On the 4th December 1994, an electronic discussion group (mailing list) called HOTDOCS saw the light of day. Created by the Collective of Doctoral Students of Toulouse, this list aimed to provide information about problems associated with their training and future career prospects. In the weeks which followed, many exchanges took place, new Internet services appeared, and links were established with other associations of doctoral students, some of which no longer exist, such as Etudiants et Recherche. Other topics were discussed: the third (advanced and doctoral) cycle of studies; research and related themes. The listing also put out adverts for post-doctoral positions, details of forthcoming vivas and was a forum for in-depth debate concerning doctoral studies, research, research experiences abroad, etc...
Then in February 1995, the Guilde des Doctorants was born. This is an informal network of doctoral students and young researchers in France. They constitute a technical work-group, developing the information services and discussion infra-structure so as to enable the young research community gathered on HOTDOCS to discuss and gather information about doctoral training and research.
At the end of February 1995, the general feeling is that something more is needed: other than establishing contact and gleaning information, concerted actions seem to be a vital step forward. This might mean information pools, or analysis of and reaction to official reports concerning the sector, such as the Laurent report, which had come out on the 15th of February 1995. At the same time, a team from the Marne-la-Vallée campus was putting together a system by the Internet, in order to put questions directly to Daniel Laurent, the author of the report. Similarly, some members of the Guilde contact the media in order to set the record straight: it was not only the Instituts Universitaires de Technologie which were in difficulty - problems in the Higher Education sector were far more wide-spread than believed.
It was obvious that there was an urgent need for working parties to put forward some concerted proposals in response to all the problems encountered by the post-grads and researchers who had contacted the electronic discussion groups. The aim would be to create an authoritative document which would give the low-down on doctoral training and all its potential difficulties. This would then be widely circulated, either via HotDocs via the JVT - Virtual Review of Doctoral Students. After this consultation, the agreed report would then be used for lobbying politicians and the media as well as those in the academic world: researchers and lecturers; main research funding bodies; doctoral cycle students.
On the 21st April 1995, after six weeks of intensive work for which doctoral students and young researchers from all disciplines and institutions across France had been mobilised, the HOTDOCS report came off the presses. Several hundred copies were sent out: to Government Ministries, to research agencies, to university Vice-Chancellors, to national and international student organisations, research societies, research training supervisors, the press, trades unions, etc. Freely available on Internet, the report was consulted by several hundred people in the first few days of its existence.
Since April 1995, the HotDocs report has been sent by surface mail to 350 people, and downloaded from the network by a further 2000. It has been used in the preparation of documentation for the General Meeting on Universities convened by the Minister of Education in 1996 and 1997. Several press articles focus on the report and its elaboration: La Lettre de l'Etudiant, 5 June 1995; Le Nouvel Observateur, 15 and 29 June 1995; Le Monde, 4th July 1995; Courrier Cadre, February 1996; La Recherche, April 996 to mention but a few. Last September, Nature mentioned the HOTDOCS activity in an article devoted to PhD training problems.
The work of HotDocs continued in two main areas:
Firstly, the group worked to encourage the creation of an organization to represent doctoral and post-doctoral researchers on temporary contracts with research labs or groups, which should take the form of a confederation of associations. This structure was created on the 2nd March 1996, and is called the Conféderation des Etudiants-Chercheurs (CEC).
Secondly, the group wanted to create a forum in which the discussions which had lead to the report and had been generated by the report could continue, by means of further working parties looking at all aspects of doctoral training. The aim would be to review the contents of their initial report in order to bring it up to date as often as possible. In the same spirit as the CEC, the accent was placed on inciting local associations of doctoral students and researchers on temporary contracts to take part and to share their experiences via the network.
So the overall objective is to allow the various associations of doctoral students as well as individuals to share personal and local experiences if research, and to access general information in order to make informed choices and actions concerning the different aspects of doctoral training. The Internet would take a special place in this activity. This became the guiding spirit of the Guilde for its continued activity.
The Guilde allows all doctoral students in France to have access via a certain number of servers, which are grouped together in a World Wide Web server, the Guilde server, which is split over several sites. The Guilde undertakes to be active in the field of doctoral training, Higher Education and research, and to retain an independent stance. The services provided include:
The reservoir-docs mailing list is moderated, with only messages of a collective interest to the question of doctoral training being accepted. It is supposed to provide information for working groups concerned with a variety of themes: the PhD contract; technological research diplomas; the situation of post-doc researchers; contributions of various categories of staff used for teaching undergraduate classes, etc.
All these services are offered free of charge and are maintained by volunteer doctoral students and young researchers.
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