..Straight From The Horses Mouth, Oxford Style.

Hi Guys!!

I trust you are ALL well.

Disclaimer. Today’s post is LONG – so grab a foot stool and a nice glass of wine( whoops, sorry, that’s me..!)

Today, I am posting  Part One of many interviews conducted. I have not limited them to only PhD’s – so don’t say I don’t love you guys! I hope you find his answers helpful:)

Today, I have interviewed Dr Olumide Famuyiwa. He is a recent Oxford PhD (in law) Graduate. Many many thanks to him for taking part. Enjoy!

Hi! Thank you for taking part.

  1. Can you tell us your name and educational background?

My name is Olumide Kazeem Famuyiwa and I am a recent PhD Graduate of Oxford University.

I have a law (educational) background in the areas of international dispute settlement and financial law. I hold a first degree (LLB) in law from the University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria; a masters degree (BCL) in law from the University of Oxford, Oxford, England; and a doctorate degree (DPhil, as we refer to PhD in Oxford) in law also from the University of Oxford.

I also hold a certificate in Private International Law from The Hague Academy of International Law, The Hague, Netherlands; a certificate and a postgraduate diploma in international commercial and investment arbitration from the International Academy for Arbitration Law, Paris, France and the Swiss Arbitration Academy, Zurich, Switzerland, respectively.

2. Can you give us a brief overview of your PhD?

My doctoral thesis focuses on comparative financial regulatory modelling in terms of how best to structure financial regulatory agencies and principles consistently with the core objectives of financial regulation and to yield an effective regulatory framework for an emerging market economy.

3. What are some of the challenges you experienced and how were you able to overcome them?

The major challenge during the doctorate programme involved change of supervision when my initial supervisor accepted a prestigious judicial appointment in his home country. Searching for a substitute supervisor who could pick up the reins with minimal disruption to my studies was not easy. I had therefore to contact potential alternative supervisors and found a very kind and supportive supervisor eventually.

4. If you were a Teaching Assistant, how were you able to combine work and research?

I was a college lecturer in the law of torts and the law of contract during the doctorate programme. I effectively combined my research studies with teaching by adopting this approach: First, I did not teach beyond 20 hours weekly. Second, I did not teach on days set aside for research and (or) thesis work. Third, I prepare most teaching materials ahead and iterate them later where necessary. Fourth, I kept to a set thesis and teaching timetable.

5. Were you able to gather experience during your PhD and if so, do you think it will be beneficial to you in the long term?

I gathered substantial practical experience as a mini-pupil at three leading commercial sets in the City of London and as an intern at the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris and at a prestigious international law firm in Paris. These practical exposures will be undoubtedly beneficial to me in the long term.

6. What advice do you have for someone who is having a difficult relationship with his or her supervisor?

There will of course be a context to a difficult relationship you may be having or might have with your supervisor but I can offer some advice from my experience. First, know your supervisor very well and respect his work rhythm and align these two with your expectations. How does your supervisor work? What does he expect from you? When and how does he expect you to turn in your drafts and (or) meet for discussions? What do you expect from your supervisor? Have you both communicated your expectations? If not, how do you do this? In my view, a key approach to these questions and to managing your relationship with your supervisor, is to seek first to understand your supervisor before your supervisor understands you.

Second, find ways to connect with your supervisor beyond your research in terms of sharing say similar interests in sports, gardening, travelling, and charity etc. Know his family if possible and ask after his or her wellbeing. This is necessary because your supervisor is human and connecting with him that way validates his humanity, infuses cordiality into relationship and extends it beyond the completion of your studies which can be mutually helpful.

Third, if the relationship turns sour do not escalate it quickly. Wait; give your supervisor time and arrange for a meeting to understand him or her. You should prefer a meeting to email exchange because emails do not let you see your supervisor’s non-verbal cues that might help you understand what he or she is thinking.

Fourth, if you are not able to fix things in person, you should speak to your supervisor’s secretary if there is one. Your supervisor may have discussed or thought aloud about your work in the secretary’s presence. The secretary can advise you on how to handle things. If there is no secretary but there is departmental or faculty secretary or graduate studies officer, you should discuss with that person informally. Secretaries usually know how the system works and can guide you. If you need to change supervision, they can speak to possible supervisors for you and get their informal acceptance before you meet them.

Fifth, if you are not able to approach the secretary or graduate studies officer, you should speak informally to one of your supervisor’s close colleagues and ask for advice. Make clear you are not reporting your supervisor but only seeking advice. Often, the colleague intervenes informally.

Sixth and if you are not able to locate such a colleague, you should speak to the Graduate Studies Director informally about your case. Again, make clear you are not reporting your supervisor. The reason why you have to use informal means and to avoid reporting your supervisor is because you want keep your relationship with your supervisor no matter what happens eventual; and if you need to change supervision, you do not want be seen in a bad light by potential alternative supervisors even when you have a good case.

So to summarise: know your supervisor very well, be patient and seek to understand him or her. That I would recommend as a default approach. Explore informal third party advice and (or) intervention in the ascending scale of secretary, faculty officer, colleague and Graduate Studies Director.

7. What advice do you have for someone who is thinking of quitting the PhD?

It depends on the stage you are in your doctoral studies. If you are at the early stages (first to second year) and you do not feel a PhD is for you, for reasons known to you, I would counsel that you should not waste your work and investment thus far. By which I mean, ask your faculty if you can convert your work for the award of a lesser research degree say MPhil of M.Litt. You can complete this with less resources and earlier than a PhD. This approach helps you to convert to PhD status later if you change your mind later. If you do not change your mind, you have at least something to show for the work you have done.

If you are a mid-level PhD student (second to third year) you should follow the advice above or alternatively apply to suspend your status and return to complete your studies when you feel able to do so, but things may have changed when before you return, including for instance the fact your supervisor is no longer available or that your research is stale. You should therefore apply for a very short suspension and be sure to have the support of your supervisor before you apply.

If you are near completion, please get on with it and write up your thesis, because it will be a regrettable waste to quit when you are almost there.

8. What were your expectations before, during, and after the VIVA?

I expected a challenging viva voce in terms of a super rigorous defence of my thesis. During the viva I expected a discussion focussing on the keys issues in the thesis. After the viva, I expected the outcome to be communicated to me as soon as possible and to be clearly guided by the examiners on what I should do if they require corrections to thesis.

9. Can you give us a summary of your VIVA experience?

I arrived very early at the venue and brushed through the thesis again. The examiners arrived on time but took few minutes to discuss before we started. We started on schedule and the examiners pointed out from start that they agree mostly with what I have written and just wanted us to discuss some issues raised in the thesis. I defended my positions on those issues including particularly the controversial issue of negligence liability of financial regulations as judicial accountability mechanism in financial regulation. The viva ended with clear guidance on minor corrections the examiners wanted.

10. What is the best way, if there is one, to prepare for the VIVA?

I would say, know your thesis very well and be able to defend whatever you have written. Know your examiners by researching their publications and see where you agree or disagree with something they have written. This might influence their approach to the viva. Read and reread your thesis thoroughly and pick out your typographical errors. Put post-it page markers on the pages with errors and on those containing your controversial points. Let the markers be visible to your examiners. As soon as you start the viva draw their attention to the errors you have identified and will correct. It shows you are proactive and you have further refined your work after submission. You are likely to be in control of the discussion that way.

11. What is next for you?

I am returning to practice as a barrister.

So! There you have it guys – straight from the horses mouth about a recent PhD experience. I really hope you have found it useful – I know I have! I am particularly greatful with the detailed points for those having problems with their supervisors.

Thanks again Dr Fam! I have enclosed a picture below – (although I actually told him no education related pictures LOL) So those of you in Lagos, you can look out for him!

Have a great one folks.



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