Jorge Adrián Ortiz-Moreno is a PhD researcher at IDS, currently in his first year. In this interview, he tells us about his journey so far and what it’s like to study at IDS. He also gives some valuable advice to anyone considering studying a PhD.
Why did you want to do a PhD? And why did you choose IDS?
After working in government and academia, I decided to further my academic career. So, of course, a PhD is one of those steps that you need to go forward. I chose IDS because I’ve been involved previously in development studies and in development planning practice. And I found that at IDS you have different perspectives in which you can approach development. For example, my research topic is connected to technology and sometimes in other institutes technology is not something that is often related to development. At IDS you have research on many different topics that relate to development. And of course, that also it is a prestigious institution.
What is the focus of your PhD research?
I am studying the problem of water provision in Mexico City. This has been a problem for decades. Currently Mexico has a policy that promotes the use of rainwater harvesting. So I am researching the social and technical aspects of the implementation of this policy to see if Mexico City is taking steps towards a more sustainable and resilient provision of water, or not.
How is the PhD by Research structured?
Usually the structure of the PhD is in three years. So in the first year, it’s a lot about reading theoretical approaches and reading about the topic. And this first year involves also the design of the research. So by the end of the first year, you will have a clear plan on how you are getting the information that is going to give you empirical information about the phenomenon that you’re studying.
In the second year you go to the field and you gather that information and you get involved deeply in the study case or the phenomenon that you’re studying. So, in my case, I am planning to have interviews with the different stakeholders in Mexico City that are related to this rainwater harvesting project that is being implemented. For example, there is a range of stakeholders from bureaucrat, politicians, NGOs, academics, and the idea is that gathering those stakeholder’s perspectives I can construct a narrative of how this issue is evolving.
And in the third year, you come back and you write – you write your masterpiece, your thesis.
What is it like studying at IDS?
I think that one of the most important things about studying at IDS is that many things are going on. So you have not only the activities of your programme, of your master’s degree or PhD, but also there are a lot of seminars, talks and activities. There are also a lot of ways to engage socially with other people and having people from all over the world provides the opportunity to connect and to learn from other cultures, from other countries, from what is happening on other regions. It can potentially transform your view of the world. I think you grow a lot learning from this very rich and diverse community.
What makes studying at IDS different from studying elsewhere?
Here in Brighton, you can get into a mindset of studying and learning, because the campus is set just outside of the city (and the distractions that come with cities). I think that the location is great. Also something that is very important is the opportunity of not only accessing the community of IDS, but having the opportunity to connect with other communities within Sussex University. In my case, my research study is based in IDS, but in collaboration with SPRU (the Science and Technology Policy Unit here at Sussex). So then I have different perspectives on the topic I am studying.
How would you describe the IDS PhD cohort?
Well, it’s very interesting, because you have people that are conducting, in certain ways, the same process, but they’re studying completely different topics, but that relate to development. And that connects with what we were talking about earlier – that IDS has many perspectives on development. So you have people studying things on environmental issues, like me, but you have other people studying things about education, gender, climate change, policy process, or there is more focus on theoretical aspects.
Each year there are new PhD cohorts of around ten people. So you have this small group of people that are going through the same process as you. And there is a lot of mutual support and collaboration. It’s like a team that is going through the process individually, but that you can relate to and you can ask questions, and at the same time you’re living the same experience. I think that is something that is useful, in particularly when you are conducting this process that takes years and sometimes can be very individual, but having this connection, having this support with the PhD cohort, and to also having the support from the experience from those who are in third or fourth year, I think that’s something very, very useful and very important during the process of doing the PhD.
What advice would you give anyone considering studying a PhD at IDS?
I think that the most important thing is that you choose – whether you are doing a master’s degree or a PhD – a topic in which you have passion, because if it’s something that motivates you, it’s something that drives you, it’s something that you are deeply connected to, you’re going to enjoy the process and you’re going to enjoy those sacrifices and putting your writing down and engaging with the readings. I think that the most important thing is that you study a topic that actually makes you happy and fulfils your intellectual interests, or it fulfils some kind of training need so that you can then return to your practice and apply everything that you have learned.