Birgit Poopuu is a Research Fellow in the School of Governance, Law, and Society at Tallinn University. She has completed her Ph.D. (political science) from Tartu University and completed her MA (International Relations) and BA (English studies) from Tallinn University. She is currently leading a two-year research project on “The Role of Women in the Syrian Revolution: Peace through Prefigurative Politics”.
Please briefly introduce yourself?
BP: My name is Birgit Poopuu and I am a Research Fellow in the School of Governance, Law, and Society at Tallinn University. I am currently leading a two-year research project on “The Role of Women in the Syrian Revolution: Peace through Prefigurative Politics”, financed by the Estonian Research Council (MOBTP200). My research is curious about radical and nonviolent knowledge and experience within international politics.
How did you find your interest in the International Relations program?
BP: During my undergraduate studies, when I had majored in English language, literature, and history, I discovered that the University offers a minor in International Relations (IR) and I got curious about it. In many ways, it was accidental that I stumbled upon IR, yet the reasons for staying with its matter. I remember that I was particularly impressed by one critical IR scholar, who not only managed to make her lectures and seminars engrossing but I also remember how she pushed us to think critically and read as widely as possible made me interested in IR even more. She was the person that demonstrated, how IR borrows from a lot of other fields, so this allowed me to see, for instance, the imprint of literary theories on IR and how IR can be seen as an expansive universe not an entirely separate field per se.
What experience made you a good Ph.D. candidate at the University of Tartu?
BP: I am glad that the author is using the word experience, because this is exactly the way to think about it. It is not necessarily the grades but the skills and knowledge you start developing and should continue to work on continuously that make you a strong candidate for a Ph.D. For instance, working on critical thinking as a skill that you hone by participating actively in lectures, seminars, independent work with reading, analysing texts, debating with your fellow students, etc gives you the ability to carefully weigh and analyse arguments and perspectives that claim to offer a particular framing of a problem. Further, by that point, I had gone through seminars and presentations, the experience of working with my fellow students that all equipped me with the needed communication/presentation skills so that I could present my Ph.D. proposal clearly but also interestingly.
What challenges were there to do your Ph.D. and overcome those challenges?
BP: I guess the biggest challenge for me was to stay focused on the research and writing needed to finish my dissertation. It is easy to convince myself that reading another article or a book is crucial for me to get to the writing. But the truth is that these activities need to be balanced and happen simultaneously. If at first, I struggled with it, I, later on, found that if you plan to write time in your calendar and stick to it then you move forward. It also helps to have regular meetings with your supervisor(s) and that you commit to sending your writing (either a chapter or work on a concrete idea) for each meeting as it provides an opportunity to exchange ideas and get feedback on your work in progress.
What was your core Research Themes and names of the books that you published recently?
BP: During my Ph.D. studies, I specialized in IR’s subfield: peace and conflict studies. I was particularly interested in the ways that the European Union’s (EU) contributions in that sphere were talked about. Overwhelmingly, the emphasis in literature not to mention policy circles was about building capacities to act and then also demonstrating that the EU is indeed acting on the international arena and a serious actor vis-à-vis other players in the peacebuilding business. That is why I became curious to understand more about the substance of the EU’s peace missions, namely, how does the EU tell and act peace and why does that matter.
These thoughts are captured in her recently published book titled The European’s Union’s Brand of Peacebuilding: Acting is Everything
Do other authors help you? If yes, how other authors help you to become a good writer?
BP: It wouldn't be possible without all the brilliant thought-companions around me, as I am constantly thinking and working together with them. It is either by engaging with their work that I grow as an academic, or it is their feedback to my work that will help me surmount any difficulties I might have, or it is a presentation at a conference that makes me see links between topics I did not see before; a chat with a colleague or finding a new thought-companion at a conference that inspires a new idea or is a start of a collaboration/project, etc. The sheer knowledge, support, and encouragement that I have got from my colleagues and mentors – some of who have become my dear friends – is just indescribable.
How can a new student start his or her Research?
BP: To students that have just started their studies in IR, I recommend first to drench themselves in the discipline to understand what is out there, in other words, read as widely as possible. To do this, a good starting point, that is, in addition to being an active student in your classes, is to browse the e-IR interviews with established but also early career academics. These scholars offer experience-near accounts of the most important debates in IR, how they got started and what their recommendations are for students to thrive in their studies and careers. When selecting interviews – or more generally IR texts – be curious about the backgrounds and experience/knowledge these academics offer – for too long certain voices – usually white and male – have been prevalent in IR, so be critical of that because it says a lot about world politics and how we see it. Also, if possible, get involved in activities outside of academia property so you can actively engage with the world surrounding you (e.g. look into locally important campaigns and see if some of them speak to you, join a student society/activity, be active in the student.)