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2020-21 Watson Institute Postdoctoral Fellows

The latest group of Watson Postdoctoral Fellows finds the next stage in their careers

May 17, 2021

Five of the up-and-coming scholars who constituted the 2020-2021 cohort of postdoctoral fellows are off to new academic positions in the United States, Europe, and Israel. While they were here, they took full advantage of the opportunity to research, write, and teach that the fellowship affords.

“The fellowship gave me the time to finish up a number of projects I had been working on during my PhD, as well as start some new ones,” says Jori Breslawski, a political scientist. “Some of the projects I am most excited about examine the factors behind armed groups' behavior toward humanitarians. I have been conducting interviews with humanitarian practitioners who have worked in violent contexts, for which my colleagues at the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies have been a great help!” She also managed to write several articles, which are currently under review, and realized her goal of publishing more for the general public. 

One of the things Breslawski appreciated most was the the emphasis Watson places on policy-relevant research and establishing meaningful connections with practitioners and policymakers. She describes the independence she was given as “incredible.”

Anthropologist Aalyia Sadruddin, too, made the most of her time here. “The fellowship afforded me the time and space to pull apart my dissertation and conceptualize it into a book, as well as draft two peer-reviewed journal articles for publication ahead of my tenure-track job,” she says, adding that she benefited tremendously from the feedback she received from within and beyond Watson, from colleagues at the Africa Initiative, the Population Studies and Training Center, and the Department of Anthropology.

Postdocs also gain pedagogical experience, too—something that Sadruddin found to be not only highly valuable, but “the best part of this fellowship year. The teaching requirement pushed me to think about my teaching style and philosophy.” She designed her undergraduate seminar, “Life and Violence,” to offer students “a peopled account of how violence, in its many forms, reconstitutes everyday life and practice.” Her goal, she adds, was “to question what it means to engage with violence without falling prey to essentialist narratives about places and people with whom students may be unfamiliar.” 

In spite of the constraints of the pandemic, Breslawski felt strongly connected to her students. “I was blown away by how bright and engaged my students were, despite the class being held remotely. One of my students even published an op-ed inspired by topics we discussed in class,” she says.

Director Rose McDermott points out that while the fellowship is a boon to promising young scholars, Watson in turn benefits greatly from the fellows, including by sharing their works in progress.  

“The works-in-progress seminars are open to the wider community and allow our postdoctoral fellows to interact with faculty and students from a wide array of fields.  This makes their work truly interdisciplinary and adds to the richness of Watson,” McDermott says. “I have learned so much from our fellows and am thrilled at the wonderful opportunities that await them. It was a true honor to direct the program for the first time this year. I very much look forward to the exciting new scholars who will join our program next year.”

Here are the 2020-2021 Watson Postdoctoral Fellows and their new academic homes:

Magda Boutros
Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Washington 

Jori Breslawski
Lecturer, Department of Political Science (equivalent of tenure-track Assistant Professor), Tel Aviv University

Mahasan Chaney
Assistant Professor of Education, Brown University 

Chase Foster
Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter, Lehrstuhl für International Relations, Hochschule für Politik München, an der Technischen Universität München (Research Associate/ Lecturer, Chair for International Relations, Bavarian School of Public Policy, Technical University Munich 

Aalyia Sadruddin
Assistant Professor of Cultural Medical Anthropology, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill