|Writing a thesis
in France : 2009-2013 !
||Writing a thesis for a "doctorat" (PhD.)
in France : my first year 2008-2009....
- 2013 : my last year ? In May 2013, a big hope : finishing this year ! I rarely see my advisor but the last time we discussed it, he said it would be in June or in September. Youpee ! I'll keep you posted.
- 2011-2012 : solitary work, discouraging contacts, disappointing sources, etc.
- Only in Sorbonne…….. Today, December 16, 2010, a big event was scheduled : a seminar for the doctoral students of my Ecole Doctorale (ED), the first in two years (or, if my ED has organized others, it has managed to keep them secret …). Let me remind my readers that in each French university, there is an "Ecole Doctorale" that is responsible for its doctoral students. My ED includes about 220 students who are writing their doctoral dissertation and around 15 professors. In November, some of the doctoral students decided to organize a seminar to discuss their research. Like many others, I responded enthusiastically : in the past 15 months, I have not had ONE single opportunity to discuss what I am doing with a human being, professor or student. Shortly after the student's initiative, the ED (by some coincidence?) decided to organize its first seminar for its doctoral students and merge it with their seminar, at a different time, with a prominent foreign historian, in a different room that was twice as small (Probably to to honor the foreign guest : you have to be a Sorbonne graduate to understand this…). Understandably, when I arrived, the room (for 20) could not accommodate more than the 35 people already standing up in it and I had to go back home. Very frankly, this would never have happened in a "Grande Ecole", where students matter, and this is why so many people defend this so-called "elite system" , which is simply normal, compared to the Third World system of the French university.
- September 2010 : First step : pay the tuition fee Euros 370 ($450). A slight increase over last year : student associations protest !
- As a result of the (stupid) strikes last year, the registration of new students this year shows a dramatic change : roughly -10% in "universités" and +10% in "classes préparatoires aux grandes écoles". See what it means on my page Education
- I feel lonely and nobody helps me! After a year and half on my subject, I am still interested but I am feeling very isolated and I'd like more opportunities to discuss it (Jan.2010).
- October 2010 : still lonely but slightly progressing. The spirit of a PhD in France is to learn how to work independently and I am experiencing it.....
- 2011-2012 : work, desillusion (when US corporation lie to me and pretend they did not keep any archive of any kind etc), excitation (when a little detail about a person or a company seems to lead to something new), impatience (to finish the project),... I submit a complete draft to my advisor in October 2012.
- Jan. 2013 : my advisor tells me that I can defend it this year. Corrections and aditions, ... Until Sept.30, I don't when I'll be admitted to defend it, then I'm told that it will be Nov. 21.
- October-November, total panic: printing, binding a 982-page, 3-volume piece, sending it to the members of the jury (two professors "rapporteurs" who write two evaluation reports, two other professors and my advisor), doing all sorts or bureaucratic tasks (deposit a digital format at Sorbonne, pictures of me for the 2013 directory of the new PhDs of the Sorbonne, finding a room in the Sorbonne at a time which is the high season for PhDs' defense, etc.
- The first step is the application file which includes : a 300-word abstract,
a 5-to-10-page description of the project, signing a "PhD
Charter", the opinion of the "Directeur de Recherche"
(thesis director) and of the head of the History Department,
and many biographical details. To be handed in before October
7. My subject is : "The history of American firms in France and technological transfers" (since 1894 and as seen through the archives of the American Chamber of Commerce in France).
- My subject is accepted (Nov.6,
2008) and I have to pay the tuition fee of Euros 346,57 ($460).
Still pretty cheap, isn't it ?
- Now I'm on my way (and on my
own...) for the next three years, digging in archives, reading
books and reports and trying to figure out how to handle my subject
... For the moment, I work on the (very rich) archives of the
American Chamber of Commerce in France, the (very well organized)
archives of the French Senate and the National Assembly and a
- I also contact big American
firms in France. Some of them are helpful but, for most of them
(especially the banks and the law firms), the answer is always
the same : "unfortunately, the archives have been destroyed
a few months ago and there is nothing left ...". It's hard
to be an historian in the corporate world....
- Today (April 10) is the begining of Easter vacations ; the Sorbonne has been blocked by students "on strike" against a new law which grants autonomy to universities (so they can have their own policy and raise private money if they wish: read an amazing anecdote about that) and sets new rules for the evaluation of professors (if they do not publish, they'll have to teach more). The government does not want to withdraw the law and this strike has lasted 9 weeks (sofar). Will the students be able to take their exams ? Every year, since I started studying History, the university enjoyed a long strike....
- This strike does not bother me too much (except I cannot go to the excellent library of the "Ecole Doctorale", which is blocked).
- The situation is back to normal by the end of May, after 14 weeks of strike. It is interesting to observe that all the professors (strikers or not, anyway no course was given) will be paid normally (the president of the university, Georges Molinié, having declared at the very begining of the strike that he refused to make lists of strikers. It is also interesting to observe that applications to the Sorbonne are down by 25% for the next year and several foreign universities have cancelled their Study Abroad Program with the Sorbonne. Any relation with this very intelligent strike ?
- At the end of this first year, I am not very happy, neither with my work, nor with the environment, guidance, etc.. I'll try to be happier next year......
- And also hiring a "traiteur" for the traditional cocktail party in the university building after the defense.
|| A French school year 2007-2008...
- Nov. 21, 2013 : the big day. Traditionally, in History, the juries are very mean. They spend three hours demonstrating how stupid you are, how weak are your sources, how can you ignore the major books in the field you are trying to cover and, at the end, they conclude that yours is an excellent thesis and you deserve a good grade. My jury was so nice that, at moments, I thought they were speaking about someone else. After I presented my thesis in 20 minutes, they asked me good questions and I answered for two and an half hours and finally I was, of course accepted, with the highest grade. This is a nice ending for a seven-year adventure ! Now I'll have to turn it into a book.
The candidate facing the jury of five for the defense of his thesis !
To defend your thesis you submit, with the approval of your advisor, an application to the Directeur de l'Ecole Doctorale (who is responsible for all the theses of your university). There is a procedure with a special committee which decides whether or not this thesis deserves to be defended. Then, a jury of four minimum (mine was five) is constituted and the candidate defends his/her thesis in front of it. It is exceptional that the thesis is not accepted but there are several different grades : Passable (i.e. just average, in the US, it would be C or less), Honorable (i.e. good, like a B) and Tres Honorable (which is a A).
With the last grade, one can in addition get the Felicitations du Jury (i.e. Congratulations from the Jury) after a secret ballot vote by the jury. The top grade is Tres Honorable aver Felicitations Unanimes du Jury. That is the one I obtained!
|The official ceremony, June 14, 2014, with the President of Sorbonne Universites.
Click here to my page containing a short summary of the dissertation.
- We were around 22 students in our class
in the fourth year (called
M1) last year : it is now down to around twelve. Some students
dropped out and the "mémoire" of others was
not accepted. In French universities, students are not selected
when they enter the university (in the name of equality and democracy)
but year after year, by a traumatizing and discouraging process.
They do not seem to understand how unfair and cruel it is : see
my comments on equality in
- Strikes again ! November, once again, French students
go on strike. This year, the pretext is quite interesting. Not
by chance, the strike begins the very week transport employees
go on strike to oppose a change of their retirement system (incredibly
advantageous : full pension at age 50 : read
more). Students demand the abrogation of the law, voted in
July by the Parliament, which give a little bit of autonomy to
universities and makes it possible for them to raise some money
other than state funds. Their motto "NO to autonomy ! NO
to privatization!". Stimulating, isn't it ?
- Today, Dec.15, the doors
of the Sorbonne are still locked and I realize that I could
count on the fingers of my hands the number of courses and seminars
I have attended since the beginning of the academic year. Once
again, a few students and a few professors managed to block the
whole Sorbonne and keep the others from studying and teaching.
Back to History, its reminds me the previous times the Sorbonne
refused to change : each time, a more efficient organization
was created OUTSIDE of it :
- 15th. century against the ideas
of the Renaissance, which led to the creation, outside of the
university, of the Collège de France, still prestigious
- 19th cent. against the Industrial
Revolution, leading to the creation of the Grandes
Ecoles, whose alumni dominate the French society
- 19th-20th cent. against modern
economy, leading to the creation of the business schools
- 1930s-1940s against scientific
research, leading to the creation of CNRS and the other reasearch organizations (INSERM, CEA, etc..)
- Exams and grades :
- April : I am finishing my final
thesis ("mémoire") : around 400 pages,
and less boring than I feared.
- June 1 : I just handed in my
dissertation on "L'amenagement du territoire de 1969 à
1993 : le role du CNER et des comités d'expansion économique"
("French Regional planning from 1969 to 1993 : the role
of..." 360 p.)
- July 3 : the final exam is an oral presentation of my dissertation in front of a jury
which seems very pleased and grants me an excellent grade (19
out of 20) ; my professor tells me that he considers having it
published in a very good collection of a well-known publisher
where he is the scientific director (very flattering!)
- August : I receive (through
the mail) my final global grade for the Master in History
: 18.3 i.e. Maîtrise Mention Très Bien ("Summa
cum laude"). I am of course very happy but there is nobody
to share my satisfaction with : no ceremony, no party, no human
being to congratulate the students, et... Quite different from
the USA, isn't it ?
- I am amazed by the proportion
of students who give up and do not finish writing their dissertation
: maybe half of the class (which was already half the class of
last year) ? After 5 years of university studies, all they'll
have is a "Licence d'Histoire" (i.e. BA).
|To related pages : to last year and the year before,to my resume,to my Franco-American
site and the page
in France, etc...
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