Taru Spronken and Dorris de Vocht Taru Spronken and Dorris de Vocht foto: Sacha Ruland

Professor Taru Spronken and student Dorris de Vocht

Written by  Margot Krijnen Thursday, 13 January 2011 10:20

Over four years, the professor and the PhD candidate share an intense relationship. How does this relationship develop? A double portrait of Professor Taru Spronken and her former PhD candidate, Dorris de Vocht.

What characterises a good professor-student relationship?

Dorris: “There is no general answer to that. It depends on the individuals. In the case of Taru and me there was no hierarchy, but mutual respect from the very start. I could consult Taru about everything, even on personal matters. Taru and Ties Prakken never pressured me, that’s not their style. Probably they also felt that I already put enough pressure on myself for the three of us. But I have heard of supervisors who think differently about that."

Taru: “As a supervisor, you should support the candidate. I find it important to have an open relationship, so that he or she feels free to come and talk to me not only about the research content, but also about the process. A PhD is a long-term project that involves ups and downs. I am there to coach them during the process.”


Looking back...

Dorris: “My research subject was extensive because I dived into the Polish legal system, which was entirely new to me. I learned so much about it that I felt like sharing this in my dissertation. That’s due to inexperience. After all, I had just graduated and was not very experienced in distinguishing relevant information from that which can be discarded. In hindsight, perhaps I could have done things differently, like writing the dissertation in English. But I am happy with the result. What struck me the most is that on the day of the defence, I forgot all those years of intense work. I felt so happy that day. It was worth every minute of the last seven years.”

Taru: “Dorris did a great job. She was so conscientious that she learned Polish to read legal literature. Of course it was difficult for her to decide what should go into the dissertation and what should be left out. When I started my dissertation, I had already worked as a lawyer for ten years. Still, toward the end I decide to leave out an entire chapter. You do not have to write down everything you learned.


Were there difficult moments?

Taru: “In each PhD project there are times when you have to steer the candidates a bit more. In Dorris’s case, that happened near the end. She felt she was done with the dissertation and Ties Prakken and I didn’t agree. We wanted her to continue for a couple of months to refine her work. Dorris was very disappointed. But not for long. She took a short break from writing and then continued. There are often moments like these, but they do not have to affect the friendship.”

Dorris: “That was a difficult period for me. Writing a dissertation means sacrificing your personal life – especially in the final phase – but it’s for a good cause. But when you think you’re about to finish it and your supervisors say you have to spend more time on it, it can be frustrating. Looking back, I fully agree with them. It would have been a shame if I hadn’t worked longer to sharpen my analysis. I needed Taru to convince me of that.”


How important is the other for the research field?

Dorris: “Taru is the authority in the Netherlands on criminal defence. She is also an expert on the development of safeguards for the legal protection of suspects in criminal cases in the European Union. I am always impressed when I read that she was yet again involved in an academic event or book. Her knowledge, energy and enthusiasm are inexhaustible.”

Taru: “Dorris was a pioneer for research into the implementation of European regulations in the legal systems in the new member states. Now that European countries increasingly collaborate in the field of procedural criminal justice, it is important to know more about their systems. Dorris showed us that law in the books can be very different from law in practice. That helps us understand why certain European regulations are harder to implement in certain member states. An English summary of Dorris’ dissertation was published in the book Effective Criminal Defence Rights in Europe. This book resulted from research by a European working group on the legal systems in nine member states.”


What did you learn from each other?

Dorris: “Thanks to Taru, I’ve improved my writing skills. She always takes the time to critically read a text and edit it. I admire that. Taru is a true perfectionist.”

Taru: “I enjoyed Dorris’ thoroughness and learned never to doubt her. And I love Dorris’s optimism. Even when she lived alone in Poland, she responded to difficult situations with a great sense of humour. I admire that.”

Dorris laughs, “Taru, this interview is becoming too sweet. Shouldn’t we invent a fight or two?”

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