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Our Ph. D. students: Hilde Woker

Dutch Hilde has a Norwegian name, she grew up with holidays to Norwegian fiords, and books like Lars the little Polarbear. No wonder, maybe, she ended up studying the Law of the Sea in the Arctic.

Trude Haugseth Moe 23.08.2017 14:49   (Sist oppdatert: 28.08.2017 09:44)

In our series about The Faculty of Law’s Ph.D. students, it is time to get to know more about Hilde Woker and her Ph. D. project. Hilde started as a Ph. D. student in October 2016 at the Jebsen Centre for the Law of the Sea.  

– What is your background before you started as a Ph. D. student here?

Ph. D. student Hilde Woker in her office at the Jebsen Centre for the Law of the Sea at the Faculty of Law , UiT. Foto: Trude Haugseth Moe

– I have a bachelor degree from Leiden University College The Hague, in Global Justice. After that, I completed an LLM degree in Public International Law at the University of Leiden. During my undergraduate studies, I spent a semester abroad in Canada, and realized that I enjoyed living abroad very much. When I wanted to do a second Master degree, I therefore chose to take the LLM in the Law of the Sea in Tromsø. I thought it would be amazing to live in the Arctic – and it is!

Experienced “the real world” with internships

– After my studies, I felt I wanted to experience “the real world” and so I did an internship at the Dutch Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva (which can be compared to a Dutch “embassy” to the UN). It was great to experience international law and relations in real life! After that, I did a second internship at The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg. It was amazing and interesting, and I re-concluded that the Law of the Sea was what I wanted to do! I am interested in indigenous peoples and the Arctic, as well as the continental shelf and Law of the Sea questions in general, so it’s the right fit!

Early interest in the Arctic

– As a child, my family went to Scandinavia a lot for holidays. We didn’t go to Italy and France like most Dutch people; we went to Norway, to see Geiranger and all the fjords; to Iceland, Denmark and Sweden. My parents like the Nordic countries a lot – perhaps that is why I am called Hilde and grew up with books like Lars the little Polarbear, not Disney! 

Ph. D. student Hilde Woker grew up with a fascination for the Nordic countries and the Arctic. Now, she writes a thesis about the Law of the Sea - at the Arctic University of Norway. Foto: Trude Haugseth Moe

The Law of the Sea and science

– What is the title of your thesis and what is it about?

– It’s called The role of science in the Law of the Sea. I want to investigate how the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea deals with science: both how the law uses science, and reacts to science. The law of the sea has a special connection to science, so it is destined to be troubled by the interaction between law and science.

Different definitions

– There are different ways in which the law refers to science, Hilde explains.

– The legal definition of the continental shelf, as one example, is very different from the geological definition, even though the legal definition has some scientific elements in it. When I explain the legal definition of the continental shelf to natural scientists, it does not make any sense to them. So I want to explore how, in different ways, the Law of the Sea Convention treats scientific information and knowledge.

Research on two levels

– I want to do so on two levels: the legislative level and the adjudicative level. So, how science is referred to in the actual Treaty, as well as how it is used in international cases, and how Courts and Tribunals use scientific evidence and experts.

– I am also part of an interdisciplinary group – ATLAR: Arctic Ocean Technology and Law of the Sea Research. Besides myself, three natural scientists are researching and developing technologies to do marine scientific research in the Arctic. Together, we look at how these technologies correspond with the law of the sea. So, that is a great way to apply my PhD research.

– Why did you choose this topic?

– During my internship at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, I read a court case about the continental shelf. It was an interesting approach to determine the existence of the extended continental shelf. It got me thinking about the relationship between law and science, and about how much the law should rely on science to answer legal questions.

Helps to be with others in the same boat

– What is the best part about being a Ph. D. student?

– It is having time to dig into a topic you are enthusiastic about.

– And the most challenging?

– That you are the only one working on that specific issue, and so you don’t have anyone to share it with. That’s why I enjoy teaching, because you can share your knowledge with others. But it also helps a lot to be at the Jebsen Centre here: when I drop by my colleagues, I am reminded that many others are in the same boat as me.

Wants to expand people’s knowledge

– What will you do with your Ph. D degree?

– I want to teach! Mainly. I would like to expand people’s knowledge about the Law of the Sea, both from a teaching perspective as well as through research.

It is a pressing topic, that you hear a lot about in the news now, because of climate change, the situation the South China Sea, and so on. It is not a new topic, but people are picking it up now.

Loves to teach

– It seems like teaching is close to your heart. Why?

– I really love teaching; perhaps I am a little naive, but I do think that is the way to change the world. I have benefitted so much from good education myself, so I want to pass it on. You can do so much to motivate people to learn, and it is interesting to explore how to get the most out of someone’s skill set.


– Thank you for sharing some of your knowledge and thoughts with us, too, Hilde – we are happy to have you at our faculty. Good luck with your Ph. D. project!


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