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PhD Inspiration - Professor Brendan Simms, Cambridge of University
Posted on 1 May '18

PhD Inspiration - Professor Brendan Simms, University of Cambridge

Considering a PhD, but wondering what you'll actually get out of it? We've sat down with some of the UK's top academics to hear their experiences and thoughts on postgraduate study. Brendan Simms is the Professor of the History of International Relations at the University of Cambridge. Here he shares some advice for new students.


Video Transcript

Why did you choose to do a PhD?

I think I got, first of all, intellectual satisfaction out of having completed a problem, solved something to my own satisfaction. Secondly, I learned skills, how to use an archive, how to make an argument, and also, discipline.

What was the biggest challenge of doing a PhD?

I think it was trying to stay focused on the problem, not going down highways and byways, and rabbit holes, bearing in mind that what was important was not what I found in the archives or in the printed materials, as such, but the way in which they related to what I was studying and the argument I was trying to make. That could sometimes be frustrating that you would spend days and sometimes weeks pursuing a line of argument, which in the end didn't find its way into the dissertation.

Why should people do a PhD?

I think they learn certain technical skills. They learn discipline and they, one hopes, will get the intellectual satisfaction out of having completed a unique project. Ideally, nobody else will have done, or will do, what you're doing. So it's an opportunity to put one's distinct mark on the intellectual or the scholarly landscape.

What is your top PhD tip?

Bypass areas of difficulty at first, and then to come back to them later. One of the great problems when you're writing a PhD is motivation. It's getting stuck, it's going down a blind alley. What I found particularly useful when I hit a roadblock, was to see whether there was a way around it, rather than barging one's way through. And sometimes it's not always the case, but sometimes a roadblock is indeed a roadblock and you've got to somehow clear it. Sometimes when you go back, you find actually that it wasn't so important or there's an alternative way to finding out what you need to know.




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