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The debate over academic journals dedicated to architecture and their problems is a whole world in itself. For more information see ‘Una reflexión en torno a las revistas académicas. Expertos’ by Brijuni Arquitectos at the Fundación Arquia blog.

The First Year of a PhD in Architecture

Illustration accompanying Luis Borobio’s article “Las recetas urbanísticas” (“Urban Planning Recipes”), published in Proa magazine, Issue 8, 1955, Bogotá, Colombia.

The first year of a PhD is a journey of exploration and self-discovery. It’s a terrain full of wild animals that, just like you, have arrived there via the most unimaginable paths. They’re not all convinced that doing a PhD is worthwhile. Some of them arrive young, with little support, and start the doctoral programme without really even knowing when it ends. Others have been fighting to earn a scholarship for some time, and when they do they seem too old to fully celebrate their achievement. They’ve already published their first articles1 and they’ve done their time slogging away at architecture school, so they could be said to have started their PhD well before they matriculated. 0} Some are veterans, consolidated teachers seeking formal qualifications for an academic career they’ve been pursuing for years. And then there are architects with their own businesses, for whom the PhD is a vocational initiative that they combine with their already demanding, unstable daily routine. Those ones will have their work cut out to squeeze into the straitjacket of academic life.  Most of these candidates have realised they need to specialise in order to grow. The hardest part will be to find your own niche in this maze of course descriptions and profiles, and from there develop a thesis proposal while at the same time doing the training courses in doctoral research techniques.

Those courses are usually more or less intense seminars which mix together different levels, subjects and activities. The teachers tend to treat students as if they’d already acquired all the tools needed for academic work beforehand and were now only there to learn more about their subject matter. They do provide information about interesting areas of research exclusive to each university, but the methodological training they offer often leaves much to be desired. Their courses also invariably reflect the structure of the university’s own areas and departments, each teacher sticking up for their own priorities. The PhD student has to choose one of them as a tutor, and that choice will affect them for the rest of their life. At the end of the day, “it’s not what you know, but who you know”.

It’s also a good idea to use the first year to come to terms with reality. Spain’s Royal Decree 1393/2007 (Real Decreto 1393/2007) clearly defines a PhD as the qualification which habilitates the candidate to carry out research. The doctoral thesis, or dissertation, is the first piece of research the PhD student coordinates, hence the need for a tutor who will be there to control the situation if things get out of hand. The overall programme is designed to launch the candidate’s career as a researcher, not to validate or culminate the work of a veteran researcher. Those looking for something else shouldn’t complain when they realise the PhD is not the panacea they were expecting.

In this initial period, the older, more experienced students will feel they’re wasting their time and should be working more on their own research. The younger ones will look back and remember that day in the Project Design class when they discovered that the only way to keep up is to be a self-learner.  To be able to plan a coherent thesis and establish a schedule of questions, objectives and activities, it will be vital to start with an autonomous learning phase in which each PhD candidate defines the role their doctoral studies are to play in their own professional career. To avoid caving in to academic or professional pressure, it’s important to take this process calmly. If, by the end of the first year, you have your plan clear in your mind and have secured all the resources needed to fulfil it, you’re moving in the right direction.


Text translated by Andrew V. Taylor
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The debate over academic journals dedicated to architecture and their problems is a whole world in itself. For more information see ‘Una reflexión en torno a las revistas académicas. Expertos’ by Brijuni Arquitectos at the Fundación Arquia blog.

Arquitecto. Investigador pre-doctoral en el programa "Arquitectura. Historia y Proyecto" del Politécnico de Turín, en cotutela con el programa "Historia y Artes" de la Universidad de Granada. Antiguo profesor del Departamento de Arquitectura de la Universidad de Los Andes, Colombia. Colaborador de la revista Historia National Geographic y asistente editorial del Journal académico Architectural Histories, perteneciente a la European Architectural History Network. Fundador de blogURBS y URBS Revista de Estudios Urbanos y Ciencias Sociales . Antiguo corresponsal de La Ciudad Viva .

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