Monday, August 26, 2019

Erasmus Mundus Double Degrees and Joint Degrees

A superset of requirements from 2 universities!
So I recently defended my Erasmus Mundus double Ph.D. degree successfully. I defended on the 1st of July for my 1st university in Portugal, and then again on the 23rd of August for my 2nd university in Belgium. There are several questions on how all these work from the public. While there is no consensus on what is the difference between the double and joint degrees, I will explain here my interpretation. Even the professors of the Erasmus Mundus consortiums have conflicting opinions. Therefore, if you have objections to my interpretation, I am fine with that. There are blurred boundaries on what constitutes a joint degree or a double degree. As an Erasmus Mundus Association Program representative for 2 programs (EMDC and EMJDC-DC) in the past, I believe I have adequate understanding to write this post.

My program EMJD-DC is supposed to be a joint degree, but in practice, it is a double degree. Let's come to the meat of the discussion. A double degree involves two universities. The student must satisfy the superset of the requirements from both universities. Plus, he/she should also satisfy some certain additional requirements from the Erasmus Mundus consortium. In EMJD-DC, the students choose 2 universities out of the 4 universities based in 4 European countries (Portugal, Belgium, Sweden, and Spain). I choose IST-ULisboa, Portugal, and UCLouvain, Belgium as my 2 universities.

A joint doctorate degree typically chooses certain sets of requirements from both universities, and the student receives a single joint diploma signed by both universities. This creates an overhead on the university administrators, on figuring out the requirements and complexities of devising such a joint degree. There is no way a student can leave with a degree from a single university in a joint degree. It is an AND clause.

On the other hand, a double degree requires the student to complete a superset of requirements from both universities. This doesn't mean double workload or a sum of the workload from each university. But usually leads to a significantly larger workload compared to the workload of either of the universities. For example, my first university IST requires coursework of 30 ECTS. UCLouvain does not require coursework. It is optional. But it requires a much larger amount of credits that must be satisfied through conference visits, coursework, or research visits. IST requires submission of a CAT document, almost like a thesis, in half-way through the PhD. There are credit transfers. But some of these additional requirements do not translate well. Therefore, leading to additional work from both universities. The research is still the same single research though.

Although the universities have international students offices that handle these mobility programs, typically it is the student's responsibility to make sure that the credits are transferred across the participating universities. Furthermore, the students will also need to make sure she/he has 2 supervisors, one each from the universities. The student must manage the supervisors pretty well, and coordinate with them effectively.

A double degree leads to 2 degree certificates/diplomas. That means, if you fail one university, you can still pass the other one. It is an OR clause here. This is like 2 lifes. If you lose your first life, you still have the second. I have successfully passed the defense of both universities. I know at least one student who failed one university - but continued with the second university. It won't be a double degree anymore. Just a single degree from the university that the student passed.

My double degree certificates stand on their own. I can easily claim I have Ph.D. from 2 universities, without mentioning that this is a double degree of the same research since the degree certificates do not mention that.

Another benefit of EU double degrees are, the interesting set of colleagues that will be in your double degree. Those who choose such programs already has a desire for traveling and a preference for uncertainties. I also traveled to several EU countries, thanks to my MSc and PhD double degrees. I hope this post clarifies some questions on Erasmus Mundus double degrees. Please let me know in comments if  you have additional questions.

My UCLouvain Ph.D. Defense - Software-Defined Systems for Network-Aware Service Composition and Workflow Placement

Copies of my Thesis book
I successfully defended my Ph.D. thesis AGAIN, but this time at UCLouvain - Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium (the 2nd university of my double degree) on the 23rd of August 2019. I passed successfully. My presentation slides are given below. You may find the abstract here.
Finally, my double degree is completed with this second defense! It was fun to defend the same Ph.D. research twice.

Friday, August 23, 2019

My EMJD-DC Erasmus Mundus Journey

View from my apartment in Rijeka, Croatia
My Ph.D. started 19 days before my MSc. defense. :) I got the happy news that I had received the Category "A" EMJD-DC Erasmus Mundus Scholarship, while I was attending the EMDC Winter Event in Evora. I started with IST, ULisboa, Portugal, as my first university. I continued with my MSc supervisor as my Ph.D. advisor also, as he is really a great supervisor and mentor.

Following my MSc defense, my Ph.D. started smoothly. I finished all my course requirements for the first year. I also went to the University of Rijeka, Croatia, for a short-term scientific mission (STSM). It was fun, spending the summer in Rijeka. I also had the chance to visit nearby countries (Italy, Slovenia, and Serbia) by bus, for a very low price. On the other hand, my stay in Croatia was also very productive. My research work there became a core of my thesis.

Night walk from KAUST
I did 2 Google Summer of Code (GSoC) from Portugal. Once during my MSc (2014) and the other during my Ph.D. (2015). I also did an OpenDaylight internship. Then I moved to Atlanta for 7 months for an extended internship at Emory University, as a continuation of my GSoCs. When I returned from Atlanta to Lisbon, I had to apply for the Belgium visa quick since I was already in my third year and I must move to my second university (UCLouvain) in Belgium. After a short period of 4 months in Lisboa, we moved to Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium in February 2017. Later in 2017, I also spent 2 months in KAUST, Saudi Arabia, the 5th university of my Ph.D. Finally, I returned to Portugal for my 4th-year 2nd semester, December 2017. In the next 6 months, I made sure to satisfy all the thesis requirements of IST and UCLouvain, including the UCLouvain Thesis Confirmation and IST CAT. I also finished the thesis draft and moved to Emory University again before the defense. 

Évora, Portugal
I should have finished my Ph.D. before leaving Portugal last year. However, it dragged a bit longer than what I anticipated due to administrative tasks and journal acceptances that were arriving at the last minute. Consequently, in early 2019 I submitted the CRC of the last journal of my Ph.D. and also submitted the final-final version of my thesis to both universities to print.

I came back to Portugal to defend my thesis. My defense went very well, and I passed with a distinction! With the successful defense of my PhD in IST, I was already a Ph.D. (Dr. Pradeeban Kathiravelu ;) ). But as far as UCLouvain is concerned, I still had to do my public defense in Belgium. That intermittent period of almost 2 months (July - August 2019): it was complex to explain people where I stand in my Ph.D. - as both a Ph.D. student (as far as UCLouvain/Belgium is concerned) as well as a Postdoc (elsewhere). Especially an interesting conversation to those outside the EU who were not familiar with double degree programs such as Erasmus Mundus.

Brussels: Fiesta Latina with friends
Yes, EMJD-DC is a double degree. I had to defend my thesis in Portugal and Belgium.

This year, I visited Belgium twice, for my Ph.D. defenses. For my IST/ULisboa defense, I visited Belgium first before flying to Portugal (June - July). Then, of course, I visited Belgium for my UCLouvain defense (August). My time in Belgium was like time-traveling to 2017 - meeting the familiar faces after quite some time and visiting the same places all over again. My 2nd defense (i.e., the UCLouvain public defense) was on the 23rd of August 2019, exactly 7 years since my arrival to Lisbon on the 23rd of August 2012 for my MSc. A pleasant coincidence.

Since I already had the Ph.D. degree from IST, I was more relaxed during this second one. I also had ordered to print the thesis book, as per UCLouvain requirements, prior to my arrival in Belgium. I had to go and collect the printed books from the printing shop, in an extreme corner of the Louvain-la-Neuve village. A neighborhood that I had never visited before. In fact, I wasn't even aware of the existence of those neighborhoods. My UCLouvain public defense also marked the end of my life as an Erasmus Mundus student. An interesting coincidence was, I first arrived in Portugal on August 23rd, 2012 as an EMDC Erasmus Mundus masters student. I defended my thesis at UCLouvain on the very same day, after 7 years. Is the universe sending me signals already? :D
Lullwater Park, Atlanta, GA, USA

There are a few things I could have done better. For instance, looking back, I feel I should have defended the thesis before moving out of the EU. It was just defense pending, and moving away from the EU made the process much longer. Similarly, I also think I should have started writing the thesis early on, making sure the LaTex variables across my various papers do not have naming conflicts. That would have helped me when I consolidated the content from my various papers to the thesis document. But I am still happy with how everything went. During my two trips to the EU for my defenses, I also had to practice my presentation. I still managed to explore the cities a bit. It was a happy moment. But that also made me miss the EU, as my student life attached to the EU came to an end with my Ph.D. defense. Somewhat bittersweet indeed.

A random trip to Bratislava

The Beautiful Bratislava
Bratislava is a beautiful small city. I randomly made a Ryan Air flight from Charleroi to Bratislava since it was a cheap flight, during my public defense trip to Belgium. I stayed at the CHORS, a capsule hostel/hotel. But I stayed in a private room with a private bathroom since I had to practice my UCL public defense presentation slides. The hotel itself was right in the city center, making my walks and bus rides more efficient.

Memories of Belgium

Our beautiful apartment
I spent most of my 2017 in Belgium, specifically a university town named Louvain-la-Neuve in Wallonia, the French region of Belgium. We had a 2-floor 2-room apartment all for ourselves, for just 750 Euro with water bill included. Until this date, that is the best apartment I have lived. Thanks to UCLouvain for the accommodation. Initially, I was worried that living in Belgium with the same amount of money I received in Portugal would be challenging. But it turned out quite ok. We, of course, were a bit more careful with money while in Louvain-la-Neuve. We witnessed snowfall in Louvain-la-Nueve in early March. Feeding the ducks and geese across the lake was also quite fun.

Thanks to the central location of Belgium and its competitive coverage by different airlines, flights from Brussels were quite cheap, throughout Europe. During the long weekends, we flew to different cities and countries. This made 2017 to be the year with most countries visited ever for me, so far. We left very early in the morning to catch the train to the nearby countries (Luxembourg and the Netherlands) or to the Brussels airport (Romania and Hungary). A long walk with a suitcase to enjoy yet another country or a city (Ghent, Bruges, and Ostende). I also attended my one and only Erasmus Mundus Association General Assembly (EMA GA), while I have been an EMA program representative for EMDC and EMJD-DC a few times.

View from our apartment
My apartment was quite far from the lab. Nearly a 30 minutes walk. But it was fun. Also, the roads were entirely for pedestrians as the vehicles always go underground. We had a shopping mall called L'Esplanade with a Delhaize supermarket. We always visited there to buy our groceries. Vegetables and fruits were very expensive there. But it was convenient. Once we went to ALDI but figured that it is quite too far for walking. We still loved walking around the lake in the summer. It was pleasant. Belgium chocolates, Belgium beers, and Belgium desserts - all were the best! We often bought fresh sashimi and sushi from the Delhaize.

My new suitcase in my lab
When we left Belgium to return to Portugal in 2017 August, I did not realize that I would return soon. But I had to, as my funding for the last 4 months of 2017 was from Belgium. I had back-and-forth 2 return trips from Belgium to Portugal. Eventually, I moved to Saudi Arabia for 2 months from Belgium. The Saudi visa did not take much time. During these days of back-and-forth travels between Portuguese airports (Lisboa and Faro) and Belgium airports (BRU and CRL), I stayed overnights in the 2 airports of Belgium, in my lab, in friends' homes, and also slept on a cat bed for 2 nights in an Airbnb-gone-wrong! Then I came back to Belgium and returned to Portugal in 4 days in December.

I also had 2 remarkable return trips to Belgium from Atlanta in 2019. First, was to fly to Portugal via Belgium, for my first defense in Portugal. I stayed in Leuven first, to meet my supervisor in Louvain-la-Neuve. Then, stayed in Antwerp before returning to Atlanta. I loved my stay in Antwerp. It was very pleasant. Then, I came back from Atlanta to defend my thesis once more (for the second and the last time!) at UCLouvain. This time, I stayed in Charleroi and Leuven. On the 23rd of August, after 7 years since my arrival to Lisboa, I completed my Ph.D. with my final Ph.D. defense. It was a remarkable journey of 7 years. Thanks Portugal and EU.

While I did not spend as much as time in Belgium, compared to I did in Portugal, Belgium still left me with very positive memories. I leave with positive memories of EU. I loved every bit of my stay in Europe. And goodbye, Belgium too.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

My UCLouvain Public Defense and my 7 years in EU

With the 2nd defense of my Ph.D. double degree around the corner, my 2nd university has announced it in the UCLouvain website. You are welcome to join me in Louvain-la-Neuve on the 23rd of August.

I arrived in Belgium in the same week as my defense and stayed in Charleroi for the first night of my travel. My double degree is finally coming to an end soon. Interestingly, I arrived in Lisbon, Portugal, for my MSc (EMDC double degree) on the 23rd of August, 2012. The final defense of my EMJD-DC Ph.D. double degree from UCLouvain Belgium is set for the 23rd of August, 2019. My European life comes to an end after precisely 7 years.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Unplanned Destinations - Antwerp Edition

A beautiful mall in Antwerp
After completing my Ph.D. defense successfully in Lisboa, I returned to Brussels. I decided to stay overnight at the airport since my flight arrived late in the night and I felt it is meaningless attempting to catch the last train and reaching the hotel on a late night. I hadn't even booked a hotel for the next day. I was yet to decide on a city.

It was an overnight stay at the airport after 2 years. I was sitting on the airport floor since there was no power socket close to the seats. After some serious searches, I ended up choosing Antwerp. I booked a nice hotel, had a small breakfast and coffee in an airport cafe, and then got into the train to Antwerp. I reached Antwerpen Centraal by 7:15 a.m. Luckily, the Leonardo Hotel Antwerpen was so considerate, and they let me check-in by 7:30 a.m, although I was initially planning to drop my suitcase and go for a walk later for checking in. I spent 2 nights in Antwerp. The hotel was close to China Town. I ended up frequenting restaurants in China town during my stay, except when I went on random trips using the Antwerp metro.

Antwerp is a lovely city and I do not regret my decision to visit it. Sometimes, random places surprise you in a pleasant way more than a well-planned destination. It was the end of my first Ph.D. defense trip. Until next time, Belgium.