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Student story

Sophie Watkins Goossens

20 July 2023

"Ultimately, solving the housing crisis is helping people lead fulfilling lives..."


Studying towards a PhD in Law

Land Law Tutor, Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury

Administrator, Australasian Law Academics Association Aotearoa (ALAA-ANZ)

What is your PhD research about?

The aims of my research are to examine cooperative housing models in New Zealand and overseas, and to identify potential barriers or impediments in New Zealand’s current legal framework. Thereafter, I select any relevant cooperative housing models that could fit the New Zealand context and deliver both affordable and secure housing.

What was your inspiration in choosing your thesis?

Housing is an engaging topic, as it is a basic human need. The housing crisis is affecting many people, and has implications on other major areas of life, such as health, education, and employment. That is why I feel compelled to suggest adequate solutions to deliver affordable and housing. Ultimately, solving the housing crisis is helping people lead fulfilling lives!

What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing PhD studies?

Start by finding a topic you’re passionate about, the rest will follow!

What first motivated you to study Law?

I started studying Law at undergraduate level “by accident”. I wanted to experience living in Germany directly after high school and one way to do that was to enrol in a Law study exchange programme. Thanks to this programme, I obtained not only a qualification, but also experienced a totally different environment and culture. It helped me gain lots of maturity in my early 20s.

After my Master’s, I started to think about doing a PhD. However, I found my topic first almost a decade later! I saw an interesting documentary in 2018 on Swiss television about housing cooperatives. I became instantly thrilled and soon after started the PhD application process.

Why did you choose to study at UC?

I was already in Christchurch when I applied, so I already knew the city quite well. I liked the campus facilities as well as the diversity of students and academic staff. I was thrilled when several potential supervisors showed their interest in my topic!

What have you enjoyed about studying at UC?

I enjoy having my own study space, the morning teas and lunches with other PG students, and the regular meetings with my supervisors. I am also impressed by the library resources.

I also used the Academic Skills Centre services, especially at the beginning of my PhD journey. They offer a wide range of courses, from how to manage your time, to how to access resources, etc. I have also benefited from individual support. I can definitely recommend them to any student who needs some general advice or personalised feedback on their thesis.

Have you been awarded any scholarships through UC?

I was awarded a Canterbury Law Review scholarship last year.

Did you stay in any accommodation on campus?

Yes, I stayed at Ilam Apartments at the beginning of my PhD. It was very practical, but, as a mature student, I prefer to have my own place. For young postgraduate and undergraduate students, it’s a fantastic way of socialising and making the most out of student life!

Tell us about any UC clubs or events you took part in.

I used to run with Run Canterbury during my first year of PhD. It’s an awesome group! Otherwise, I have attended different events, such as morning teas and movie nights with UCPGSA, sustainability workshops organised by UC Sustainability office, tasted wine with UC Wine Club, or even watched a musical presented by MUSOC.

And what’s involved with your job roles?

As a tutor/assessor in Land Law, I assist academic staff during workshops. This entails discussing Land law cases and concepts with students. I also mark assignments and exams.

I started working as an administrator for the Australasian Legal Academics Association (Aotearoa NZ Branch) in May 2020. I perform various administrative tasks, such as keeping an updated mailing list of the members, assisting with events, publishing useful information on the website, and liaising with law faculties.

How has your study prepared you for what you are doing now?

Legal methodology is a transferrable skill that prepares students for any type of legal career. It teaches a certain rigour and flexibility that can be applied to any legal field. In a globalised world, comparative law is also very useful to adapt to other legal systems.

As part of my PhD, I have been conducting semi-structured interviews with various housing stakeholders. Through the interviews, I gain practical insights on which issues housing cooperatives are facing and keep myself updated with what is happening in the housing sector in general.

And thanks to my position as administrator for ALAA-ANZ, I have gained new skills eg, managing a rebrand and creating a new website. I have also had the opportunity to meet legal academics from all over New Zealand.

Working as a tutor/assessor in Land Law also provides me with a first-hand experience of academia. I understand that academic staff have to put a lot of effort into creating relevant and interesting content for the students. As a PhD candidate, I feel that I can relate to both the students and lecturers.

Do you have any career goals?

I would like to work in policymaking for the public sector, such as a council of a ministry. Joining an advocacy group is also high on my list, and I haven’t ruled out academia either. In other words, I am quite flexible! I value workplaces that are inclusive and make a positive impact on communities in general.

What are your interests outside of your job and study?

Even though I started surfing a while ago, I am still at beginner’s level, definitely not a natural!

I enjoy running, hiking, skiing, and kayaking. Canterbury offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor sports!

Christchurch City Council also arranges awesome cultural activities and festivals throughout the year. And for these chilly winter nights, you can visit one of the fantastic venues, such as the Piano and Isaac Royal Theatre.

Last but not least, I often attend events at the French centre (Alliance Française) on Cashel Street. My favourite one is the monthly French breakfast with delicious croissants and baguettes. What’s not to like?

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