A snap shot from our film set while producing a documentary series for the Holocaust Center for Humanities. Here we are interviewing a local high school about their experience with some of the Center’s teaching materials.
Photo by Sam McGhee / Unsplash

Here at the DRN we are constantly working to bring you new ideas, tips and tricks to make the research process easier and more manageable, especially in a time of change and unknowns. We're set up this  page to bring you short interviews with senior academics covering broad topics such as, What are you currently working on? How are you finding working from home? What are your tips for getting published?

We've catalogued all of the interviews we've published with senior academics below, for you to enjoy again!


Dr Aimée Fox

Dr Fox is the author of Learning to Fight: Military Innovation and Change in the British Army and a lecturer at the Defence Studies Department of Kings College London. Here, she gives us all some great advice about trusting yourself, WFH tips, as well as some interesting reading recommendations.


What are you currently working on?


I’ve actually found it quite difficult settling on the next major research project after finishing up my doctoral research, so I’m working on a few different things at the moment! My next major publicationis a scholarly edition of Major-General Guy Dawnay’s correspondence. Dawnay is a really interesting character. He’s a reservist on the outbreak of the First World War and promotes from captain to temporary major general in under four years. He fancied himself as a bit of a poet, he’s a financier, and after the war he becomes chairman of Armstrong Whitworth and is mentioned by name in the 1935 Royal Commission on the Private Manufacture of and Trading in Arms. More importantly than all that though, he’s a devoted husband and father, and my edition seeks to explore some of the pressures and challenges of maintaining the link with home and family during total war. I’m hoping the edition will be just as useful to gender historians as it will be to military historians. Alongside the Dawnay volume, I’m also researching a social network of elite women and seeking to use their writings and material culture to write a new military and political history of Britain in the era of the First World War. To date, their letters and diaries have been used to shed light on their husbands’ lives and careers. I’m keen to foreground their voices to explore their experiences of the everyday, their leisure activities, their friendships, and their views on domestic, political, and military matters. I’ve found this project quite daunting because there’s so much great scholarship out there on gender and women’s history, but I’m enjoying the challenge.


What got you into your field of study in the first place?


To be honest, it’s quite a convoluted story (!), but I suppose there were three influences that got me into this field: first, at secondary school, we had a module on war poetry and my great aunt gave me the medals, postcards, and letters from a family member who had served in the First World War. He had been killed in 1917, leaving behind his wife and twin daughters, and I just wanted to find out more. I got that opportunity as an undergraduate at the University of Birmingham, which leads me to my second influence: fantastic tutors. At Birmingham, I was taught by some really enthusiastic tutors – Professor John Bourne, Professor Mike Snape, and Dr Rob Thompson – who sparked my interest in the history of warfare more broadly. They saw something in this painfully shy, self-conscious nineteen-year-old and without them I wouldn’t have taken up postgraduate study. The final influence was my work in the public sector. I didn’t go straight through from BA to MA to PhD. When I graduated from Birmingham, I worked for five years in local government, completing my MA part-time, whilst working on projects relating to NEET young people, apprenticeships, and child poverty. In this environment, I saw how colleagues were coming up with great ideas, but there seemed to be a problem transferring those ideas and initiatives to the people who could roll those out more widely. There seemed to be a problem around knowledge transfer and learning, which got me thinking about some of the same challenges in the British Army during the First World War. And that was how my PhD project was born!


What are you currently reading and is it any good?


Whilst in lockdown, I’ve been trying to read books from different fields and on different subjects. My research project on elite women has got me thinking about gendered spaces in the home in the early twentieth-century, so I’ve been reading Jane Hamlett’s Material Relations: Domestic Interiors and Middle-Class Families in England, 1850-1910. It’s a fascinating book that has required me to pay much more attention to women’s writings about space and place. Hamlett draws our attention to particular rooms in the house, such as the drawing room, nursery, and marital bedroom to show how such domestic spaces could be both public and private. For pleasure, I’ve just finished Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy’s Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus and I’ve just started reading Priyamvada Gopal’s Insurgent Empire: Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent. Gopal looks at the ways in which enslaved and colonial subjects were active agents in their own liberation and how their resistance and dissent influenced anti-colonial campaigners in London. I really recommend this book, particularly in light of #RhodesMustFall and the tearing down of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol.


How are you finding working from home?


You know what? I’m finding work from home really tough! I find it hard to stay focused and I often find my mind wandering, which then makes me worry that I’ve not ‘achieved’ enough in the day. Recently, I’ve tried to set myself specific tasks to achieve such as reading an article or a chapter in a book, reading X number of pages of primary source material, jotting down potential activities for online teaching. I came across an interesting video on BBC Bitesize about toxic productivity and the need to feel like you’re doing something worthwhile, which really spoke to me. I’m now setting an intention to ensure that I include something in my day that makes me happy and that’s not work-related!


What advice would you like to give PhD students and early career researchers that you wish someone had said to you?


This is a really hard question and I’m always so wary about giving advice, but I suppose three things: first, that you are more than your research. In academia in particular, it feels like your ‘worth’ is seemingly equated with your ability to publish, to capture grants etc. I’ve been guilty of losing myself in the race to publish more, to apply for more grants, and that’s been detrimental to my sense of self and worth. Secondly, trust your instincts and back yourself. I spent much of my PhD and the years afterwards worrying about what people would think about my research, whether it was good enough, whether I was falling short in some way. I’m five years out from my PhD now and I’m still learning to trust my instincts about why I think something is important or interesting. It’s really easy to externalise and seek that validation from others. I wish I’d known how toxic and destabilising that could be. Finally, it’s ok not to be ok. I know that sounds really trite, but I found the PhD and my time as an ECR very stressful and I wish I’d reached out to more people to let them know how hard I was finding it. I think this is why networks like Defence Research Network are really important and I wish it had existed when I was doing my own PhD!


What have you learnt from having your first monograph published?


… That compiling an index is super hard! More seriously, I’m trying to learn not to take bad reviews too personally. I recently read a review of my book on Amazon that remarked on my ‘turgid style’ that ‘will make your eyes glaze over every five minutes’. I was disproportionately upset about this review because I’d tried so hard to make a really quite complicated subject a bit more interesting and engaging. It’s not possible to make everyone happy. I’m really proud of the book and I think that’s really all that matters. I’ve also learnt that your opinions and arguments can change! Re-reading my book now, there are certainly areas that I disagree with or at least feel that I would nuance now. Learning to Fight is a snapshot of where my thinking was at and a reminder that we never stop growing or changing as researchers.


In conversation with Dr. Simon Kolstoe

Simon is a Senior Lecturer and University Ethics Advisor at the University of Portsmouth. Dr Kolstoe is also the Chairman of the Ministry of Defence Research Ethics Committee (MODREC) and Hampshire A NHS research ethics committee.


What are you currently working on?

As a senior lecturer in Evidence Based Healthcare (Portsmouth) I am currently supervising 3 PhD students ranging from looking at glycemic control in dialysis patients through to out of hospital care in Vietnam. Research Transparency is also a big area of research for me especially with regards to healthcare data and why people do not publish their results. My ethics committees (MOD/PHE/NHS) are currently very busy with COVID-19 related research studies. I have also just finished editing an OUP online course on research integrity.


What got your into your field of study in the first place?

I was originally a Biochemist, but as I became increasingly involved in patient research I was convinced that research ethics and governance processes could be made easier for researchers. I thus moved from drug development into evidence based healthcare with a focus on how ethics committees and governance processes in general can be improved.


What was your path to where you are now?

BSc in Biomedical Science and PhD in Biochemistry (both Southampton), ten years as a post-doc at UCL during which time I got a BA in Philosophy (Open) and MA in Research Ethics (Keele), followed by BBSRC new investigators award hosted by Portsmouth (as a fellowship), and now Senior Lecturer in Evidence Based Healthcare. I do a lot of consultancy for government departments mainly chairing research ethics committees and assisting with research policy development.


What are you currently reading and is it any good?

Around the time I finished my PhD I realised that I had never really read much fiction. I thus started reading avidly quite late on, and my enjoyment of philosophical fiction led me into completing a Philosophy degree (I figured I may as well get something out of my reading!) and then into Ethics. So what started off as a hobby has essentially shaped my career! Historically I have tried to work my way through lists of “books to read before you die”, but recently, due to three very active children at home, I have had little time to read anything outside my professional interests.


How are you finding working from home?

Not easy as my three children (11, 8 & 5) cannot work/play nicely without an adult standing next to them and my wife (a Clinical Psychologist) is trying to keep seeing her patients remotely. At the moment this means I have to squeeze work around everyone else.


What advice would you like to give PhD students and early career researchers that you wish someone had said to you?

PhD’s are very valuable qualifications outside of academia. Do not limit yourself by only focussing on University based careers. Also go abroad for a bit if you can.


Who have been the most influential academics on your professional career?

My PhD supervisor is now very much a family friend.


What are your top tips for getting published?

Never let the publishers/peer reviewers get you down. Expect rejections, and when you get them use the peer review comments to improve your manuscript before submitting to the next journal on your list. If you plan for this process you will have the resilience to see things through to publication.


What is the most effective teaching method you have delivered or seen delivered?

Experience


What is your favourite museum and why?

Pitt Rivers museum (Oxford) with a smart phone in my hand - endless curiosities to google and find out about (I’m never satisfied with the written information in museums)!


In conversation with Olivier Schmitt

@Olivier1Schmitt       OlivierSchmitt.com

Olivier is a professor of political science and head of the Center for War Studies, University of Southern Denmark. He is also a founding member of the French Association for War and Strategic Studies (AEGES), of which he was the vice-president and scientific director, and a board member of the European Initiative for Security Studies (EISS).


What are you currently working on?

I am working on several main projects. The first one is an examination of French defence and security policy since 1991. The main outputs so far have been a number of book chapters and articles (already published or forthcoming), but I am completing the revisions of a book on this topic co-authored with my friend and colleague Alice Pannier from SAIS, and which should be published later this year or early next year.

The second project is a co-edited volume with my CWS colleagues Sten Rynning and Amelie Theussen on temporality and western warfare. We argue that the “Western way of war” is marked by a specific relationship to temporality (understood as the combination of trajectories, perception of time, and pace), which shapes the way we design our armed forces and employ military forces. We thus shed new light on the debate about the declining utility of western military power. The book is also in the revision stage and should come out early next year with Brookings/Chatham house Press.

The third project is a multi-year study of the dynamics of change in the armed forces. Basically, I try to bring some conceptual clarity to a multiplicity of terms routinely employed in the literature but diversely defined (military revolution, transformation, innovation, adaptation, diffusion, emulation, etc.), and to explore the interaction between different mechanisms shaping the trajectory of the armed forces (civil-military relations, threat assessment, technological developments, routines and practices, etc.). As part of the project, I am co-authoring an article with two of my PhD students, Vicky Karyoty and Michael Gjerdstad, comparing the genesis and implementation of three cases of what we call “declared innovation” (States openly claiming to adopt an innovation policy for their armed forces) in the US, France and Russia. And I hope that this project will lead to my next book, looking at patterns of transformation in the armed forces since 1870.


What got you into your field of study in the first place?

Probably my grandfather. He was a veteran of the Algerian war: he joined a paratrooper regiment as a private, fought for three years and was part of the failed putsch attempt against De Gaulle in 1961. He left the armed forces afterward to work in the naval industry but was evidently deeply marked by the experience. He developed a strong personal interest for military history, especially World War II. Growing up, there were always many military history books around the house for me to look at, and he would also never miss any TV documentary (especially on the Franco-German channel ARTE),which I would end up watching with him. I think that this is what got me interested in defence issues in the first place, and indirectly led me to study political science, and then international relations and war studies.


What was your path to where you are now?

Quite a bit of luck actually. I started studying political and social sciences in France as an undergrad and interned at the French military mission in Berlin. I thought I wanted to work for the United Nations, and joined the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, for a master in International Affairs. This is where I got my first exposure to what research could be like, when I attended a research seminar on international sanctions led by Prof. Thomas Biersteker, where MA and PhD students were mixed. We had to read about 130 pages every week, and write a 9000 words research paper at the end. It sounds standard for a graduate program, but it was totally new for me: I had joined a professional MA degree, but absolutely adored the research experience.

The second turning point was when I had to write a research paper for a class on international organisations taught by Prof. Stephanie Hofmann, which I ended up writing on the challenges of coalition warfare. I got totally fascinated by the topic and, after several discussions with my professors in Geneva, decided to pursue a PhD. This paper formed the basis of my PhD proposal, with which I approached Prof. Theo Farrell at King’s College London. I was accepted into the program, completed my PhD (thanks to a scholarship from the French MoD) and left Europe for a one-year post-doc at the University of Montréal Centre for International Studies (CERIUM). I was then fortunate tojoin the Center for War Studies at SDU in 2015. So in retrospect, I have been lucky to identify what I was really interested in early enough thanks to this research seminar, to find mentors that were always willing to help and support me along the way, and to land a job. As Machiavelli pointed out, our paths are made of both virtù and fortuna: we like to tell ourselves that careers are based on merit, and of course quality work matters, but luck also plays a huge part in it.


What are you currently reading and is it any good?

I will only talk about books I liked, because I think it is unfair to criticise authors outside of a context in which their argument would be adequately engaged with and they get a chance to respond to criticism.

So here are some books I read recently and found enriching:

J.C Sharman, Empires of the Weak, which provides a global context for the so-called “Military Revolution” in Europe.

Ben Buchanan, The Hacker and the State, on the “new normal” of cyber conflict

Peter Westwick, Stealth, which is a fascinating socio-history of the development of stealth technologies for aviation, and the competition between Lockheed and Northrop Grumann (leading to two very different designs for the F-117 and the B-2).

Next on my reading list are:

Thomas Rid, Active Measures

Jason Lyall, Divided Armies

Lorenz Lüthi, Cold Wars

As leisure, I like reading a lot of science-fiction, and I am currently reading the third volume of the Revenger Trilogy by Alastair Reynolds.


What is your favourite book in your field of study and why?

It’s a really hard question, and this is far from being a definitive answer, but I realize I often come back to Michael Howard’s War and the Liberal Conscience, which raises many important political and philosophical questions in a clear, elegant and concise manner.


What advice would you like to give PhD students and early career researchers that you wish someone had said to you?

I actually think I had been properly “warned” before getting in, so here are some generic advices:

Find a group of fellow junior academics while doing your PhD: it is important to socialize, to have moral support, and even opportunities for cooperation. -

Establish a trust-based relationship with your supervisor early on. Be explicit about what you expect from the supervision and discuss practicalities with your supervisor.  

When it comes to publications, find the balance between strategising and passion. Yes, a well-placed journal article takes time and can have strong positive effects on your career, but passion is ultimately what sustains you in the long run.So don’t necessarily discard a project with less obvious career benefits if you are strongly interested in it: it will keep you motivated and it may even pay off in unexpected ways.  


Who have been the most influential academics on your professional career?

As mentioned, a number of people have been amazing mentors and played an important role in my career. First, my thesis supervisor, Theo Farrell, was always extremely supportive of my project. He also managed to drag me into the field of military innovation/military change.

Stephanie Hofmann has also been a wonderful mentor: always friendly and willing to help. I don’t know how many letters of recommendation she wrote for me over the years, but it is a lot... The same goes for Frédéric Mérand, thanks to whom I had a full year of post-doc to concentrate exclusively on publications.

I owe the scholarship that allowed me to do a PhD to Frédéric Ramel and Frédéric Charillon, so I can’t thank them enough for their support. Of course, Sten Rynning hired me at SDU, so he had a strong influence on my career. And finally, I would like to mention the late Bastien Irondelle, with whom I had the chance to co-author a book chapter before he passed away, who was extremely invested in supporting young scholars. My trajectory would have been very different without them.

In terms of intellectual influences, my role-models are Raymond Aron and Michael Howard, which is probably logical for a French scholar of war studies who graduated from King’s College London... Among contemporary researchers, there is too many people I admire to mention them all, but Michael Horowitz, Sarah Kreps, the late Patricia Weitsman, Steve Saideman, Pascal Vennesson, Caitlin Talmadge, Beatrice Heuser, Lawrence Freedman and Elizabeth Kier have, knowingly or unknowingly (I have never met some of them), strongly shaped the way I think about my research.