15 Jul 2013

Life Post-PhD: An Alumni Profile

Professor Matthias Oesch shares his experiences as a PhD student at the WTI / IEW and offers advice to potential candidates of the new doctoral programme*.

When did you complete your PhD at the WTI?

I started my PhD at the WTI / Institute of European and International Economic Law (IEW) in 2000, and I completed it in 2003.

What made you wish to pursue your doctoral studies here?

I got to know Professor Cottier during my undergraduate studies at the University of Berne, when I participated in a seminar organised by the WTI / IEW on the consequences of a potential accession of Switzerland to the European Union.

From that moment onward, it was clear that I would like to pursue my doctoral studies under the supervision of Professor Cottier. It was a nice coincidence that he was able to offer me a job as research fellow / doctoral student after I had completed my studies at the University of Bern (Attorney-at-Law) and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LLM).

What is your fondest memory of your time at the WTI? What stands out as having been a particularly positive experience?

Only a few weeks after I had taken up my job as research fellow / doctoral student at the WTI / IEW in 2000, Professor Cottier sent me to a conference in Turku, Finland, in order to give a speech on the WTO dispute settlement mechanism and to represent the Institute.

I was thrown into cold water and struggled to swim smoothly, as I had considerable difficulties in answering the challenging questions from the audience competently. In any case, it was a great experience for me—and proof to the point at the very beginning of my engagement at the WTI / IEW that Professor Cottier was willing to support me way beyond of what can usually be expected from an academic supervisor.

What position(s) did you obtain after having completed your PhD? What do you do in your current role? What makes it interesting?

After having completed my PhD in 2003, I worked in the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) as Legal Councel, having been in charge for WTO matters. In 2005, I returned to the University of Berne where I spent three years writing my habilitation (in the field of Swiss constitutional law, examining the principle of equality), before I took up an assistant professorship at the WTI / IEW in 2007.

In parallel to my assistant professorship, I worked as an attorney-at-law for Homburger AG in Zurich, one of the leading law firms in Switzerland (2009-2010). In February 2013, I took up my current position as Professor for Public Law, European Law and International Economic Law at the University of Zurich.

It is a pleasure and a privilege that my new professorship allows me to deal with topics which the WTI / IEW is also engaged in. I am sure that I will be able to continue close working relations with the Institute.

How did your doctorate prepare you for this position?

My various engagements at the WTI / IEW, including my doctoral studies, were ideal in helping me prepare for my professorship. Both the topic (I wrote my PhD on standards of review in WTO dispute resolution) and the fact that I wrote my PhD in English (which I only did because of Professor Cottier's encouragement to do so) helped me further my academic career.

Because I chose a topic in the field of international economic law, my doctoral studies allowed me to get acquainted with the WTO community. I could not have envisaged a better place in which to do so than the WTI / IEW.

What would your advice be to potential doctoral students?

My advice is twofold: i) work hard, do not get disturbed by too many other (academic) projects and try to finalise your PhD within a reasonable period of time. 2-3 years should, under normal circumstances, suffice: ii) do profit from the lively and stimulating atmosphere and interaction with other colleagues at the Institute as much as possible.

Personally, I do not know of an academic place which is as stimulating and vibrant as the WTI.

Where in the world are you located now? Is it where you grew up?

When I took up my professorship at the University of Zurich at the beginning of 2013, I moved from Berne to Zurich, which is even closer to St. Gallen, the city in which I grew up. With the exception of my LLM studies in London, I always lived and worked in Switzerland.

*Launched in 2012, the new doctoral programme of the Graduate School of Economic Globalisation and Integration at the WTI offers professionals and Master’s-level graduates in economics, political science and law the opportunity to further their professional and academic careers. The structured programme is designed to offer PhD candidates the highest level of support possible in writing their theses.