“Should I do a PhD?” Questions for prospective doctoral students in IR/political science
After several conversations with future, current and past PhD students in my field, here is the list of honest questions prospective doctoral students can think about.
Don’t let the critical nature of these questions distract you. With the right motivation, context and people, a PhD is one of the most rewarding experiences one can embark on!
1. Why do I want to do a PhD?
Your motivation is what will carry you through some potentially testing and ultimately reward years of study. Be clear on your deep, intrinsic motivations and complement them with extrinsic goals beyond completing the degree. Calling yourself a doctor is not going to be enough.
Ask yourself: What is my intrinsic motivation – during my studies, for myself? And what is my extrinsic motivation – in terms of career opportunities or real world impact? This has implications on methods and research topic, as a PhD for a policy career can be quite different from one for an academic career.
2. The nature of doing a PhD:
Have I understood how the PhD differs from a Master’s degree?
Is independent research with sometimes limited supervision something I am ready for?
Have I understood the difficulties of the academic labour market?
3. Implications for private life:
Am I ready to move abroad (also after the PhD)?
What do my partner and my family think?
4. Opportunity costs:
What will I lose by doing a PhD? What career paths will I give up on?
Am I ready to see my peers advance quicker outside academia, both professionally and financially?
5. Alternatives: Taking non-academic career steps seriously
A minority of PhD holders finish up in academia. Even if academia is your goal, have a clear set of alternatives. Develop them early, and don’t settle on a single path. Ask yourself: How can I maintain/gain a foothold in the non-academic/policy world? How can I translate my doctoral training in the language of the policy world? What aspects of my doctoral work will be appreciated more, which less?
6. Topic & format:
What topic will I be passionate about for 3-5 years and is career relevant?
Do I prefer (and I am allowed) to write a papers-based dissertation or a monograph?
What methods do I want to use?
Am I ready to fit into a discipline that is increasingly dominated by quantitative and data driven methods?
Is there a reliable prospect of financing the entirety of my doctoral studies?
What’s my plan B if a promised scholarship/position falls through?
What is the faculty like?
Is there a doctoral school and/or coursework requirements?
Is there a cohort of other doctoral students with whom I can interact?
Is there a track record of good academic placement of doctoral students?
Which professor will supervise me? What is their availability and have they supervised many other students? Can you potentially speak to a current/former supervisee?
Apart from the committee, who are my academic mentors?
Comments and suggestions for edits are welcome in the comments below or by e-mail!
The International Studies Association’s International Organization Section has kindly awarded me the Lawrence S. Finkelstein Prize for Best Paper at the (cancelled) ISA Annual Conference 2020. The prize recognizes the best graduate student paper on international organizations. I submitted a paper drawing from my on-going doctoral dissertation on the financing and reforms of the African Union.
Africa’s new continental free trade area, the AfCFTA, is a remarkable achievement. However, decisive diplomatic, technical and social action is needed for it to succeed. Find my co-written article with Frank Mattheis on the challenges and achievements of the African Union’s new Continental Free Trade Area here: https://theconversation.com/more-work-lies-ahead-to-make-africas-new-free-trade-area-succeed-118135
A radio interview with SA FM’s Bongi Gwala can be found here: https://iono.fm/e/696863
Peer-reviewed article in West European Politics, written with Stephanie Hofmann, for a special issue on collective securitisation and the EU.
Has the European Commission become an agent of collective securitisation in EU energy policy? We argue that EU energy policy has seen repeated collective and national securitisation moves directed in particular at Russian gas exports to the EU. However, as energy is a commodity which can be framed as a security, market or even environmental issue, (thick) collective securitisation outcomes have been contested. Most EU member states accept national and Commission-driven security discourses at the policy proposal stage, but have sought to scale down the scope of (extraordinary) measures taken in response. Consequently, the ambiguity of security in relation to energy has meant that the Commission, instead of insisting on collective securitisation outcomes, has interwoven both economic security and market frames. This has provided member states with enough leeway to push for integration dynamics according to their own national prerogatives. This study pays particular attention to the EU’s Energy Union proposals and their contestation by the European Parliament and member states.
Full article: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01402382.2018.1510197 (PDF available upon request)
Peer-reviewed article in International Spectator, written with Cristian Bobocea:
Regional economic integration in the post-Soviet space stands in a complex relation with the European Union’s integration process. Multiple competing internal logics of integration, as well as the EU model are drivers of Eurasian regionalism. The Eurasian Economic Union illustrates how bureaucracies mobilise their technocratic authority in a process of mimesis that reconciles multiple internal and external integration logics: selective learning from the EU and successful incorporation of internal integration logics produce an organisational design and output that member states support to varying extents.
Read my review of Anna Katharina Stahl’s book “EU–China–Africa Trilateral Relations in a Multipolar World” in Journal of Common Market Studies (JCMS) here.
Many thanks to the journal African Affairs and the British International Studies Association (BISA) for awarding me their Postgraduate Prize 2017 for the best paper on a topic related to Africa.
I am thankful to the European Communities Studies Association (ECSA Switzerland) for awarding me their Best Article Prize 2017 of for my JCMS article “Africa–EU Relations and Normative Power Europe: A Decolonial Pan-African Critique“.
In June 2017, I had the pleasure of convening two panels on the African Union with Micha Wiebusch (SOAS/Antwerp). At the British International Studies Association annual conference in Brighton, and at the European Conference on African Studies in Basel panelists proposed a great variety of papers on the theme “Speaking Africa, integrating Africa? Norms and power of the African Union”.