Graduate Student Research

The Pardee School is a great place to pursue research on the topics that are most important to you. Each year, the department awards a number of research grants to students. These grants open up exciting opportunities for our students.

Below are the stories of some of our students who completed field research abroad with funding from a Pardee School grant.

Sarah Busche:  The Netherlands

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The research grant from the IR Department provided me with the opportunity to travel to Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to conduct personal interviews for my MA Paper.  For my paper, I analyzed municipal climate change mitigation strategies, comparing the initiatives in Boston and Rotterdam.  Because the Rotterdam Climate Initiative (RCI) is relatively new, there is very little information on the RCI in the existing literature.  I would not have been able to complete my paper successfully without the opportunity to interview locals associated with and knowledgeable about the development, implementation, and future of the RCI.

I was able to meet with several people from within the official RCI organization, including representatives of three of the four partners associated with the RCI.  Meeting face-to-face with these partners allowed me to gain insight into the unique views that each of the partners has about the RCI. During my time in Rotterdam, I was also fortunate to meet with leaders of local environmental NGOs, who provided insight into the difficulties that the RCI and the City of Rotterdam have had in working with the broader community to tackle climate change mitigation issues.

Some of the best information I gained came when interviewees strayed from my pre-planned questions, an opportunity that would not likely have happened had the interviews been conducted via email. This experience not only greatly improved the quality of my research and analysis for my MA Paper, it also gave me the opportunity to strengthen my interviewing skills.

Heidi West: Peru

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Thanks to the research grant awarded to me by the IR Department, I was able to travel to Peru to conduct research for my MA Paper. My paper studies extreme poverty in rural Peru and the national government’s efforts to improve the quality of life among its citizens. My research focused on a specific social investment fund started by the Peruvian government, FONCODES, which addresses extreme poverty in rural areas through social and economic infrastructure projects such as the construction of roads, classrooms, potable water sources, sanitation systems, and productive projects.

In the seven weeks that I was able to spend in Peru, I had the chance talk with many locals who gave me valuable insight for my paper. Not only did I hold interviews with FONCODES staff, I was also provided with the opportunity to travel with them to some of the construction sites in order to see firsthand what the projects look like. In the Department of Ayacucho, for example, I traveled to the town of Vinchos, where I spent time observing how the projects funded by FONCODES – a pedestrian bridge, a primary school, and a health post – were impacting the lives of the locals. I also passed through remote towns and villages, some only reachable by foot, to witness the living conditions of the extreme poor that I discuss in my MA Paper.

This was an eye-opening experience that gave me insight on how poverty has impacted the quality of living of so many people, something I could never have gotten from textbooks or articles alone.

Luke Wilcox:  Morocco

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Thanks to the research grant I received from the IR department, I had the opportunity to travel to Rabat, Morocco for two weeks to conduct research for my MA paper. My research focused on the role of the United States (or lack thereof) in Morocco’s Equity and Reconciliation Commission (ERC) and how this role was affected by the U.S.-led “global war on terror.”

My research primarily involved interviewing a variety of Moroccans involved with the ERC. Initiated by the government, the commission was designed to examine past human rights abuses committed by the state, compensate victims, and ensure that abuses do not continue. My primary contact in Rabat was Dr. Abdelhay Moudden, one of 16 members of the Commission. I was also able to interview three other Commission members.

Besides the commission members, it was important to get perspectives of others not directly affiliated with the ERC. Abdellatif Moustaghfir, Secretary General of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, presented a critical view of the Reconciliation process and of the role of the U.S. in Moroccan political reform. M’ch‘anna Abdellah, a reporter with the Department of External Relations of the Maghreb Arabe Presse, emphasized that an increasing percentage of Moroccans believe “the U.S. is becoming like an empire.” In the eyes of many Moroccans, the U.S. is asserting its own strategic interests at the expense of local and national interests in Morocco and in the region. Abdellah’s statement was confirmed by the many taxi drivers, street vendors, shopkeepers, and others who generously gave me their opinions.

In addition to talking with these and other Moroccans, reading local newspapers and magazines, and generally getting a sense of the political climate, I was able to attend the conference “A Moroccan-American Youth Dialogue on Democracy and Security,” held in Rabat.

Needless to say, I gained valuable “insider” information from the trip unavailable from this side of the Atlantic.

Kara Worker: Sweden

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Thanks to the IR Department research grant, I traveled to Stockholm, Sweden for one week to conduct primary research for my MA paper.  My paper focuses on municipal sustainable development, comparing the initiatives of Stockholm, Sweden and Denver, Colorado.  During my visit to Stockholm, I conducted interviews with directors of city departments, politicians from the governing political parties, and the coordinator of Stockholm’s Hammarby Sjöstad sustainable housing development.

As the first city to receive the European Green Capital Award, in 2010, Stockholm offers a variety of innovative solutions in the three areas of sustainable development—environment, economy, and society.  Although much of the city’s successes are well publicized, the personal interviews I conducted offered a thorough and candid assessment of the successes and obstacles facing the city’s sustainability initiatives.

Given that Stockholm is governed by seven political parties, interviewing politicians was crucial for understanding the sustainability agenda at the policy-making level.  Additionally, interviews with heads of departments gave details concerning the implementation of policy decisions.

The information gained from the interviews greatly strengthened my MA Paper.  The IR travel grant not only gave me the chance to conduct primary research abroad, it gave an opportunity to develop my interviewing techniques, skills that will be valuable in any career.