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Around the Caspian: a Doctoral Training for Future Experts in Development and Cooperation with Focus on the Caspian Region

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - CASPIAN (Around the Caspian: a Doctoral Training for Future Experts in Development and Cooperation with Focus on the Caspian Region)

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2018-12-31

The vast area around the Caspian Sea extends from Russia to Iran and from Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan, with a population of 190 million people and an area of 7 million square kilometres. The area borders some of the most important world powers and has the utmost strategic significance, in the light of its energy resources and its geo-political location. Most of the region had remained closed to EU states until the end of the Soviet period, and EU relations with Iran remain problematic in many way. Therefore EU relations with and knowledge of the region is far less developed than would be typical for a region of such strategic importance and the EU has an insufficient number of regional specialists who can provide clear analysis to EU institutions, governments, potential investors, development workers and decision makers.

The main goal of this project, therefore, was to train the next generation of experts on the Caspian region in order to establish, and make sustainable, a network of excellence. 15 new researchers, has experience of a world-class PhD programme, jointly delivered by Dublin City University, Ireland St Andrews University Scotland, Coimbra University, Portugal,Ghent University Belgium, Research Centre for East European Studies (Forschungsstelle Osteuropa) at the University of Bremen, Oxford Brookes University UK, Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia. All of the researchers have spent time in the region - many of them extensive periods of field research where they developed linguistic skills and cultural knowledge. All of the researchers spent time on secondment to a non-academic organisation, (SIAR Consult Kyrgyzstan, CSS Georgia, TOL Prague Republic, Kimmage Development Studies Centre, EcoMangystau", Aktau or Eurasia Foundation of Central Asia (EFCA) Dushanbe - where they improved their skills in writing for policy audiences, in communication to diverse audiences and in how to effective engage with donors and policy communities. The researchers also spent time in a leading university outside the EU and the region - in Harvard, USA; JNU, India; Marmara Turkey or HSE, Russia. The network of universities will continue to work together as a network of excellence on the region.
15 Early Stage Researchers were recruited and registered for a PhD in one of the European universities involved in the network. They received world-leading training on the region, on research design and methodologies and on appropriate dissemination of knowledge to different sectors - in leading academic journals, in policy-papers aimed at the EU, governments and civil society and in popular but rigorous articles aimed at a wider public audience. The recruited researchers are integrated into a network of experienced researchers from seven leading European universities, seven non-academic partners with diverse experiences in training, dissemination, policy-work, consultancy, opinion polling and finally six world leading universities from outside the region - bringing perspectives from the US, India, Turkey and the Russian Federation.

The researchers began their training in their host university, with a focus on research design, methodology, ethics, and language classes. Each researcher had access to the expertise and advice of all of the experienced supervisors within the network. The network held nine centrally organised events over four years - one planning conference, six training events and two dissemination conferences.

The network has produced a body of research for different audiences - all of which is available via the website This includes
15 PhD dissertations
73 academic publications
23 policy papers - aimed at bring the research in an accessible manner to those involved in policy making and advocacy on the region
75 blog articles, presenting short articles on current events, or providing short accessible articles on the key findings of longer research papers
This project has moved beyond the state of the art in a number of ways

In terms of process. The CASPIAN ETN, went beyond the state of the art for high quality European PhD programmes, in its focus on inter-sector, international and inter-disciplinary training, which is a model that can be mainstreamed in every PhD programme. We believe we are assisting in building a wider awareness of this in social sciences in the European Research Area. The inter-national mobility, the thematic summer schools - and the insights from multiple universities, multiple disciplines and from non-academic experts were very positive features. The participating students had a peer-cohort of 14 other scholars all focused on the Caspian - this was unlikely to be replicated in any single-university programmes and they also had access to a wide range of international expertise to complement the supervision on their home university.

The PhD programme was also beyond the state of the art in the fact that every student had a mentor, who worked in a relevant non-university setting, they had input at training events from people who work in consulting, in government, in civil society and in think tanks. They had writing workshops in writing for multiple audiences and all 15 had a period of work experience in a non-university setting during their PhD. The graduates are therefore far better prepared that is typical for multiple career pathways.

In the substance of outputs, in addition to the completion of the PhDs for examination the network produced 63 academic publications, during its first four years of existence. These are available via the website

This is evidence of a very significant level of scientific output. In the experience of the consortium, this is a far higher level of academic output that would be typical for 15 social science PhDs in a single-university PhD programme in Europe. Achieving this output, while simultaneously, bringing the PhDs themselves to completion within the typical 3.5 to 4.5 years, is a very positive feature, not only in the research activity itself, but also for its impact on the wider research eco-system in modernising European PhD programmes.

The range of issues addressed in this research includes energy security, geo-politics, international development activity from both a donor perspective and from the perspective of governments and civil society in the region, democratisation, the role of women in parliament, business-donor relations, inequality and health care, IDPs and refugees and foreign policy.

In each of these we were able to support significant periods of fieldwork so that the students have emerged from their PhD with good language skills, strong cultural understanding and the beginnings of a professional network.
Fellows and guests in beautiful surroundings at Training Event in Ghent
Dr Abel Polese and Dr Donnacha Ó Beacháin sign world post in Tallin after workshop 2018
Sample poster of event
Caspian Network at Training Event Bremen University December 2015
Fellow Maurizio Totaro presents his research at the 2017 summer school - Coimbra
Fellows group photo after workshop in Tallin afternoon stroll 2018
Aytan Gahramanova - Fellow on the CASPIAN project speaking at final conf in Dublin
Fellows group photo after workshop in Tallin 2018
National Outreach event to PhD students in Estonia
Workshop in Ghent
Around the Caspian Logo
Fellows group photo after workshop in Tallin evening 2018
Fellows and researchers attend summer school 2017 - Coimbra