Welcome back to ‘Voices of Early Career Researchers’, a monthly feature on the French History Network blog. Each month we’ll post a short interview with an Early Career Researcher of French History, giving you an insight of the different paths that ECRs are following after their PhDs in and outside of academia: what do the lives of recently appointed lecturers, teaching assistants, post-doctoral researchers or teaching fellows etc. look like? How does one transition from PhD to the post-doctoral years? We invite our interviewees to share their experiences and we hope that the conversation carries on in universities, conferences and social media.
Anna Konieczna was educated at the University of Warsaw where she read French literature and International relations. She submitted her PhD thesis on the French-South African relations under Charles de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou in 2013 at Sciences Po Paris where she also taught international relations. She is currently the Deaking Fellow at Saint Antony’s College, Oxford.
Can you tell us a little about your PhD thesis and your current research? How did you come to this field (did you do something else before considering PhD/teaching) and has it affected you as a teacher and researcher?
My research focuses on French foreign policy in Africa after 1960. I am particularly interested in the French relations with independent African states who had never been part of the former French Empire. In my current post-doctoral project, I analyse the history of the French anti-apartheid movement between 1960 and 1974. This project follows my previous doctoral research on the French-South African relations under Charles de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou. These two projects show a very complex French attitude towards apartheid. I also wish to understand how international and transnational perspectives interact and overlap.
I come from Poland. The main part of my education occurred during the transition towards democracy when different barriers were falling down. I followed my education partly in French, and, later, in France. I attended a “class bilingue” that had been created only two years earlier in one of the secondary schools in Warsaw. The choice of my studies at the University of Warsaw – French literature and International relations – came from the fact that I wanted to become an international diplomat. Instead, I spent ten years in France and became a historian of diplomacy and its different aspects. I was always fascinated by the diversity of the French language. As a student I discovered the writings of the African and Caribbean poets. Initially my research focussed on Francophone Africa. Later I became interested in the history of South Africa.
When did you submit your thesis; what did you do in the months following submission/the viva?
I submitted my thesis at beginning of November 2013. My viva took place on December 19th, 2013, few days before Christmas.
I resumed my work at Sciences Po at the end of January after the winter holiday break. In the months that followed I undertook several activities both to develop my research and to secure a more stable position. I attended several conferences and workshops, organised a conference, completed an internship in the archives, and I applied for a qualification. Thanks to a research grant, I spent six weeks in South Africa between July and August 2014. This travel proved to be a turning point. I carried out new archival research. But, more importantly, I could clear my mind in order to take several important decisions.
Your first ECR position: Attachée temporaire d’Enseignement et de Recherche
Did you apply to jobs/ work outside of academia after the end of your PHD?
From my personal experience, I know that careers in and outside academia don’t exclude each other. I used to work with Professors or Lecturers who followed either the first one or the second one at different moments of their life. I have always contemplated both possibilities.
Even before I started my PhD, I had already worked as a translator (French/Polish). This second occupation is a backup option for me.
How tricky and long was the application process until you landed in your first academic job(s)? Did you benefit from the support of your peers (senior colleagues or other ECRs) and how do you feel that impacted your job search.
I won a one-year ATER contract in 2011. Afterwards, I worked at Sciences Po as part-time, hourly paid teaching assistant and teaching fellow. In December 2014, I decided to quit teaching. I loved working with my students, but I needed time to develop my post-doctoral project. Two months later, I applied for a fellowship at the University of Oxford and this application was successful.
I often talk with my friends who are senior researchers. I am aware that the period before titularisation may be very long. I am not an agregée d’histoire and I have never taught in French. There are also a lot of excellent and strong candidates. Some of them completed their PhD a long time before me and they certainly deserve a permanent position.
What were your main responsibilities?
I mainly worked with Masters students at Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA), which is one of the Departments of Sciences Po. My responsibilities were two-fold. On the one hand, I was teaching assistant for the program “International security”, then, during three terms, for the core class “World Politics”. On the other, I lectured International relations. One of the important elements of my work were office hours. I do think that pedagogy – time we can devote to students – is essential in the academic formation. What I find revealing is that students often came to see me on Friday afternoon.
How did a typical week in this job look like?
Teaching is only one aspect of working in academia. When you apply for a permanent position, teaching is only one of several elements which you are assessed on. As a junior or more senior researcher you fulfil several responsibilities at the same time such as your own research, publications, participation in conferences and organising workshops. Fund-raising for research grants is also part of the job. Teaching itself requires several hours of preparation. The intensity of work varies and is often determined by the academic calendar. Your office hours are flexible, but a working day may be very long and involves sometimes working on weekends.
You are now Deakin Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford. Could you tell us a bit about this fellowship?
Deakin fellowship is named after the first warden of St Antony’s College, Sir William Deakin, and it is one of the oldest fellowships offered by the College. This one-year visiting fellowship is awarded to an early career researcher who works on any aspect of French studies: history, culture, sociology or international relations. The fellow becomes a member of the European Studies Centre and is at the same time resident of the Maison Française d’Oxford.
Since October, I have had the opportunity to work on my post-doctoral project with an excellent mentor and in a very inspiring academic environment. I followed a number of seminars offered by different departments of the University of Oxford. I had the opportunity to receive feedback on my on-going project during seminars at the Department of History and at the European Studies Centre. I also organised an international workshop on the “Global history of the anti-apartheid movement”. And I discovered the pleasure of living outside big cities.
Has the post-PhD life enabled you to devote more time to academic related activities (societies, public engagement, and social media etc.)?
The post-PhD life certainly means much more freedom. Even though you combine different responsibilities, you can adapt your rhythm. I have more time for my personal life and my non-academic passions: cinema, travels and art craft.
Currently, I try to reduce my public engagements to focus on my personal projects. But, I do use social media as often as possible. I am a community manager of Europe Richie (Réseau International de chercheurs en histoire de l’intégration européenne). I also use Twitter (@anna_konieczna).
To finish the interview, we thought we would end on three light-hearted questions:
Red or white wine?
Red wine. South African red wines.
Favourite French TV show?
I used to watch French TV through the cable network when I was a teenager in order to learn the French language. Now, I don’t have a TV set. I prefer to listen to the radio. When I lived in France, my favourite Radio show was Passion classique by Olivier Bellamy.
Love or hate Bienvenue chez les ch’tis?