How my Masters degree inspired me to undertake a PhD

Image of Claire Yau
Claire Yau
PhD graduate
School of Law
After completing both her undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes here in the School of Law, Claire was keen continue her PhD research with academics who she had built a good rapport with.

Study period: 1/10/16 - 03/03/21

PhD Supervisors: 

Title of PhD:

OCTAs, Cyberterrorism and International Law: Exploring the Legal Landscape of Operational Cyber Terrorist Activities

What is the topic of your PhD?

My PhD examines the extent to which international law can prevent and suppress operational cyber terrorist activities (OCTAs), that is, the exploitation of cyberspace by terrorist groups for the purposes of recruitment, financing and propaganda. The recruitment of individuals, the funding of malicious activities and the dissemination of terrorist materials are essential activities which enable terrorist groups to further their political and ideological goals. OCTAs support the commission of violent terrorist acts and therefore, jeopardise the maintenance of international peace and security, which is widely recognised as the overriding objective of the international community. In light of this, my PhD examines regional treaties and UN resolutions to determine whether they afford states effective protection against OCTAs. It also examines the degree of protection afforded by the customary international law obligation upon states to prevent their territory from being used to cause harm to the legal rights of other states.

What motivated you to pursue a PhD?

I really enjoyed studying my masters in International Law, and I grew a particular interest around terrorism and the rules of international law that apply to these groups. At the time, ISIS was at the height of its reign, openly exploiting cyberspace and cyber technology to achieve its violent goals, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to research the two concepts together. I knew I wanted to continue researching and so a PhD seemed like the natural path to take.

What did you value the most about your experience as a PhD student?

I really valued the PhD community that was there when I was doing my research. We all went through the same positives and negatives and being there for each other really made a huge difference to my experience as a PhD student. I made some friends that I'll have for life and I don't think my PhD experience would have been the same without them.

What challenges did you encounter during the PhD and how did you overcome them?

There's no doubt that doing a PhD is really difficult at times. You can have a breakthrough one day, and then feel like you have absolutely no idea what your research is actually trying to achieve the next day. Most people experience imposter syndrome and generally, it can be quite lonely because you're researching something that arguably no one else is doing and so no one can really talk about it with you in depth. This is why having a support network is so important. Having colleagues, friends, and family that can listen (even if they don't understand) and allow you to bounce thoughts or just vent is really useful. I definitely leant on my PhD colleagues to get me through the tough times and the best part is you're all in it together so the struggle is far more relatable.

Where did life take you after your PhD?

I am now working as a senior policy advisor for the Civil Service. I haven't ruled out returning to academia at some point in my life but I'm very much enjoying working right now.

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