoral students in those schools was relatively small, I applied only to Canadian schools in the end-considering the time cost and other factors. I chose UBC because the research field of a professor in UBC matched my expectations exactly and the application process went quite well.
I want to remind those who are preparing to apply for overseas doctor degrees that you’d better communicate with the professor in advance to make sure he/she is willing to cooperate with you. This is the first and most important step in the application process. To seize the opportunity of two-way choice, you are advised to consider your research area carefully and try to find a mentor who can provide useful guidance for your research. The follow-up process of the application, such as college and school review, is based on this premise. While some colleges may condemn communication with tutors in advance, it’s important to have a good understanding of the research field of the target tutor and to demonstrate the connection with the tutor's research field in your research plan. Also remember to emphasise your experience to make you stand out from other doctoral applicants around the world. I would say that CESL graduates are quite competitive. So if the tutor is willing to give you an opportunity to continue your study, I don’t think there would be many obstacles in other application procedures.
Q2: Considering that most CESL students only have access to professors from European universities, how did you get in touch with the UBC tutor? What’s the process? When do you receive UBC admission and when should students prepare to apply?
A2: It is useful for students who plan to go to Europe for a Ph.D. to take the opportunity to talk with European professors at class. As to me, I prefer the teaching style in North America, so I looked into countries there first and then schools and tutors. I had already finished my preliminary research plan and approach statement at the time of application. I researched for information including whether the target tutor wanted to recruit doctoral students that year, and whether there were suitable resources and funds to guide and support my research. When I got a relatively definitive response, I set to prepare the application materials according to the requirements of that school. It’s actually quite simple to choose an appropriate school. You could refer to the rankings, the size of the law school, the faculty, and the target mentor's published papers for his/her research direction. The information and contact information of the school and the tutor are substantial and accessible to the public on the internet or you could find information easily on the school website if you want.
In April I got accepted to UBC. The application period lasted three months, from October to December in the year before graduation. For those who intend to apply for overseas study, you need make a plan in advance. Students face a variety of choices regarding a career when graduating, such as becoming a lawyer, a civil servant, or continuing study. Those are all nice choices. If time permits, you could experience all these different careers. Studying for a Ph.D. gives you a chance to spend three or four years researching and concentrating on a certain topic. It’s totally up to your personal choice whether you will devote yourself to academic study after graduation. This is true both at home and abroad. I once took an interview for a position at World Bank's Young Professionals Programme. I found that the admission rate of applicants with a Ph.D. is as high as nearly 70%. In fact, the tendency is that most top-class practitioners in all fields will have a doctorate. In my view, the doctorate increases your chance to do research in colleges and thus offers you a new career choice. I advice you not to limit yourself to any certain occupation at first which may cause you to forego other opportunities. You are too young to make a final choice. The career path contains too many variables. You will never know what the choice may bring you unless you try it. For me, I prefer making more attempts rather than confining myself to certain career fields at the beginning.
Q3: Some students have realistic concerns about the trade-off between the cost and benefit of doctorate study. What’s your idea?
A3: I have many talented friends and colleagues who are passionate and persistent about exploring something new, such as studying for a Ph.D. or working in another career. It would be quite difficult to understand the world if one only takes instant success, quick profits and corresponding cost into account. Choosing to do further Ph.D study is an individual choice of lifestyle. If you can attend a good school, join in a nice research team and do what you love, this gain will be invaluable. On the contrary, if you only care about practical needs rather than your inner desires, you may not be able to appreciate yourself from the bottom of your heart even if everthing goes well.
I have to mention here I strongly recommend to learn more about career choices in international organisations. With China's increasingly important position in international relations, our country strongly encourages and promotes outstanding young people to join international organisations and participate in the management and governance of international affairs. International organisations can provide you with a higher platform on which to serve broader audiences. From my personal experience, I was involved in the work of UNEP during my doctorate study. The subject of my doctoral research was legal mechanism for preventing environmental legal risks of Chinese companies investing in Africa. The research destination was located in Africa. The UNEP project I participated in was closely related to my doctoral research topic. This project allowed me to complete my doctoral study on the basis of practical experience. Of course, your choice depends on your situation. For example, some students are determined to be lawyers. I think you should focus on what you choose and love. The example I provided may have a certain value to students who are not sure about career planning. Explore bravely and maybe a new door will open for you.
Q4: You just mentioned international organisations, could you please share your experience of working at the UNEP headquarters? How do you apply for it? And what did you gain there?
A4: During the day in UNEP, I was mainly involved in the writing and collation of materials for three research projects of UNEP aiming to provide advice to target countries. The projects topics covered justice cooperation concerning environmental issues in Asian and African countries, sustainable development and utilisation of natural resources in Africa and transformation of African green economy. My first impression of this process is that writing of policy opinions of international organisations is very different from academic writing. The contents and writing styles differ a lot due to the variation of audience. Secondly, research in school and in an international organisation has different characteristics. On account of the diverse background to the United Nations, the projects involve many complicated political factors. Thus the depth, breadth and practicality of the discussion in international organisations are somewhat different from the research work of universities. The work in the United Nations is more about balancing interests and maintaining a neutral position. Although this will negatively affect the administrative efficiency of the UN, such mechanism renders the UN able to integrate voices of various stakeholders, which is not the case in other institutions and platforms. At the same time, working in an international organisation gives you a better chance to actually become involved in international affairs or speak on behalf of a country on a world platform. This is particularly meaningful work which other positions cannot provide.
There were actually many coincidences behind my successful application for the position. I met the head of the UNEP Legal Department at an academic conference during my master degree in CESL and learned some relevant information. Since I needed to do research in Africa for my Ph.D. and the UNEP projects need assistant there also- we hit it off instantly. During my days in the UNEP, I met some colleagues who got working opportunities through submitting resumés on official websites. You could refer to the website of UN Careers for relevant information. Therefore, the working opportunities could be acquired by following routine job-hunting processes. The experience in the UNEP and my doctoral research in Africa made me realise I should keep in close touch with practical departments and organisations and participate more in on-site research during the doctoral study also in the future work to understand real social needs. Only in this way, could my research findings solve problems in reality.
Q5: Would you please share your study situation and living conditions at UBC? Is there any unforgettable experience?
A5:Studying overseas for a Ph.D., especially the Doctor of Social Science means you control and plan your study and research by yourself. Without self-discipline, it’s easy to become lazy and slack. In the first year at UBC, we attended class as required and read numerous materials as instructed by professors. In the second year, we began an actual self-exploration process. The books you read and the social activities you attend all effect the quality and progress of your Ph.D. life. Academically I was not a hard-working doctoral student. I participated in many extracurricular activities during the second year. I was once involved in some provincial and federal policy-making processes as Vice President of UBC Postgraduates Union. As a result I became less concentrated on my research due to engagement in such activities but it’s of great value for me to participate in politics as a legal practitioner. Overall, the accumulated study and experience in general in the first two years at UBC provided sufficient theoretical preparations for my research in Africa in the third year. Since then, I’ve gradually contributed and published several research results. After a survey in Africa, I spent almost one year writing and revising my doctoral paper according to previous theoretical work.
Being able to have a good study routine and lifestyle stemmed from having good accommodation. The UBC graduate dormitory where I lived applied a college management model. More than 100 graduate students from 50 countries in various schools could communicate and share ideas with each other extensively during meals and leisure time every day. Those perspectives and thoughts from students of different disciplines has given me a lot of inspiration. Some experienced Ph.D. students and visiting scholars also provided very valuable suggestions for my life and work. Overall, I really appreciated the experience and personal growth the four-year brought to me.
Q6: Considering UBC is one of the Canadian universities with the highest drop-out rate, how do you achieve a Ph.D. successfully? Can you share your academic approach or experience with us?
A6: In fact, Ph.D. study is similar to project management. The difference is that you have two identities in Ph.D. study: the supervisor to plan all the things in the doctoral project on the one hand, and the one executing the project on the other hand. In the first two years of Ph.D. is kept for laying foundation research so you need keep your mind open. For example, you should keep an eye on potential research information and continuously think about them. You need broaden the breadth of information you absorb for constant accumulation of knowledge. In the next two years, you need to calm down and focus on certain issues in depth to achieve academic results. Strong self-discipline and the ability to plan independently are necessary traits in this process. You need revise and polish your thesis and research results repeatedly which requires perseverance and an ability to withstand loneliness and cumbersomeness. My advice is avoiding focusing on the fact that the completion of a doctoral thesis would take long time. It’s not an easy process indeed, but writing something down is always more important than just picturing it in your mind. You should set a goal and establish certain requirements for yourself at the beginning of Ph.D. study. Please cherish this process of forming a professional academic thinking style and academic approaches. You will automatically attain abilities of organising materials and writing coherently through continuous knowledge-accumulation and summarisation.
The relationship between students and tutors differs at home and abroad. In Chinese universities, generally, tutors are more closely connected with students. They are willing to offer opportunities for students to participate in projects. While this is not the case at UBC. Students there have to struggle for their own opportunities, and they must rely on themselves to study and explore. During my Ph.D. study, I participated in international conferences and research projects in North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. I got those chances all by myself. These are particularly good opportunities for me to communicate with peers. These experiences not only provide me more potential research fields, but also are relatively efficient ways to establish international academic cooperation. It is very interesting to communicate with peers and professional communities in different fields. Communication with peers has contributed a lot to the successful publication ofmyarticles. These are very valuable academic resources for my future work.
Q7:Would a learning experience at CESL help you in your future development? Could you please provide some suggestions for CESL students?
A7:I met many excellent peer students during my study in CESL. Even though after graduation we chose different career paths, their persistence to dream and down-to-earth attitudes set good examples for me. The international platform provided by CESL allows us to communicate with and learn from foreign professors during a master degree. I hope everyone can seize their opportunities. For those who are interested in studying for a Ph.D., you need pay more attention to gathering academic materials and information, improving your ability to think and writing things of high-quality in the postgraduate stage. You may try to write some English articles and post them to English academic journals. Some prestigious journals will give you feedback and offer valuable suggestions for revision. It’s regarded as a good learning experience. Practical training on writing style and thinking approaches during the postgraduate period will make the doctoral study abroad much easier. You are encouraged to engage in English moot courts. Basic training in English writing and oral expression are necessary and essential for all positions.
All in all, I hope every CESL students seize study chances in CESL and take advantage of the international platform. Holding the faith to help the weak and achieve social justice, if we could combine the respective advantages of CESL and the Graduate School of CUPL and have an extensive as well as deep analysis of possible issues with an international and broad mindset, then I believe CESL will continue to educate more and more talented law graduates to make the world a better place.
Interview by HU Jingbo (CESL student in 2017)
Photo of LIU Bingyu (CESL student in 2014)
Translate by GUO Jingjuan (CESL student in 2017)