‘I Like the Dynamic, Internationally Oriented Universities with 'We Can Do It' Mentality’
Bob Jennekens studied commercial law and STI policy at Maastricht University but worked on his master’s thesis under the supervision of professors from two universities and came to HSE to defend it.
HSE continues to strengthen its cooperation with Dutch universities. One of collaboration agreements provides for student exchange between HSE ISSEK Master’s programme in Governance of Science, Technology and Innovation and Master’s programme in European Studies on Society, Science and Technology (ESST) at Maastricht University. Bob Jennekens seized the opportunity to benefit from this agreement. He has talked to HSE News about his research, reasons for coming to HSE to defend his thesis, and about his experience here.
— How did you come across HSE and why did you choose this master’s programme?
— When I was doing my LL.M. (Master's degree in Law) in Maastricht I went to do my internship at the Permanent Delegation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the OECD in Paris. HSE is quite well-known at the OECD; also because Secretary-General Angel Gurría is an Honorary Professor at HSE. Around this time I also chose to apply to the MA in European Studies on Society, Science and Technology (ESST) at Maastricht University, and when I got accepted I was informed that there might be a collaboration on the way with HSE Moscow. Since HSE enjoys an excellent academic reputation and I thought it would be a great experience, I decided to apply to HSE for my specialization and was lucky enough to be accepted.
I think the interesting thing of masters like STI (at HSE) and ESST (at Maastricht University) are their focus on interdisciplinary research and the fact that you get to meet people with both an international background, as well as a background in different disciplines. My year included a lawyer, biologists, an engineer, a psychologist, sociologists and political scientists. In almost no other programme you will find this interdisciplinarity.
— What is your professional and educational background? Can you tell us about your thesis research?
— My educational background is relatively broad. I studied both European Studies and Psychology as an undergraduate, and did a master's degree in International Corporate and Commercial Law. I think my "primary identity" when it comes to an academic discipline would be a lawyer. Professionally, I did my internship at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands (at the OECD delegation) and I worked for a project developer on legal matters. I enjoy working on projects with a highly international and interdisciplinary nature.
My research at HSE has been about the usage of scientific knowledge by the judicial component of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Dispute Settlement system. Basically I looked at how the WTO procures science, uses and applies science, and produces scientific norms in the process. I immensely liked the topic, because I am very interested in this approach, as well as topics that are linked to international relations, diplomacy and politics. Apart from my research at HSE (but closely linked to it) I am also academically interested in international arbitration.
— Why did you decide to defend your master's thesis in Moscow?
— This was more or less decided for me - it was a requirement to do your specialization at HSE. But if I would have had the chance, I would have definitely chosen to do it regardless. It's very interesting to see how another educational system works and to see another city - I was very impressed with the beautiful city of Moscow and the friendliness of the people.
— How did the defense go? Are you happy with how it turned out?
— It was tough — it was clear that the panelists had really read my work and paid close attention to what might be missing from my analysis. It surely wasn't a formality; you are really challenged to know your material and "defend" your points of view. This might also be the occasion to make a compliment to my panelists — they were incredibly professional. It was clear they knew what I had written about and they made some very valuable critical observations. They were very tough but never unfair or hostile, so despite the challenging nature of the defense, it was still a very comfortable experience. I was awarded an 8 out of 10 on the whole, so I was also happy with the result.
— How did you like Moscow? Did you get to learn about our university, and were there maybe surprising things?
— Moscow is one of the most beautiful cities I visited so far - it has an extremely green and clean centre, and what immediately struck me is the courtesy of the drivers - they actually stop when you are trying to cross the road, even at Novy Arbat! I also really enjoyed the food and restaurants in the city, particularly Bosco Cafe at Red Square and Cafe Pushkin at Tverskoy. When you go to Bosco, try the spinach salad!
Of course, I had researched HSE when I applied, and I think it's amazing how such a young university has been able to establish such a renowned reputation (in such a short time). My own home university (Maastricht) is also very young, and I like the dynamic, internationally oriented and "we can do it" mentality at such establishments.
What "surprised" me is the defense itself - we don't usually have that in the Netherlands (only when you do your PhD). This was the first time I had to appear before a panel to defend my work, and although I had a great panel, which really enables you to delve deep into your own work, I was of course still a bit nervous. It was however a great experience and I think it really has added value; you get to discuss your work with real experts in the field and that is a very valuable and inspiring experience.
— What are your plans for the future? Would you like to stay in touch with HSE or work with Russian or Russia-based researchers in the future?
— I really feel honored to be a part of the HSE family and would love to stay in touch - in one way or another. HSE is a great university, attracting staff and students from all over the world, so if there is a way to do a visiting PhD position or lectureship, I would really enjoy that. I of course also hope that some HSE students will also stop by Maastricht.
As far as my plans are now, I have applied to work full-time at the OECD in Paris because I really enjoyed living and working there, and hope to be able to combine it with a PhD position. My preferred topic would be the use of scientific expertise as evidence in international arbitration procedures - whether in State-to-State arbitration, international commercial arbitration or Investor-State Dispute Settlement.
The Russian Federation hosts one of the most highly acclaimed courts of international arbitration (the International Commercial Arbitration Court) in Moscow, and it would be extremely interesting to take their procedures into account as well, so I really look forward to involving Russian or Russia-based research(ers) in my topic. When it comes to the Russian Federation itself, I was really struck by Moscow's beauty, and that inspired me to definitely visit the country again. Perhaps next year on the trans-Siberian express... I will definitely stop by Moscow again!