After the M.Phil?

2006-01-27

in Daily updates, Oxford

Statue of Hermes in the Christ Church main quad

To me, today’s qualitative methods lecture embodied much of what is frustrating and unattractive about academia. It’s the parochialism, the turf-wars, the egos, and the navel-gazing. It’s playing an intellectual game with your fellow practitioners, rather than focusing on some project with external value. That value needn’t be the improvement of the world, per se, but merely the achievement of something externally valuable, in a way that arguments that nobody outside the discipline cares about simply aren’t.

Perhaps it’s symptomatic of my lack of certainty about what the future holds that every reading and discussion becomes, at least partly, a study in what exactly I am going to do with myself. While there is appeal in doing a doctorate, it would involve dealing with a huge amount of the kinds of issues identified in the paragraph above. It also brings the question of where to do it: in the States, where the programs that are almost universally considered the best are located, or in Britain?

American international relations is quantitatively focused, aggressively realist, and fairly intellectually limited. There seems to be a very strong hegemonic sense not only of what the discipline is, but what different sub fields within it (like foreign policy analysis) are and what sort of people use them. That might be something of a caricature, but there does seem to be truth to the idea that studying international relations in the states means doing something quite specific, and something based on a methodology that I really don’t accept. I don’t see how stressing the ‘science’ in social science is a useful approach for IR. I think to do so is chasing the illusion of rigour, rather than getting the kind of theoretical grounding that you need to undertake the kind of projects that interest me.

The British option has problems of its own. Oxford D.Phils are very short programs: much shorter than PhDs in the United States. They do not involve gaining teaching experience, which would be important if I was later looking for an academic job in Canada. Altogether, there seems to be very little confidence in the value of doing a D.Phil among the members of the program whose opinions I respect most.

A third option is to do a doctorate in the United States in a field other than international relations. To do something more specific might allow me to escape the theoretical debates that are so abstract, tiresome, and generally inapplicable. This is a possibility I will definitely consider, once I begin applying to further graduate programs.

As I’ve said many times before, however, it seems sensible to do something non-academic during the inter-degree break. Two central planks of my plan for the next eight years are to see a large portion of the world – ideally though a non-touristic lens – and to write some kind of book. Both would be aided by the right kind of job: something international which involves travel and experiences of a kind I’ve not had. As I told Bryony this afternoon, finishing the M.Phil (and hopefully doing a good job of it) should be proof enough for the moment that I can handle the academic side of things. Afterwards, it seems wise to prove that about some other area. I don’t know what is involved in getting a job with the United Nations Environment Program or some NGO, but it’s another thing to investigate in the medium term.

In the short term, the need for a summer job and summer accommodation is becoming increasingly acute.


  • I’ve been reading the Murakami book quite a bit in the past few days. As is often the case with novels, it is the voice of the narrator that sets the mood and, by extension, sets my mood when I am orbiting the book. I quite like the crisp descriptions – the personal narratives – that introduce the characters. I would be intrigued to meet myself in the form of such a description.
  • The Sainsbury’s brand Isle of Bute Scottish Cheddar is quite delicious: a very sharp, white cheese – it reminds me a great deal of the Tilamook special white cheddar that I’ve traditionally bought during my family’s trips to Oregon.
  • Mica has a new video online.
  • At the moment, it seems like writing posts of the “here’s what I did today” variety is uninteresting and vain. I will try to be more substantive for the next while.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

B January 26, 2006 at 6:37 pm

Ah, university and parliamentary democracy: the only places where ‘reading’ is a noun. Said one grad student to the other, “I got three readings done during the second reading of the new bill.”

Regarding the photo, are you hoping Hermes is going to bring you a divine message, as to where to finish your education?

Milan January 26, 2006 at 7:11 pm

True, on all counts.

I also exhausted the blue on my first four-colour pen in Oxford today. I use them until both the black and blue are empty, then confine them to a bottom drawer somewhere and remove a fresh one from my strategic supply – especially strategic here, since I can’t find exactly the same sort they sell in Canada. The shapes here are different, less rounded.

Anonymous January 26, 2006 at 8:53 pm

On another note,

There is no definition for ‘fangoriously’ in any known work save the prestigious literary achievement of Strong Bad, “Everyone is different”. This phenomenon is called hapax legomenon, when a word only appears once-ever. We can deduce from context, however, that fangoriously has something to do with the manner in which gelatinous monsters digest their food.

Anonymous January 26, 2006 at 10:21 pm

Shameful to admit, I am a classicist who never bothered to check out what hapax legomena meant whenever I encountered it.

Thank you for enlightening me.

Milan January 26, 2006 at 10:26 pm

To think I was going to delete that note for being strange and irrelevant…

Anonymous January 26, 2006 at 10:33 pm

It reminds me of the entry in the OED for ‘manxome:’

A nonsense word invented by Lewis Carroll to describe the Jabberwock (an imaginary monster in the poem ‘Jabberwocky’): (perh.) fearsome, monstrous.

1871 ‘L. CARROLL’ Through Looking-glass i. 22 He took his vorpal sword in hand: Long time the manxome foe he sought. 2001 Re: More on Age Ranges in rec.arts.int-fiction (Usenet newsgroup) 30 Oct., In the text, we know that it has ‘jaws that bite, claws that catch’, that it’s manxome (and a foe, I suppose, but that should be obvious), and that it crashes and burbles.

Milan January 26, 2006 at 10:43 pm

Anyone wanting to see the the only known usage of the word ‘fangoriously’ should follow that link.

hilary January 27, 2006 at 3:26 am

ah yes. I love strong bad. he is a creative genius. (especially in the fields of music, literature, espionage, and getting with the ladies.)

Anonymous January 27, 2006 at 6:38 am

Claire says:

Definitely take some time in the field.

Fernando January 27, 2006 at 9:28 am

Hey:

You will recall my rants about how much hate academia for precisely these purposes.

However, I envision you going to a policy-oriented PhD school in the US rather than an academic one. There are several good ones and they are far more practical than the academic ones given that they are largely considered to be mic-career programs.

In order to excel in these, you could either become engaged in some relevant extra-curricular work during MPhil, or definetely look for something in the field after the MPhil.

As you know, I am a big supporter of brilliant minds in IR like yourself that choose to get into the real world rather than the staying in the confines of the academic realm (as stimulating and satisfactory as it can be). As Kissinger once said about IR academia, “The debates are so intense because the stakes are so low”.

Drop me an email if you want a cool paper that sums up all the best IR schools.

Cheers,

Fernando

Milan January 27, 2006 at 11:05 am

Fernando,

Please do pass along that paper.

How is life at UBC treating you? Dreaming up any more mad NASCA-esque schemes?

Milan

Anonymous January 27, 2006 at 4:20 pm

“The fields of music, literature, espionage, and getting with the ladies”

There are other fields in which brilliance can manifest?

Anonymous January 27, 2006 at 4:54 pm

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