In this installment, Student Stories blogger Roxanne shares some of the academic rituals she has started developing at Fletcher, including her experiences attending conferences and workshops in her field of study.
I have written about the “exhale” I associated with the feeling of semi-permanence that a two-year Master’s degree program afforded me, after a few years of relatively nomadic work abroad. In addition to the content of the learning, I looked forward to the rituals and rhythms of an academic life — ranging from establishing traditions as simple as having a favorite library desk (mine: on the 3rd floor by the windows) or having a studying playlist, to finding an academic mentor and crafting papers word-by-word and footnote-by-footnote. Academia differs from field work in conflict management not only on account of the different kinds of impact these sectors make, but also in terms of the lifestyles they entail.
In the past month, I have had the privilege of indulging in another beloved – or dreaded, depending on your level of dorkiness and/or outlook – academic ritual: the conference. The Fletcher School and Tufts at large are bursting at the seams with summits, conferences, and workshops this spring, but some of us have been traveling beyond this community as well. Shortly after the DC Career Trip, I went to New York to attend “Deconstructing Prevention,” a conference on the prevention of mass atrocities. What drew me to the event was a panelist list full of the authors whose work I footnoted regularly, and the practitioners of genocide prevention whose articles I have bookmarked for years. Therein, for me, lies one of the greatest sources of exhilaration about returning to an academic environment, after a few years as a practitioner of conflict management around the world: One can, even for a few days, be in the presence of, or in conversation with, the individuals who shape the direction of their field of work, study, and interest. What was previously a remote and theoretical study can become an interaction and a present conversation, in ways that humanize intellectual pursuits and spark curiosity.
In a sense, what I describe above is similar to the feeling I had when I arrived at my first field placement as a gender and conflict management professional in Egypt. At the time, I was craving a more intimate look into the questions I had been studying from afar, a diminishing of the distance I perceived between me and impact. Returning to academia – even if this is a temporary return – has cast new distance between me and field work, but has placed me closer to the minds who form much of the discourse in this field. A lot of the explorations remain theoretical in their content, but being in the same geographic area as many academics and practitioners has motivated me to ask more questions, establish more mentoring relationships, and seek to learn from and alongside anyone who can share their knowledge.
In addition to Deconstructing Prevention, I had the pleasure of attending “Advocacy in Conflict,” a terrific week of events planned by the Fletcher School’s World Peace Foundation. The public event and closed seminars drew together many human rights advocates, humanitarian personnel, journalists, and academics. Later this semester, I hope to attend a conference on gender and armed conflict, an event on public speaking, and a workshop on gender mainstreaming. Fletcher’s location in the vibrant academic community of the Boston area is conducive to these explorations. Additionally, Fletcher makes available a small amount of discretionary funding to students who wish to attend conferences, enabling us to learn from our peers and other institutions. Next time you see me at a conference, please do say hello!