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Getting your master's thesis published in a prestigious journal: alumni Matthieu did that

After completing one bachelor’s and two master’s programmes at Leiden University, alumnus in Philosophical Perspectives on Politics and the Economy Matthieu Agustoni finished his student life with a bang: he got his master's thesis published in a prestigious journal.

Matthieu Agustoni
Matthieu Agustoni

Matthieu began his stint at Leiden University by coincidence. He had visited a few universities in his home country of Switzerland, but nothing stood out to him.  After an employee of a Swiss university recommended Leiden University to him, Matthieu was soon at the Open Day. His plan was to study International Relations, but he soon changed his mind. 'During an empty moment in my schedule, there was a presentation on global and comparative philosophy going on, so I went to take a look,' Matthieu says. ‘After an hour, I went out of the room with a big smile on my face. I knew what I wanted to study.’

After finishing his bachelor's degree, he started his master's in Philosophical Perspectives on Politics and the Economy. Matthieu says that his positive experiences with the philosophy department led him to this choice. ‘It's a small department where you know your teachers. You are not seen as a number but as a person. You can even talk about the topic of the paper you are working on with the teachers. The contact feels much more sincere.’  Since he was also very interested in politics, Matthieu decided to do a master's degree in political science in addition.

Anarchism and Chinese philosophy

This combined interest in philosophy and political science also comes back in his master's thesis. ‘I am particularly interested in political legitimacy and theories of authority. How come a state has the right to rule over its citizens? People who say states don't have this right are called anarchists,’ Matthieu begins to explain.  In that context, his interest in Daoism, a school of thought in ancient Chinese philosophy, also grew. ‘It’s an ongoing debate whether Daoism can be labeled as anarchism, because it isn't clear whether this ancient philosophy claims that rulers can never have the right to rule over their citizens or if they can under certain circumstances.’  

Matthieu realised during his research that most of the answers to that question were polarised. Most scholars either said it's the most anarchistic theory out there or it's impossible to reconcile both. ‘I think those articles failed to really understand what anarchism is. For example, the people who said it's completely irreconcilable think that anarchism necessarily implies the rejection of the existence of the state. For them, an anarchist must always say states are bad. Since Daoism doesn't say that, they conclude it can't be anarchism. I disagree with this way of categorising.’ Matthieu argues in his thesis that the world is not that black and white. According to him, ancient Daoism, even if it does not imply the abolition of states, can be argued to defend a unique kind of anarchism that differs from most Western theories.

Getting it published

While completing his master's thesis, Matthieu approached his supervisor, Douglas Berger, to discuss the possibility of having the thesis published. ‘He knew I was motivated to get it published,’ Matthieu explains. He managed to cut back the word count by about ten thousand words and sent the first version to his preferred academic journal. To Matthieu's surprise, the journal said they were interested.

The final version of the paper has now been published. Matthieu is proud of his accomplishment but he's not sure if he wants to pursue a career in academia. ‘The dedication and motivation you need to write a PhD dissertation is ten times what I needed to write my article. My aim for now will be to broaden my horizons with placements at different institutions.’ During and shortly after his studies, he already had the opportunity to intern at the International Criminal Court in The Hague and at the Swiss embassy in Canada. With these experiences on his CV, Matthieu hopes to get the chance to work with the United Nations, or with human rights monitoring and peace-building NGOs that are active directly in the field. ‘I hope this will help me choose the field in which I'd like to pursue my career in the long term.’

Work-life balance is key

For current students, Matthieu has one crucial piece of advice: having a healthy work-life balance is key. ‘It is extremely important to me to have time for hobbies and hanging out with friends. If the only thing that keeps you going is work, even if you are super passionate about it, then it's bound to be unsustainable at some point,’ he says. ‘But there's also the other side of the coin: you must also have to put in the work. That means spending hours at the library and doing tedious work. This balance is not only important at university but also for the rest of your life, so it’s a skill you really do need to master.’

Matthieu’s academic article can be found on the website of Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy (https://doi.org/10.1007/s11712-022-09868-2) Full-text access to a view-only version of the article for personal and non-commercial use can also be accessed here: https://rdcu.be/c2M5a.

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