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Hao Liu: ‘Doing a PhD is a challenge but can also be a lot of fun’

Hao Liu moved from China to Leiden to do her PhD trajectory at the Institute for Philosophy. What is it like to do a PhD so far from home?

‘I completed my master’s in philosophy at Beijing Normal University. They invited Prof.dr. Frans de Haas from Leiden University to give a series of lectures, which I attended and found very interesting. I contacted him when I considered doing a PhD and he happily accepted to be my supervisor. It’s hard to find PhD positions with a fixed salary, but luckily I was granted a scholarship from the China Scholarship Council.’ 

The life of a PhD candidate 

‘Whether or not you should do a PhD depends on the person. Doing a PhD is different from doing a master’s: you don’t have campus classes and are more flexible with your time, for example. You also have your own (shared) office and your own desk. But as a PhD candidate, you mainly work on your own, which requires a lot of independence. How busy you are depends on your research project, and how you are dealing with it. Sometimes, even after work and in the nights, I read. Doing a PhD is a challenge, but it can also be a lot of fun. It's is like walking a road where there are no people: everyone kind of has their own topic and specialisation. But fortunately you can always talk to your supervisor or join reading groups if you’re stuck.’ 

Hao Liu’s advice for (prospective) PhD candidates 

‘It’s sad to see that many PhD students suffer from mental health problems. It happened to me in my second year, I had a lot of doubts like “Am I qualified enough?” and “Is my research meaningful?”. For me, it helped to do yoga. My friends experienced similar problems, and it helps if you talk with those around you. Sometimes I wonder if it’s an inevitable part of doing a PhD.’

Aristotle and Brentano 

‘In my PhD research I investigated the roots of intentionality in Aristotle's psychology and made a comparison between Aristotle and the German philosopher Brentano on the topic of intentionality. Intentionality is generally regarded as the power of minds and mental states to be about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs in contemporary philosophy of mind. 

The relevance of intentionality to the interpretation of Aristotle was first suggested by Brentano. His work ‘Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint' was the starting point of my research and I investigated how Brentano's concept of intentionality was rooted in Aristotle. Most importantly, what does it mean for our understanding of Aristotle's psychology if we approach his theory with the modern notion of intentionality in mind? Do the implications of intentionality in Aristotle reveal different aspects in Brentano’s proposal?’ 

The PhD Council 

‘I’m a member of the Institute for Philosophy’s PhD Council. If PhD candidates have concerns or requests, they can contact the PhD Council. We are sometimes able to help them, or discuss their issues with the Dean. We also organise activities like presentations where candidates talk about their research. And we try to hold parties, Christmas dinners, and bowling nights. 

I became friends with my PhD colleagues, as well as with the people living in the same accommodation from the University. Sometimes we host activities in our building which is always a lot of fun.’ 

Enjoying life in the Netherlands 

‘In my free time I like swimming, skiing and playing board games. I wanted to experience more in the Netherlands, so I went to local activities with my friends, like enjoying music festivals, visiting museums, having fun at the cherry blossom festival, the Amsterdam Light Festival, and so on. There’s so much to do! 

Now I’m finished, I will return to China. I look forward to going back, because my husband and family live there and I miss them. My husband visited me a couple of times and I sometimes went back for vacation, but it’s hard to be separated. 

My life in Leiden these years leave me with unforgettable memories. Leiden is a very beautiful and idyllic city. It feels like you live in harmony with nature. The most luxurious thing is that my office is facing the Hortus, so once you look outside it's a feast to your eyes. I don't think I will find a more beautiful workplace.’ 

Hao Liu defended her PhD thesis ‘The roots of intentionality in Aristotle's theory of psychology’ on 6 May 2020. 

In the Humans of Humanities series, we will do a portrait of one of our researchers, staff members of students, every other week. What are they, and what do they do? You can find more portraits and information on this page.

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