Wednesday, 25 June 2014

It's been a long time coming...

This is what a newly minted PhD looks like:
So thrilled!
I passed my viva with no corrections, a brilliant result that puts me in the company of my friends Jace and Tracey, and about 6% of the University of Leeds' PhD candidates.
The viva exam itself was a crazy experience--even after practicing questions, attending a workshop and having a mock viva, there were still some surprises. Nick Cull found a few glaring gaps in my admin section, and brought them up first, before he'd said anything positive about my work. When I'd met him in the past (two conferences), he'd been smiley and given me a hug, so I naively thought he'd be equally smiley this time. That expectation completely ignored the fact that he's a brilliant scholar, though, and would want to do his job as external examiner properly--no hugs this time, and he kept a poker-face until the viva was over. I really didn't know what result to expect. The viva only lasted 1 hour, and when they sent me out for their deliberations, it was the longest few minutes of my life. I was pretty confident that I'd passed (Nick suggested it would be fairly easy to make it into a book, so it must be good enough for a PhD, right?), but I was still kicking myself over the gaps he'd highlighted in the admin section. I also wasn't sure how well I'd come across with some of Kate's more general, philosophical questions. I'd been in historical writing mode for so long, looking for evidence to prove various points that I really hadn't sat back and thought about my own opinions. Do I believe in internationalism? I don't's a nice idea, but we haven't been able to abolish war with internationalist thinking so far. I ended up answering her question with something vaguely coherent about my shift from being an internationalist to being more critical/cynical, but that I'm definitely not a hardcore realist. Honestly, I don't want to label myself with any -isms. They're all flawed. This is why I don't do theory! Also, how much of an informed worldview am I expected to have at the age of 28?

At any rate, they called me back in and congratulated me, and welcomed me into the club. My supervisors and friends, lecturers and fellow PhD students all came in and celebrated with champagne. It's such a surreal experience--one minute, you're on the edge of your seat, unsure of whether the past 3 1/2 years of work have achieved anything, and the next, you're drinking and hugging everybody in sight.

The viva (and following celebration) was held in Phil Taylor's old office. The last time I'd been in there, I'd been looking over his books and crying, a few months after his death when we were told we could take any books we wanted. The penultimate time, I was sitting on the couch with Phil talking about the psychological side of my study--in his words, "figuring out why some people get on" with each other and why others don't. It's a much larger question than any PhD could sort out, but it's the kind of big picture question that you should be discussing in your first weeks as a research student. Phil loved these questions, too--they're made for earnest conversations down the pub.

The morning after the viva, I read congratulatory messages on Facebook, wrote e-mails to Gary and Robin to thank them for their help and to share the viva story, and started making a list of all of my post-PhD to-dos, both leisure things I've been putting off (like tackling a reading list of Hemingway's recommendations) and all of the things I can do now to finally start my career (job search, publications). The past couple of days, I've been at the MeCCSA conference at ICS (not presenting, just having a good time watching presentations and networking). For the first time in my life, literally, I asked questions during the Q&A. The PhD has boosted my confidence, apparently. It's just a bit sad that it took getting a PhD to get me to ask a question at a postgrad conference...

I've also learned in the week since the viva that there are 2 kinds of people in this world: those who say "Congratulations!" and those who say "What's next?". Now, for high school, the "what's next" makes a lot of sense--18 year old kids do need to have a plan, and generally, they do have one in place by June. But for a PhD, that question is a reminder that the academic job market is fiercely competitive and a newly-minted PhD doesn't have the publications or experience that it takes to get an interview, much less land an actual job. So far, it's only been a handful of people who've asked that question, and I think they were just making small talk (apart from one person, who is actually just really mean...). The rest all know better, and have just said "Congrats, Dr. Molly!"

So, on that note, what's next? First things first, I'm well-aware that getting publications out there is not only key to getting an academic job, but it's also going to take awhile. There's a lot of down-time when you're waiting to get comments from editors/reviewers, so my plan is to get cracking on them straight away. I can use the down-time to carry out my job search and/or work part-time. I've got a list of journal articles that I want to do, using leftover archive material that didn't make it into the thesis and taking some new approaches. I have 6 months of library access, so I'm going to take full advantage of it and work on some articles, a book chapter for an edited volume with Gary Rawnsley, and my book. Nick Cull has been amazingly helpful on the book front, and I'm hoping to get the thesis published in time for the Fulbright Program's 70th anniverary in 2016. In the meantime, I've scheduled in time for the job search, trawling and other websites. I'm going to work on a new, stronger post-doc proposal, too, so I can apply for the same type of 3-year post-docs that I went for (unsuccessfully, obviously) last autumn. Plenty to do, but on the bright side, now I'm finally free to do it!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Forms of Diplomacy Conference

I've just returned from the Forms of Diplomacy conference at University of Toulouse II--Le Mirail. It had such an interesting assortment of perspectives, from 17th century Anglo-French peacemaking in Scandinavia to America's jazz cultural diplomacy in 1960's Kabul. Several people came up and introduced themselves to me after having read my abstract--I don't think that had happened to me at previous conferences, and it felt great! Talking to people at the conference gave me a chance to summarise my research for non-specialist academic audiences, too. Perfect prep for the viva!

As a post-conference/pre-viva exam treat, I stayed over the weekend in Toulouse. The food is incredible, the architecture is beautiful (la ville rose!) and the museums are excellent (and mostly free!). It was too hot for me, though--32C/90F, which is far beyond my preferred summertime temps of 20C/70F (i.e. Leeds and Seattle).

Tomorrow is my viva exam! Thanks to my lovely weekend away, I'm feeling refreshed and confident. Someone at the conference told me that she'd gone for a spa visit & massage before her viva--well, for me, a trip to France is just as effective! My mock viva went well. None of the questions were necessarily surprising, so that's a good sign. I'm confident and genuinely excited about it. How often in your career do you get to talk about your favourite research area with senior academics who've read your work? 

I've been reflecting on the whole crazy journey again, and how much my project's changed (and how much I've changed) in the past 3 1/2 years. I think facing my supervision challenges (Phil's death, Robin leaving ICS, non-specialist supervision) and juggling various commitments with my research (working part-time, organising and presenting at conferences, getting married and renovating our flat) have actually, in the end, made my project stronger. At times I've been sick of my subject, but I noticed during my mock viva that I still really do love my research. I'm still happy to talk about it. I still have further questions--whether it is effective, and why, and how, and under which circumstances...

Wish me luck for tomorrow, and I hope to have good news to announce soon!