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Case Study: Be flexible, send lot of applications, you’ll make it March 22, 2011

Posted by Sharehouse Jakarta in Case study, Uncategorized.
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“I thought I was pretty smart,” an accomplished Indonesian attorney told me last week.

My client holds an Indonesian master’s degree in law (MH) and has assists decision-makers at the highest levels within Indonesia’s legislative and judicial spheres. He contacted me when he learned that he was to become an Australian Leadership Awards recipient. Both of us regarded this as an excellent conclusion to his quest for educational 0pportunities overseas.

Pak Bambang (not his real name) has a firm handshake and infectious levels of positive energy. I asked to meet him for lunch because I was curious about what it took to win.

He summed up the process of identifying and going after suitable opportunities by noting that it was more involved and competitive than he had expected. “The [applications] process makes you realize that maybe you aren’t as smart as you think.”

I hadn’t met in person with this client for over a year year. Over excellent Javanese food — sedikit manis juga tapi pas — we chatted about the winding road that leads from Indonesia to top educational opportunities around the world.

What does it take to get a “dream” opportunity?

All it really takes is a dream and a lot of patience — I think that’s a fair recap. For a few years Bambang has had two full-time jobs — doing legal research and policy work and applying to PhD programs. Now, upon seeing the excellent results of his twenty-first application, he is preparing to move his family to Australia and go back to school.

Completing application requirements is time consuming. Generally, Indonesian academics have a wide range of choice in terms of what country, which university, what degree, which program?  Reviewing and negotiating the offers you receive in response to your applications also takes takes time.

The Australian Leadership Awards is a prestigious and highly competitive program whose aim is to  promote Indonesian development and Australian-Indonesian bilateral relations. As an award recipient, Bambang will advance Indonesian legal scholarship (in the field of constitutional law) with academic backing from top Australian legal scholars and financial support from the Australian government.

And his family is happy with the results, too. They’ll be close enough to visit Indonesia often.

I asked Bambang about effort expended and results realized.

“There were some very exciting opportunities for me in the US. But where was the funding? New Zealand has lovely things for me. But I would have to wait another year for those. Canada, England, Holland? Yes. Many opportunities. I applied for everything.

“Of course there are a lot of tests and deadlines. You can’t give up. That’s what I learned.

So, it seems shopping for a PhD is like shopping for a laptop: you’ll want to make sure you have some good options to chose from, keep an eye on costs, give yourself a time frame, and don’t run out of energy.

Shopping for a PhD — considerations & decisions

If you were a constitutional law specialist wishing to pursue higher education overseas at the s3/ PhD level, you would probably consider the following:

Indonesian law is rooted in Dutch law. And that’s why many Indonesians go to Holland for legal study. Scholarship there is conducted in English (which is the preferred second language for the candidate in this case study). The US and Australia have both played key roles in pioneering the practice of judicial review (the work of a constitutional court judge). But the Netherlands legal system doesn’t recognize judicial review (however, Indonesia does). At the same time, neither the US nor Australia have a court which is dedicated entirely to constitutional matters (ie, a constitutional court). Germany  — now — does have a constitutional court (and so does Indonesia). And Germany is a key partner in Indonesian law reform. But research at German universities is usually conducted in German. (But Bambang doesn’t intend to do research in German.)

And it is in this context that we hear the solid advice, “Don’t get frustrated. Just keep applying.”

So where is the strategy?

1) In your mind, define your expectations as broadly as possible. (EG, I want to study constitutional law overseas at the s3 level.)

2) In your applications, however, define your objectives narrowly so your application will fit the needs and expectations of the universities and programs you apply to. (EG, example, I would like to study at this university with Professor Brightstar because he is the best in the world in this field.)

3) Trends develop very quickly in the educational market, just like any other. Candidates, however, have relatively limited access to information about these changes.  So even if you aren’t getting the results you want, it makes sense to keep trying, because changes may have occurred.

4) Expect improvements. Do you remember the first time you bought a durian or watermelon? Today you’re probably a little better at this. Shopping for a PhD will get easier over time. So you may as well start now. After you send 3 or 4 applications, you’ll know a lot more about what to expect — a lot of writing, a little stress as the deadline approaches, some of the same questions asked again and again (your answers should improve). You will soon be in a position to make a good purchase.

5) Go ahead and track the costs. Ideally you will find they are less than the benefits. For Bambang the magic number was 21 applications. (If I’m not mistaken, that’s exactly the same number of applications I sent when I applied for my Juris Doctor degree (S2) .  Yes, DHL can be pretty expensive — especially if you wait until the last minute. But just think what an Australian Leadership Award could do you for your career. It may be worth another 30 or 40 dollars.

US and Australia both pioneered
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