RMA History Blog

René Koekkoek: Perseverance and the right support

René Koekkoek: Perseverance and the right support

By Henk-Jan Dekker

The story of René Koekkoek’s road to his first job shows that you should not give up if your first application for a PhD position gets rejected. With perseverance and the right support you can still go a long way, even if your first steps on the job market do not go as planned.

After graduating in 2010, René applied for a PhD position with a proposal based on his RMA thesis on Spinoza’s political philosophy, which was rejected. Simultaneously however, he applied for, and was accepted to, a MPhil in Political Thought and Intellectual History, a one-year Masters programme in Cambridge, and a Huygens fellowship, which provided full funding of his studies. In the meantime, he worked together with professors in the Netherlands to write a new proposal. The process involved writing a proposal, receiving feedback by anonymous referents, and having to defend the proposal before a group of professors at the NWO. This time René got the job, and he now works at Utrecht University where he combines his PhD-research with teaching as a junior assistant professor.

His advice to students who are looking to get into a PhD position is: build on your strengths. If you have figured out the field of history that interests you most or what it is that you do best, stick to that and try to cultivate contacts with professors who are experts in the field. It is difficult to secure a PhD position if you lack a specific focus in your studies. By specializing in a certain subfield, you can select courses and get to know people around that particular topic, which will increase your chances. You should also make sure to be informed of the historiography of your subfield. However, it is not recommendable to follow academic trends too closely: by the time you will have finished your PhD your fashionable thesis might already be outdated again.