Ensuring the safety of the nation and its people is one of the nation's great obligations. Defense costs a lot, and at the same time, a lot of people involved are also invested in it. In addition, related research will be essential for the means and systems used for security. Korea's Ministry of National Defense operates the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, which conducts research on defense. SMT met Son Hyojong, who is a researcher there.
Before we start the interview, please introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Son Hyojong and I graduated from the Department of Political Science & International Relations in 2003. I am working as a researcher at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.
Would you introduce the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses?
The research institute that I belong to is a comprehensive government-funded research institute that contributes to defense policy through research and analysis on the overall defense. Founded in 1979, it has already served the role of forging national defense policy for over 40 years. The researchers are working in a wide range of areas of national defense research from current issues to mid- and long-term defense policies. And the department I am in, North Korean Military Research Division, conducts various studies in the security field, such as the big picture of defense policy, various international regional studies, and North Korean studies. In addition to the security field, there are many defense-related research fields, and more detail on our missions and roles can be seen on the website of KIDA.
Please give more explanation of what you do at the North Korean Military Research Division.
The North Korean Military Research Division in the Center for Security and Strategy conducts research on the security environment and basic national defense policies. Our center studies most fields of North Korea such as politics, diplomacy, economy, society, and national defense. All the researchers basically deal with the entire North Korean issue, but they conduct research with more expertise depending on their own major. In my case, I majored in politics and international politics, and I am researching with an interest in North Korea's political and diplomatic fields.
Is there a reason why you pursued a job as a researcher?
I entered graduate school with the dream of continuing my studies. However, after graduating with a master's degree, I had to get a job due to family reasons. But at the same time, I wanted to continue to study international politics. In this situation, a researcher is a perfect job that gives me that advantage and is rewarding because I can use my knowledge for the public interest while both studying and working. The work of applying academics and theories to reality is quite interesting.
You graduated from the Department of Political Science & International Relations. What studies and undergraduate activities helped you become interested in political science?
I studied politics and diplomacy in my undergraduate school and focused on international politics and international political theory in more detail in my master's and doctoral courses. My overall undergraduate score was not good, but instead, I liked my major classes and I studied hard, so my grades were good. In addition to academic studies, I was interested in many other activities. I was the founding member of SMDC (Sookmyung Debate Club), created under the motto of 'We Debate the World.' Through SMDC, I participated in various debate competitions with other universities. It helped to give me logical thinking and data research skills. Also, I participated in student exchange programs and seminars at overseas universities and volunteered at global NGO competitions. These were not activities that were helpful for my resume, but they eventually became an opportunity for me to become interested in the international community and international politics.
Then, was there any special opportunity for you to become interested in national defense, security, and diplomacy?
As I majored in politics and diplomacy, I have always been interested in related fields. While learning about security-related subjects during my master's course, my interest in the field of security also grew. In the case of defense, I was actually new at it when I started working at the institute, and as I learned little by little, my interest in defense grew. I am still lacking in some areas, but I have tried to accumulate expertise by continuously conducting research.
It seems difficult to conduct research on North Korea. Is there a special moment that you feel proud of?
From the academic perspective of international politics, I think North Korea is a very unique subject for research. Since it is a difficult subject, there are more things I don't know than I know. So, I can challenge myself to apply various approaches and theories. When I expand my academic knowledge through efforts to understand North Korean issues, I feel rewarded for my research. I am also proud that I have made a small contribution to North Korea-related research every time I complete my research project.
What has been the most difficult part of the work? Then, how did you overcome it?
When I feel that I lack analysis ability while researching, I feel small. Also, when I am burdened by a lot of pending issues and a heavy workload, I experience my own limitations. There's nothing special about overcoming them, but when I feel like I'm hit by something, I put down the burden I was holding and rest for a while. Then, I take a break while quietly saying to myself, 'I can do it.' And when I lack wisdom, I gather outside ideas by consulting and discussing with my co-researchers. Then, I can learn new things and get positive stimulation. Only then do I have the courage to escape from my limits, as if what was blocked has been set free.
You have done much research on North Korean politics and nuclear strategy. What is the most memorable episode or research you have done at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses?
There have been several. I can't talk specifically about each research project, but I have some precious memories, such as when the results of the first project I had participated in were published in a book. As well, I remember when I was the lead researcher of a joint research project for the first time, and some of the research projects that I joined won an award at the end of the year.
What are some requirements that a researcher should have?
To become a researcher, you must first complete your studies up to a doctorate degree. After graduating from undergraduate school, you must go through a master's and doctoral program, write a thesis and obtain a degree. Then, as a researcher, I try to do my research with maximum rationality, objectivity, and balance. In other words, we try not to be biased or narrow-minded in our research. At the same time, we must constantly study and look at research trends to create vital research products.
Please tell us about your value as a researcher and your future goals.
Originally, I had a strong obsession that I had to do well. I think it was because there was a lot of fear of mistakes and the burden of making a research contribution. However, excessive pressure rather hinders the progress of research and writing. Since then, I've changed my mind. I decided to focus more on fulfilling my goals and achieving internal growth, rather than focusing on doing well. Now I have been freed a little from the burden and my ability to conduct research with a sense of rationality, objectivity, and balance has increased. My future goal is not to do well in research and stand out, but to study with the idea of doing valuable security research to provide a safe and better environment for our children. A breakthrough paradigm shift is good, but I think the research that makes small progress step by step is more valuable.
Lastly, do you have any final words that you would like to leave for Sookmyungians?
I know that Sookmyungians are having a hard time overcoming fierce competition and the rapidly changing times. Sometimes you might get tired, lose confidence, and get scared. Then, I hope you are proud of SMWU and yourself. There may be times when you are compared to students from other universities, and you may be concerned about whether you can win a competition. But remember that Sookmyungians are talented people who have spent their school life well and came to a prestigious university. Put aside your impatience for a moment and look to the future. Imagine the dream you want to achieve in detail, but even if you don't achieve it quickly, don't give up and hold on to your dreams. You are stronger and more capable than you think. As a Sookmyungian myself, I will cheer for you.
- Sookmyung Women's Univ., (B.A.) Political Science & International Relations
- Yonsei Univ., (M.A.) Political Science
- Yonsei Univ., (Ph.D.) Political Science
- Worked in KIDA Current Issues Research Committee (2007~2008)
- Working in KIDA North Korean Military Research Division Center for Security and Strategy (2009~)
- Listed in 2018 "Marquis Who's Who"
Na Cho Seongah / Society Section Editor
Yoon Kim Eunji / Reporter