Ana Alecsandru

Subject International Relations
Course Political Science and International Studies PhD/MPhil
Country Romania
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I am very interesting in the Political Science and International Relations PhD via distance learning but am concerned as a US student (UK-US dual citizen living and working in the US) that there is little focus on the US, with an understandable sole concentration on European Politics. Thus, since US employers would like to see some level of inclusion in the curriculum of US studies/politics, would you advise this degree based on what you know about the PhD? Hence, is there more inclusion or choice in subjects/research outside of just the EU realm that you are aware of?

The PhD in the US has a taught component that most British PhDs do not. The American PhD also takes between 4 and 6 years, as opposed to the British one that takes between 3 and 4 years (full-time). What this means is that your PhD will solely focus on the topic you choose to study. If you are interested in doing a PhD in the UK then selecting and working with a supervisor interested in your topic is essential (for more information about the Political Science and International Studies PhD at Birmingham, see here). The supervisor’s expertise will also help shape your project. You might need to undertake several modules related to methodology/research methods but these are rather general and the assignments are also related to your doctoral project.

What piece of advice would you give to anyone considering postgraduate study in your field?

A PhD is difficult but can be a wonderful time if you are passionate about the topic you are researching. I would strongly recommend anyone to really consider all aspects before embarking on a PhD programme because it’s important to think very carefully about the reasons why you want to do it. Although it will be a fulfilling academic experience, it is also likely to be a big financial commitment and, at times, a very stressful experience.

What has been the highlight of your time at Birmingham?

I’ve enjoyed every moment at Birmingham, both socially and academically. I believe there are plenty of opportunities to enhance your skills as a researcher and, personally, I feel that there is a lot of support for postgraduate students. For instance, I was very keen to undertake an internship with the United Nations in New York and my supervisor was very supportive of it. The topic of my thesis and my past research work for my supervisor contributed to being selected to intern with the Office for Disarmament Affairs which was a great experience.

Have you joined any clubs or societies, gone on any research trips or done any volunteering?

A PhD requires a lot of time and energy but I think one of the perks of doing a doctoral degree at Birmingham is the access to the many opportunities that the University has to offer. First, there are many clubs and societies and I’ve been on trips with the hiking and skiing societies. Second, the university is very well connected with other prestigious universities in the world. During my Masters degree, for example, I was one of the students that received a bursary to travel to New Delhi for one week to do a U21 intensive module at the University of Delhi on the ‘Traditional and New Security Challenges’.

Can you describe your journey from school to where you are now?

I finished school in Romania where my main subjects were Maths, Computer Science and English. However, I felt that I wanted to use my analytical skills to understand the choices that political actors – from leaders to governments to international institutions – make and the structures under which they make them. I was thus very happy to study for a degree in International Relations. I enjoyed my undergraduate days in Bath so much that I was keen to continue my studies in the same field. I started my Masters degree in Security Studies at the University of Birmingham and, during my first term here, I volunteered to work on one of Professor Nicholas Wheeler’s research projects. I became very interested in doing a PhD related to the role of trust in the nuclear world and Prof. Wheeler supported my application. I was fortunate to receive one of the 1+3 Economic and Social Research Council studentships.

What was your motivation for undertaking postgraduate study?

I’ve always enjoyed a good puzzle that requires critical thinking and some level of research. Embarking on a PhD is a big decision but I would rather spend my time researching a topic I am very interested in rather than work on projects that I am not passionate about. I am also very fortunate to receive funding to do my own research so I see this as the ideal job at the moment.