Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

“Supporting each other and working across disciplines and regions, this year’s cohort of young scholars showcased a commitment to comparative research and teaching. We will undoubtedly be witness to the impact of their work in the coming years.”

Keith Brown

Watson Institute Postdoctoral Fellows Making a Difference

June 27, 2017

Michelle Jurkovich, a political scientist and an expert on the politics of hunger, will soon depart for Washington, D.C., as a recipient of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) highly competitive Science & Technology Policy Fellowship. AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and the publisher of the prestigious journal Science.

During her one-year AAAS fellowship, Jurkovich, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston, will work in the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Office of Food for Peace to help develop new metrics to measure and identify U.S.-run emergency food aid operations’ successes and failures. She will observe USAID operations in rural communities in several nations and contribute to the Office of Food for Peace’s gender and youth portfolio.

Jurkovich came to Brown in 2014 as a member of the first cohort of Watson Institute postdoctoral fellows in international and public affairs. Reconceived and reinvigorated by then-Director Richard M. Locke, the fellowship program attracts young scholars who are exploring vital social science questions from an interdisciplinary perspective. Many of Jurkovich’s “fellow fellows” will soon or have already advanced to tenure-track positions at prestigious institutions, including Brown, Barnard, Harvard, Rutgers University, Bard College and the University of Virginia.

According to Keith Brown, who co-directs Watson’s postdoctoral program, “Supporting each other and working across disciplines and regions, this year’s cohort of young scholars showcased a commitment to comparative research and teaching. We will undoubtedly be witness to the impact of their work in the coming years.”

Collaborations among Watson fellows—whom Jurkovich calls “a remarkable community of very smart peers” —were valuable to Jurkovich, as was the gift of time to work on her current book project. The first part of her book uses archival evidence from the US, UK, and FAO archives to document the evolution of hunger from a condition to a problem from the mid-1940s until the present day.  The second part of her book relies on surveys and interviews with senior and executive staff at top international anti-hunger organizations to explain the nature and shape of contemporary anti-hunger advocacy campaigns. She expects it will go out for review by summer’s end.

Exchanging ideas with Watson fellows—experts in economics, sociology, philosophy, geography, anthropology and history—offered Jurkovich a broad perspective on food insecurity and chronic hunger. At Watson, she learned how to communicate with broader audiences about her work, which she found quite helpful during exhaustive AAAS interviews.

And the AAAS fellowship application process was valuable too, as Jurkovich discussed her current book project with policy experts from diverse federal agencies. “It’s far too infrequent that academics and policymakers are brought together to brainstorm, challenge each other and exchange expertise as they work on pressing policy challenges,” she says. In contrast to her political science expertise, most AAAS fellows are experts in the natural sciences.

The AAAS fellowship is a valuable opportunity for academics to lend their expertise to ongoing policy challenges, while learning from experienced governmental counterparts, Jurkovich says. “I am honored to be working to bridge the gap between academia and the policy world.”  

 --Nancy Kirsch


Hear Michelle on Watson's podcast, Trending Globally.