At the start of October 2017, I finished and submitted my PhD thesis, ‘The Thinker, The Doer and The Decider: Zbigniew Brzezinski, Cyrus Vance and the Bureaucratic Wars of the Carter Administration.’ It was the culmination of three years of research, hard work and dedication. After three years, 86,325 words, 1,092 references, 260+ books, articles and memoirs, 209+ primary sources, 7 oral history interviews (conducted by myself), 6 trips to the USA and 7 archives consulted, the final product was printed, bound and submitted.
A few months have passed since, content with my findings and my work, I stopped typing and hit print. Emotionally drained by the whole experience, I had to relax and it’s only in the past few weeks I’ve properly digested my emotions upon completing my research and reflected on my PhD journey. For me, he three years I spent researching and writing my thesis have been without a shadow of a doubt has been one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life and career. There has been no better job so far!
- As a self-confessed history geek, this was the perfect project to embark on! The opportunity to conduct research professionally was ideal and highly enjoyable.
- I worked for myself! Working in office environment is great but with the PhD I was given the time and space to carry out my work without having bosses breathing down my neck. I was fortunate to have a supportive supervisory team who gave me sufficient assistance and feedback on a regularly basis.
- As a historian, my skills have been enhanced significantly. Looking back on my MA thesis, its hard to believe how significantly I have developed since then.
- As part of my research, I had the opportunity to travel the east coast of the United States, visiting numerous archives and analysing a variety of source material. En route I was able to visit many beautiful and interesting places that I may never have ever encountered, had it not been for the PhD.
- I also interviewed some of the most senior men in the U.S. government, including a former director of the CIA, a former Secretary of Defense and a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Being able to sit down with people who had been present at key events was not only indispensable to my research but on a personal level it was fascinating hearing their recollections.
- I attended and presented at a number of academic conferences held across the UK and Europe during the past three years. While there I was fortunate to hear about some outstanding research projects being undertaken by peers but also meet and discuss their work and share ideas.
- I was also given the opportunity to teach in my second year. I taught a second year American Politics module for a semester and although challenging it was highly rewarding. My ‘down to earth lecturing style’ went down a treat…apparently.
There were challenging moments. PhD has the potential, as my supervisors pointed out, to be a very lonely existence. Unlike most jobs, you don’t have direct co-workers who can relate to your work exactly. At times, it’s also incredibly difficult to switch off. But without a shadow of a doubt, the positives outweigh the negatives.
Next up the VIVA and the search for permanent employment, as I embark on the next significant chapter of my career. However the memories of PhD life will stay with me forever.
Recently, I spoke with a friend studying an undergraduate degree who said she could not imagine doing a PhD. I relayed much of what I’ve said here. Ultimately, if the opportunity arises to do a PhD, grab it with both hands. It will be the best job and most invaluable and stimulating experiences of your life.