New Doctoral Students Bring Fresh Horizons to Ph.D. Family
11 new students embarked on the long and winding journey towards a Ph.D. in September, bringing the total number of doctoral candidates at HEC Paris to 56. Hailing from as far afield as Brazil, Singapore, Italy, India and Mexico, they were given an immediate taste of the intense yet vibrant program the school reserves these budding researchers for the next five years. For the first time, the Law Department greeted two Ph.D. law students. Two months on, we gauge how they have all settled in.
First year Ph.D. students prepare to embark on long academic journey (from left to right: BHUSHAN Pranjal, VIEIRA REGA Caio, MANKE Marie-Christin, NAGATA Mateus Hiro, FU Grace Yong, MARINELLI Angele, HARDY Benjamin, GIORDANO Francesco, HE Can, MAFFETT Justin and GONZALES-HISHINUMA Abel).
“I have to admit, it’s not what I expected. I’m more aware of the American doctoral system where you plunge into research right away.” Grace Yong An Fu sits back and reflect: “But it’s been fun and most rewarding. I’ve been provided with a wide variety of courses which are foundational building blocks which I can use for my thesis.” Along with her 10 fellow first-year doctoral students, Fu has been immersed in the HEC way-of-life since early September and she is full of praise for the close-knit academic and social structure she has enjoyed since arriving from her native Singapore. “It’s so different to my previous university experiences where there were over 60 students for the lectures. I’m not sure the professors before even knew my name at the end of the year!”
At HEC, Fu has enjoyed mini classes of 2-7 students. They follow a wide berth of management courses ranging from organizational behavior, to software programs to analyze statistics. She says she was drawn to HEC’s Management department for its research methods and the pedigree of its professors: “Thanks to the quality of the school’s approach to research, I aim to further my interest in how culture influences organizational factors,” explains the 24-year-old hailing from New York University and the London School of Economics. Fu also chose the school for its strategic positioning: “It provides a glimpse into rich European culture, where history and modernization meet.” So far, she says she has learnt as much from the informal exchanges with both the professors and fellow doctoral students of all years, as she has from the academic courses. “Since my research touches on the impact culture has as a mediator on power and economic status, these exchanges enrich my approach.”
It has been an arduous path that the 11 students from nine different nationalities have scaled to even reach the doors of the Jouy-en-Josas campus. Competing for a place against 330 other candidates, they seduced the HEC jury thanks to the originality of their approach, the relevance and the potential impact of their subject matter and the quality of their previous studies. “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment,” the American poet Ralph Emerson once wrote. And this call for healthy non-conformity was at the heart of the message delivered by HEC Dean Eloïc Peyrache on the opening day: “Don’t compare yourself to others, question your own beliefs,” Peyrache told the students on the opening Welcome Day. “You are your own boss. This can be exciting. It can also be frightening. But we are here to help and guide you on this long road with all its ups-and-downs.”
Ph.D. Program Director Johan Hombert underlined the need to find a balance between research and the numerous solicitations students will inevitably meet: “It would be a mistake to start too many projects, especially as these five years at HEC will go by very fast. So, it is important to focus on your research priorities quickly.” For HEC’s Dean of Faculty and Research, Andreas Masini, the Ph.D. intakes play a vital role in enhancing the credibility of the school: “You are embarking on an incredible journey. But it comes with a degree of responsibility. We are here to support you on the way, and we insist on a mixture of rigor and passion… and everything in between!”
Meeting of Doctoral Generations
The first year students join a community which was already enriched last year by 10 highly-motivated doctoral candidates. In their first week, the two cohorts met the three others at an informal cheese tasting event which was an opportunity to federate the groups – and to catch up with the latest news from the other doctoral students. “It just felt like yesterday when I was in their shoes,” Rui Li says, pointing to the first-year batch. “Time flies and already I’m in that intense period where I have to defend my first paper in a month.” Maruša Rus is exploring new territory with her supervisor Management Associate Professor Julien Jourdan: “We’re studying the impact of public opinion on firms. It’s intense but it complements my previous work very nicely, looking at the OECD’s financing of sustainable activities.” Third year doctoral student in marketing, Yang Cao has been focusing her research on consumer behavior: “It’s been a challenging time, my data and results don’t always support the theory I’m trying to be agile, sometimes I have to drop or change variables, for example,” she admits. “Fortunately, the HEC academic infrastructure, notably my supervisor, has been guiding me through these moments.”
Fourth year Ph.D. student Paul Bliot is well aware of the psychological challenges a doctoral path throws up. Until this year, he was one of the representatives for the 56 students in this student body, as President of the Ph.D. Club. Now, he’s decided to hand over the reins to third year student Andrew Funk and devote his time entirely to his management thesis on scientific retraction. “Mental health is an issue amongst Ph.D. candidates,” he confesses. “We are under tremendous pressure. Which is why we work so hard on a support network, going beyond the different years and even reaching out to the Ph.D. alumni. We’ve become friends advising those struggling to overcome negative results, paper rejections or feeling the heat in preparing their first major paper presentation.” In this social venture, Bliot is ably advised by his supervisor, the same Julien Jourdan, who was a doctoral student at HEC himself.
Law Doctoral Candidates Join the Fray
The students are also ably guided by the team in the ‘back office’, Academic Affairs program manager Françoise Dauvergne, Jacqueline Soss in Student Affairs and Hailee Tindale, the Ph.D. Associate Director who has taken over from Britta Delhay. “We are here to help you attenuate the negative consequences that often come with this degree,” Johan Hombert told the students on their opening day. The Professor of Finance has seen close up the doctoral experience ever since he joined HEC Paris in 2010. “There are many unwritten rules in acquiring a Ph.D. You can expect occasional dead-ends where your ideas do not crystallize into a contribution. These are part and parcel of a researcher’s life, but you are not alone!” Or, to paraphrase Goethe: “Everything is hard before it is easy.”
This year sees two students enter the Law & Regulation department for the first time. “We really support this opening out towards a discipline which impacts all of our disciplines,” says Paul Bliot. “There is a general drive at the school to expand towards the social sciences and law is an important field that bridges the worlds between scientific theory and society, economy and geopolitics.” For Marie-Christine Manke, this interaction with other disciplines guided her choice to enter HEC’s Law department: “The interdisciplinary approach and environment of the program is special and its focus on many current issues and problems are central to my research,” she notes. The first year Ph.D. student aims to study the links between law and climate and technology issues in the context such as the Climate and Earth Society which HEC’s S&O Institute has focused on.
Fellow law student Justin Maffett, meanwhile, does not hide his interest in politics and his desire to spotlight the links between national, subnational, and non-state actors in solutions to foreign policy challenges. “I hope this doctorate will guide me in creating a new framework between these actors,” he states with confidence. “I want to engage internationally with other structures in solving global challenges in the fields of development, economy, national security and so on.” Unusually, Maffett comes to the school with a deep well of academic and professional experience already, which includes a Doctorate of Law and years of work as a US attorney.
The 11 first year students arrive just months after the 2023 graduating cohort brilliantly succeeded in defending their doctoral theses. 10 of them have already found posts as assistant professors in top-class universities ranging from McGill University to the Rotterdam School of Management. “They have all found stimulating jobs in which to prolong their research in their respective fields,” says Hombert to the students gathered around for their first informal session of the academic year, outside of X Building. “And these alumni are very representative of the cohorts we’ve seen graduating from HEC over the years. We are very much looking forward to your contributions to a long line of Ph.D. graduates from this school who are currently working in over 35 countries worldwide.”