Stories from Our Community

A Unique Doctoral Program

When researching graduate schools, Jeenho felt that SAIS was perhaps the only international affairs program where he could have undertaken doctoral research on the topic of North Korea’s unlikely ascent to a global cyber threat actor. He wanted to address the growing threats after his master’s program at Columbia University SIPA, but there were few places that could provide the opportunity. He initially applied for SAIS’ PhD program, but decided to switch to the Doctor of International Affairs (DIA), which would allow him to research the topic in an accelerated manner and gear toward policy-making instead of academia. It was an ideal program at the right time.

After enrolling in SAIS, Jeenho began his research addressing the puzzle of how North Korea, which is one of the least wired countries on earth, became a global cyber threat actor. Less than 0.1% of the North Korean population has Internet access, and yet its exclusive number of young hackers have successfully carried out cyberattacks against 150 countries and stolen billions of dollars online through creative tactics, sophisticated operations, and unconventional strategy. It’s ironic to see the world’s most totalitarian government embracing the world’s most libertarian technologies, like cryptocurrency. Jeenho’s thesis attempts to explain the paradox by looking at the regime’s human resourcefulness, ideological control over information technology, and chronic defiance of the international community. The unlikely ascent also betrays the more complex reality of the Information Age we live in.

As a DIA student, one of Jeenho’s top experiences was working under the supervision of renowned scholars, which he considers a unique privilege. The doctoral course is more solitary because students work independently most of the time. Therefore, building relationships with advisors is key. The in-depth discussions and meticulous feedback throughout the years were all valuable to Jeenho. Furthermore, as part of the inaugural DIA cohort, Jeenho and his classmates became especially tight-knit and supportive of one another.

The DIA program also further helped Jeenho build his expertise by allowing him to delve into issues and focus on research for two years, with support from the top experts in the field. Additionally, as he continued his research and published more articles on his chosen topic over the course of his studies, Jeenho was able to expand his network and share his work with many others.

After completing his degree, Jeenho is continuing to explore career options. He is currently enrolled in a cybersecurity boot camp to improve his technical skills for his employment potential and revising his thesis for publication.