“A PhD turned out to be a logical follow-on”
When Sun Yuan was awarded her Master’s in Dutch Studies in 2010, she was keen on finding work that was directly related to Dutch language and culture. After scouting out the job market in China, her country of origin, and talking to her thesis adviser, Sun Yuan’s best option proved to be a PhD.
“To find a job, I first focused on the Chinese market, especially since a lot of my relatives and friends live and work there. But there wasn’t much I could do with my degree in China. I could work for a Dutch company there, but the work itself wouldn’t have anything to do with the literature and culture of the Netherlands. It seemed like such a waste not to use the subject that I had studied for and that I enjoyed. I didn’t know what to do next, so I got in touch with my thesis supervisor Professor Olf Praamstra, hoping he could give me some help getting started. He advised me to do a PhD which he would supervise.
My research is about the history of Chinese translations of Dutch-language literature. It’s more or less a continuation of my master’s, for which I wrote a thesis on ‘literary translation’. Professor Praamstra helped me with the necessary paperwork so that I was able to submit a research proposal. I was delighted when I got the go-ahead. For my research, I have to write a dissertation within four years, which means I have to complete it in 2015 at the latest. Usually I start at nine o’clock with reading, taking notes and, of course, writing. I also regularly go to the University Library and the East Asian Library to research different sources.
Some afternoons I might be working on a translation, which is a nice change. It’s something I have been doing since 2010. I sent in a sample translation to the Dutch Foundation for Literature, which they approved, so now my name is on their list of translators. Chinese publishers can contact me through that list. I get a lot of requests for literary translations. So far, I have already translated over ninety Dutch-language works (children’s and young people’s literature, such as Pinkeltje, as well as non-fiction) from Dutch into Chinese. The books are then published in China.
"What I do now is closely related to the specific knowledge I acquired during my degree programme; the general academic skills I learned are also important. I chose Dutch literature for both my bachelor’s and my master’s, and took a lot of courses on Dutch literature and culture. I also took a course in ‘translation studies’, which gave me an understanding of the different methods of translating. This knowledge is indispensable for my current work. During my degree programme, I also learned more about how to write essays, reports and a thesis, and about how to read critically and think about a text. Workshops on literary translation given by the Dutch Foundation for Literature, the Expertise Centre for Literary Translation and the Flemish Literature Fund also gave me invaluable training. Also, as a columnist I wrote articles about literary translation for the Expertise Centre for Literary Translation web page. All of this meant I was able to keep on developing my skills, and gave me the right sort of preparation for getting my PhD.”
“It’s fine to try different things now and then, but it’s important to try to develop what you really enjoy. If you’re motivated, you really want to do your best. That’s often more important than you might think. It’s by making that extra effort that you stand out; it gives you a head start. It also means you develop contacts that can be useful later on. And just have some self-confidence. There will always be difficult periods, but those eventually pass.”
I would like to endorse Sun Yuan’s valuable tips. Be sure you do a lot of different things, and don’t give up too easily. If you are interested in doing a PhD, then talk it over with your lecturers, or maybe your thesis adviser. Your lecturer is the person who knows you and your work best, as well as what options are available. If necessary, he or she can guide you through the process of writing a research proposal. For a PhD you need to be good at writing papers/theses and you have to achieve high marks. Good planning and organisation skills are also essential to complete your research within the time allotted.
Sources on PhD programmes in English