ISA 2014 Roundtable on Strategic Culture

This week, I’m speaking on a PhD-related Strategic Culture roundtable at the International Studies Association’s annual convention in Toronto, Canada (program):


‘Strategic Culture Is Dead; Long Live Strategic Culture’: New Directions in Research

Thursday 27th March 2014, 4pm – 5:45pm, TD43, Maple West Room, Sheraton Center Toronto


International Security Studies


Chair. Jeffrey S. Lantis (College of Wooster)

Part. Christopher Twomey (Naval Postgraduate School)

Part. Patrick H. M. Porter (University of Reading)

Part. Alan Bloomfield (University of New South Wales)

Part. K.P. O’Reilly (Carroll University)

Part. Justin Massie (University of Quebec in Montreal)

Part. Alexander G. Burns (Monash University)

Gray Matter


For several months I’ve been thinking about writing a PhD chapter on AMC’s Breaking Bad. The influential television series features Drug Enforcement Agency and Mexican drug cartel strategic subcultures centered on Albuqurque, New Mexico. One overlooked aspect is Walter White’s (Bryan Cranston) past as a talented graduate research chemist in the now multi-billion dollar firm Gray Matter. One of White’s major character motivations is that he sold his founding stake to Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz for $5000. Its return in the penultimate episode ‘Granite State’ makes the subplot a powerful one for researchers who make decisions on research commercialisation and spinout ventures



30th January 2013: PhD Confirmation of Candidature Document

Confirmation of candidature is a PhD project’s one year milestone. You can download the second, revised version of my PhD Confirmation of Candidature document here. It outlines my project scope, some of the relevant literature, key research questions, and methodological framework.


My thanks to Michael Janover, Pete Lentini, Ben MacQueen, Andy Butfoy, and Luke Howie at Monash University’s School of Political and Social Inquiry for their critical feedback.

25th October 2012: PhD Confirmation Talk Slides

I’m giving a PhD Confirmation talk as part of Monash University’s annual PSI Symposium on 26th October (at the 1:30-3:00pm session in HB.39, Caulfield campus).


You can download the slides here and read the 2011 initial PhD proposal here.


My thanks to Michael Janover, Pete Lentini, Ben MacQueen, Andy Butfoy and Luke Howie.


I opted for a ‘document format’ rather than the aesthetic communication wizardry of Nancy Duarte’s Slide:ology. Maybe next time.

3rd August 2012: Violentology

Colombia’s FARC insurgency is one of my PhD case studies so Stephen Ferry’s project looks interesting:


For the past ten years, the photographer Stephen Ferry has working on what he calls a “collective photographic record of the Colombian conflict.” The long-running internal unrest in Colombia, he warns, isn’t just a product of the drug wars, but “involves a baffling array of actors: The Colombian Armed Forces, supported by the United States, two guerrilla armies, and a host of right-wing paramilitary militias and criminal gangs.” Ferry’s project, which brings historical information and images together with his own landscapes of Colombia and portraits of its people, is currently on display at Umbrage gallery, and will be the focus of his upcoming book, “Violentology.” Here’s a look at Ferry’s photographs.

28th June 2012: Should You Publish With Your PhD Supervisors?

I recently started working with a copy-editing colleague and a group of Victoria University higher degree students. I also advise business and law academics on their research programs. Both activities provide a reflection cycle on my PhD studies in political science at Monash University (my November 2010 PhD proposal). These experiences highlight some different approaches and research cultures at both universities.


Publishing with your PhD supervisor is an opportunity that should be explored carefully. It is the norm in some scientific laboratory work and was also the case in a Cooperative Research Centre team I was on where the professor was the lead author. In that case, the professor had contacts with industry partners and government policymakers; had deep historical knowledge of the academic field; was able to arrange media coverage and a launch; could secure research funding and budgets; and could make judgments about the analytical research product. Some of the more novel, multidisciplinary and risk-seeking ideas were never published or written up formally from presentations. A professor or PhD supervisor who is the lead author will usually call the shots.


A good PhD supervisor will help you publish in certain ways. They will provide developmental editing feedback on your draft. They will inform you about the appropriate journals to publish in; the editorial board and peer review standards; specific methods and research design issues; who the international and national experts are; and what current debates you can tap. They can explain obscure but important research administration like Higher Education Research Data Collection (HERDC) forms and Field of Research (FoR) codes. In doing so the PhD supervisor helps to socialise you into a research community and discipline.


A PhD supervisor may also be unable to do this for several reasons. You may be one of their first PhD students and they are growing into the PhD supervisor role. They may be unfamiliar with your research questions. They may have been socialised into a different sub-discipline or sub-field. They may have gaps in their publication track record or may have changed topics. They may have signed up too many PhD students for workload points. They may have accepted a range of PhD students who are not in their specific area of research expertise and are spread too thinly. Or, they may not have kept up with these research and scholarly issues, and may be in a mid-career or late-career drift. You will sense this early on in PhD supervision meetings — and in good cases the PhD student provides renewal for the PhD supervisor. In bad cases you might change your PhD supervisor, and your university research office can advise you on how to do this.


So, preferably, do your ‘due diligence’ on your PhD supervisors before you begin to discuss publishing with them. Avoid if possible a situation where you do the work and the PhD supervisor insists on first name on the published article in order to ‘game’ the workload points system. Don’t publish in an obscure journal that no-one will read or that has a ‘pay to publish’ fee. Use social media like academic blogs in an appropriate manner to make your research more visible to others (and don’t let this detract from your research writing).


My personal preference is to either publish as sole author or in a team where the roles and name order are clearly negotiated upfront. My Monash PhD supervisors’ preference is for me to publish during my PhD and to publish alone in order to build my expertise and reputation in the field. They already have established their reputations and publishing track record, and have made specific contributions that also differ from my PhD research topic. I have already published in A-level journals without a PhD and been internationally cited. To achieve this you need exciting research questions; good research design; and to write to the standards of the ‘target’ journal or conference. Victoria University’s research culture is different and is more weighted toward PhD candidates co-publishing with their PhD supervisors.


I hope this advice helps and good luck with your PhD research.

19th April 2012: Lies of the Academic World/Myths of the Real Degree



I recently re-read Don Webb’s essay ‘Lies of the World/Myths of the Real’ on the criterion for initiatory systems and schools. Webb identified six important aspects of initiatory systems from his study of the anthropological literature.


Below are some initial comments in the context of a PhD program:


1. Process. Each field or discipline has its unique PhD process. It can range from creative work and historical archives to scientific laboratory research. The PhD is also an unfolding process: research classes; identifying initial research questions that identify a knowledge gap; writing literature reviews; doing interviews and field studies; write-up and editing; and oral defence. The goal is to make an original scholarly contribution to a field of knowledge.


2. Exchange. This can occur in several contexts. The PhD committee can act as a mentor-mentee exchange in which the PhD candidate is socialised into the norms and practices of particular disciplines. Many programs now encourage cohort-based peer learning. Conferences and symposia may create the suitable conditions for Exchange to occur.


3. Real-world testable. Universities and other employers have different expectations of the PhD graduate. For instance, out-of-work physicists ended up on Wall Street in the 1980s as quants and financial engineers. Knowledge transfer across different domains and contexts — such as from universities to policy work, or into business consulting — can provide unexpected medial and daemonic outcomes of PhD research. This is also the domain of research management and collaborative research consortia. Knowledge use has unexpected generative, real-world and self-transformative consequences — why it is useful to read the intellectual histories of a discipline or the anthropology and sociology of its knowledge.


4. Transmission. The PhD committee acts as a locus for initiatory Transmission between academics and the PhD candidate. The quality and specifics of this Transmission depends on the initiatory depth of the committee and how they approach their tasks. One secret of PhD work is to give oneself the self-permission to engage with the best quality academic research that you can find, irrespective of your current life circumstances, or the local conditions at your university. Hence, Transmission can also occur when the PhD candidate immerses herself in reading the best journals in their field; examines past PhDs that have made a significant impact; or uses award-winning work as the model to begin their own research design. Transmission can fail if the PhD committee is unfamiliar with the areas that the PhD will explore, and is just supervising the candidate to get workload points.


5. Troth/Truth. One of the PhD’s goals is to show that the PhD candidate can conduct independent, high-quality, original academic research. The PhD is thus a truth process, a discovery process involving Runa (that extends the Unknown in a field as new questions arise — usually discussed in the ‘further research’ section of the final chapter), and as a vehicle for Self-change and initiatory growth. It is also the PhD candidate’s major encounter with Troth in an academic context and it may dramatically shape their subsequent career trajectory. Through exploring a topic in-depth, the PhD candidate grows as a researcher and is able to network nationally and internationally with a community of practice. They are able to engage in Socratic dialogue with other senior and emerging scholars, and to join the relevant professional associations.


6. Specialisation. The PhD topic enables the PhD candidate to specialise in a particular field, discipline or sub-field. People who embark on academic careers may start with wide-ranging interests but they usually specialise in specific topics that make their worldly reputation. It is common for project scope and focus to change as the project unfolds, and as new insights emerge. It provides a launching pad for the PhD candidate to further develop their career and emerging research program. There may be initiatory or quest-like aspects to the specialisation in which the PhD candidate learns and embodies particular epistemes and norms. The PhD’s goal is in part to advance specialised knowledge in a field or discipline.


Photo: willg/Flickr.

19th April 2012: PhD Proofreading Tips

Alastair Iain Johnston’s Cultural Realism (1998)


1. Have a couple of PhDs in your area as writing models. These may have been published by a university press; may be on an academic’s home-page; or can be obtained through databases like Proquest’s Dissertations & Theses.


For example, for my in-progress PhD, I am using Alastair Iain Johnston’s PhD ‘An Inquiry Into Strategic Culture’ (University of Michigan, 1993), later published as Cultural Realism: Strategic Culture and Grand Strategy in Chinese History (Princeton University Press, 1998). For a model of paragraph structure and condensed writing that conveys a lot and uses historical sources, Bruce Kuklick’s Blind Oracles: Intellectuals and War from Kennan to Kissinger (Princeton University Press, 2007). You will find different examples in your own area. Also look at A* and A-level academic journals in your field or discipline.


2. Early on, talk with your PhD committee about the thesis format they want; the possible chapter structure and sequence; and the particular referencing system that you will use (e.g. Chicago, Harvard, MLA). Also use the PhD committee meetings to discuss exploratory ideas and tentative hypotheses that will contribute to the originality of your dissertation.


3. Before writing up a chapter, do an outline of the key points and possible sections. Keep a separate file for chapter notes – or have some other way to capture rough ideas as they spontaneously emerge. You will find that a sequence of ideas will emerge that will form paragraph and section structure. This will also identify potential problems before you write, so you won’t get stuck. It will minimise scope creep which can add time and complexity to your candidature. And it will mean you don’t over-write when drafting.


4. Approach each chapter or section in a series of write-ups or progressive drafts. The first write-up may be to get specific ideas down on paper: just speed-write and don’t self-censor. The second may be to look at argumentation – use a book like Barbara Minto’s The Pyramid Principle: Logic in Writing and Thinking (Essex: FT Prentice Hall, 2002) or Austhink’s Rationale ( to map out your arguments, counter-arguments, deductive and inductive logic, and evidence. The third may address the specifics of your research design and methods. The fourth may deal with referencing. The fifth may deal with overall flow and ensuring that your conclusions follow from the earlier parts of the chapter. Do a final edit for clarity: try to condense and rewrite over-wordy sentences to convey your key points in a more succinct manner.


5. Pay close attention to editing paragraphs. Does the opening sentence establish the paragraph context? Do the subsequent sentences develop the argumentation and evidence in an analytical rather than in a descriptive way? Does the paragraph explore an idea in an elegant and clear way, or are there several, muddled ideas in it? Does the final sentence transition effectively to the next paragraph? Do the paragraphs provide a narrative arc or flow for the reader?


6. Define and explain all key terms. Define all abbreviations the first time you use them. Clarify any field or discipline-specific terms so that the reader can understand them. Read your chapter out aloud so that you can find sentence fragments and unfinished arguments. Check that your sentences have verb-tense agreement and that they do not have dangling modifiers.


7. Invest in a copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style (2011 edition) and perhaps Joseph Williams and Gregory Colomb’s Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace (New York: Longman, 2010). Check out the creative non-fiction and investigative writing on and and see how writers for The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair approach these issues. Do a forensic analysis of a journal article that has made a significant impact on your field or discipline, and look closely at how all of these issues are dealt with. Academic writing does not have to be dull and boring.


8. Get others outside your PhD committee to read your drafts including ‘naïve’ readers who are non-experts in your field or discipline. Circulate your draft chapters at conferences and student colloquia. Your colleagues will have fresh eyes and are more likely to pick up proofreading and copy errors. Approach experts in your field or discipline to read sections that deal with their work – this can lead to you chairing conference symposia and to potential collaborations with their students. It also increases your research visibility.


9. Consider keeping a public writing blog of your unfolding research journey, and using it to draft initial ideas and to review the relevant literature in your field or discipline. This can attract readers who will proofread your work. Also set up, Google Scholar and Twitter accounts to increase the probability that your academic work will get publicly cited. Schedule time to write and edit/proofread your work.


10. The best academic work goes through several redrafts. Jeremi Suri spent seven years researching and writing his PhD ‘Convergent Responses to Disorder’ (Yale University, 2001). His PhD supervisor, Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis, who won the 2012 Biography Pulitzer, made Suri proofread and redraft some of his sections up to 12 times. Gaddis would question sentences, ask for more clarity, and seek clarification on the theoretical constructs and arguments that Suri was developing.