“These diverse perspectives help enliven classroom discussions around real world issues and problems, and create exciting opportunities for collaborative research.”
Rose McDermott, director of Watson's Postdoctoral Fellows program
October 4, 2021
They study India, Pakistan, Brazil, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. They focus on bureaucracies, slavery, identity, inequality, military power, security, refugees, and migration. And they do so through the lenses of sociology, geography, political science, anthropology, social history, and more.
They are the eight rising young scholars who comprise the 2021-2022 cohort of Watson Postdoctoral Fellows.
Established in 2014, the program supports the research of up-and-coming social scientists who work in Watson’s three core thematic areas—development, governance, and security—while fostering an interdisciplinary approach to scholarship and encouraging collaboration and exchange. It also provides opportunities for fellows to present their works in progress to colleagues, and to develop and teach a course related to their field of expertise.
Rose McDermott, David and Marianna Fisher University Professor of International Relations and the program’s director, notes that this year Watson has also welcomed postdoctoral fellows who are working at research centers across the Institute, including the Rhodes Center and the Climate Solutions Lab, as well as three military fellows (one of whom is also an MPA candidate).
“The real value of the postdoctoral program lies in the ability to integrate so many individuals from such disparate backgrounds and disciplinary training around overlapping interests and real-world concerns,” McDermott says. “These diverse perspectives help enliven classroom discussions around real world issues and problems, and create exciting opportunities for collaborative research.”
The program feels tailor-made to Gabriel Koehler-Derrick, who studies disparities in education and health in the Middle East and North Africa. Koehler-Derrick has taught at the United States Military Academy and worked in the Combatting Terrorism Center there; after his fellowship at Watson, he will be an assistant professor of political science at NYU Abu Dhabi.
“Being a Watson postdoc provides me with an opportunity to make significant progress on my own research, teach a dynamic group of undergrads, engage with a wonderful group of scholars, and get to know and learn from a fantastic group of fellow postdocs,” he says.
Carissa Tudor looks forward to deepening her study of women’s political and economic rights in the early modern and modern periods in Europe. In addition to having a passion for research (she has conducted research at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the International Monetary Fund, and the Paris School of Economics), Tudor takes an emphatically interdisciplinary approach: while pursuing her doctorate at Princeton, she found her interests could not be contained in a single field. She sought out interdisciplinary training, including a “self-created subfield” in economic history.
Of Watson she says, “I find the dual commitment of conducting research that is not only theoretically innovative but also speaks to urgent real-world problems to be an especially compelling feature.”
Much of the appeal of the program lies in both its intellectual and personal camaraderie—especially in these times. Marcelo Ferraro, the first Historical Injustice and Democracy Postdoctoral Research Associate (a position created jointly by Watson and the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice), says that he initially saw his fellowship as a great professional opportunity, albeit a solitary one, but it’s turned out to be much more.
“I imagined my postdoc experience in these ‘pandemic times’ was going to be mostly isolated, and I am glad to figure out I was wrong,” says Ferraro, who studies slavery and criminal justice in Brazil and the United States. “I’ve been surprised by how friendly the Watson community is and how exciting our everyday meetings and conversations are. I have much to learn from my colleagues and I hope to be helpful to them as well.”
Geographer Sangeeta Banerji conducts ethnographic research in the “politics of informality” in cities of the Global South—that is, how do local “fixers” use their influence to shape urban demographics? She also has extensive experience in urban planning and social justice activism. What has struck her most about coming to Watson is the people—including the “warmth, helpfulness, kindness and efficiency” of the staff.
“Drawing from my specialization of studying massive bureaucracies, I can attest to the fact that not only are staff members knowledgeable about the myriad and complex processes within the university, but they are crucial in helping newcomers like us navigate them,” Banerji says. “For their presence and help, I am grateful.”
- Sarah C. Baldwin