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European University Institute: Doctor Europe?

robert_euiRobert Peters

Originally coming from Germany Robert Peters is about to finish his Ph.D. in Law at the European University Institute in Florence. He tells us about his view on the EUI without hiding a refreshing enthusiasm for his alma mater.

When thinking about the European Union and its institutions, not many would come up with the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, Italy. The EUI was set up in 1972 by the six founding member states of the EU in order to provide advanced academic training to doctoral and postdoctoral researchers and to promote research at a European level.

The EUI offers the possibility to both EU and non-EU post-graduate students to develop and defend a doctoral thesis (Ph.D.) in four years or to attend the one-year LL.M. (Master of Law) program. Each year over 130 students from all over Europe and beyond come to Florence in order to write their doctorate in one of the four departments: Economics, Law, History and Civilisation, and the Political and Social Sciences. Currently, I am in my third year at the EUI’s Law Department and have to finish my Ph.D. within the next months. Although at the beginning I was convinced I wouldn’t make it to the EUI due to the high competition, I got a place in the end. Therefore, I want to encourage everyone interested in a European doctorate or master to write a research proposal (original topics are welcome!) and to apply.

So why apply for a doctorate or LL.M. at the EUI? Of course, there’s not one sole reason but rather several, both academic and cultural, making the EUI a great place to be: Firstly, the EUI is a unique place of research since it provides you with an international environment of working and studying with more than 40 different nationalities. Sometimes this internationality comes down to having lunch with your colleagues talking in English to one side, in Italian to the other - and while having your obligatory after-lunch-coffee like a real Italian, you bump into your French teacher who, of course, wants to be properly addressed in French! Trust me, after a few weeks you will easily manage such language-multitasking and you will love it! Academically, you can write your thesis in any language your EUI supervisor is capable of reading (most speak or at least read three or four languages) − nevertheless over 90 per cent of the students write their doctorate in English for practicality's sake.

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Photo: Claus Hansen
The garden in the front of the EUI main building

Secondly, the EUI is located slightly outside the beautiful city of Florence in an old monastery (main building and library) and Renaissance villas and gardens (individual departments). The location of the EUI provides you with the beauty of Italy, its charm, cuisine, and its Mediterranean climate.

Thirdly, the EUI enables you to focus exclusively on your own research without any other working and teaching obligations. However, seminars and lectures structure the program especially in the first year (more on this later).

Fourthly, in order to help students survive all that Italian charm, the doctorate is linked to a scholarship (min. 1100 € per month), which is provided by the national grant authorities, and additional scholarships by the institute for non-EU students.

Fifthly, language courses enable you to learn Italian or to improve your English, French, German, Spanish or Portuguese. This not only enables you to multiply your conversations while having lunch but also to use the EUI’s library to its full extent as it provides literature in several European languages. And you can even take up to six months visiting American and other European universities as well as European and International organisations if this, of course, is useful to your thesis. The EUI, for example, offers exchange programmes with the NYU, Columbia, Madison University as well as the European Commission and several others. Although exchange positions are limited in number, most EUI students use the possibility of leaving the institute for a limited period. These exchanges can be research stays, internships or teaching opportunities and are important in terms of adding a practical aspect to your thesis or in terms of networking for future job options.

However, the EUI is not heaven and there are some professional and/or personal difficulties or disadvantages you might encounter. Since the EUI provides you with almost all facilities such as a bank, medical service and leisure activities (rowing, yoga, tango, choir, etc.) you really have to make an effort to intermingle with the local Italians; some EUI students leave Florence after four years without knowing Italian or having engaged with the culture they live in. Sharing an apartment with non-EUI members is thus highly recommended. In professional terms, the freedom of not having teaching duties can also be quite a disadvantage for people in particular pursuing an academic career, however, the attendance of conferences within the frame of the research conducted is highly supported by the EUI. Furthermore, although the EUI has very good facilities do not expect your own office – working spaces often have to be shared.

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Photo: Robert Peters
The EUI has its own rowing team of young social science researchers.

Although one might think four years are plenty of time to writing a Ph.D., believe me, you will need it. The first year is generally devoted to acquiring a solid background for the doctoral work and to planning the proposed research. The second and third year are dedicated to research, field work, data collection and the writing of the thesis, while the fourth year is for finishing and defending your thesis. Nevertheless, parts of this last year may be used for professional or university traineeship and teaching. A final look at the career opportunities of EUI students shows that 65% go into academia, mainly in Europe and the US, 15% go into EU or international organizations, and about 20% work in the private sector and NGOs. The EUI is generally well-known and its new president (January 2010) Josep Borrell, former President of the European Parliament, is probably increasing its recognition in the EU and beyond.

Considering all this, the EUI offeres good research opportunities and personal experiences that provide you with a large professional and personal network. Travelling around Europe you can be sure that you will bump into someone from the EUI – it has happened to me more than once

For more information visit the EUI website.

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