Each month, the Mittal Institute’s Graduate Student Associates (GSAs) meet to discuss their latest work on South Asia, spanning various disciplines — from politics to religion and the arts — and providing feedback on one another’s dissertations, articles, and more. Led by Head Graduate Student Associates Aiden Milliff (Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science, MIT), Blair Read (Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science, MIT), and Akshay Dixit (Ph.D., Political Economy, Harvard), the group of about 20 members from schools across Boston provide support and new insights to one another as they work through their studies.
Recently, Apekshya Prasai (Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science, MIT) presented her pre-dissertation proposal memo to the group for discussion, and to get advice for her possible next steps. So far, she’s been working to identify what research and themes have been missing in other papers around her topic of interest, and through the advice of her fellow GSAs, she uncovered new considerations in her research categories and identified the potential difficulties of performing her research on-the-ground in South Asia.
Together, the group shared their different insights into how Prasai could frame her argument, their multidisciplinary backgrounds continuously helping one another to uncover resources they typically would not come across in their own disciplines — providing a new world of broader literature that they may never have known without the group. The group tossed out different ideas for her argument, from comparing her focus country with an African nation, to applying an organizational theory framework, to taking a political rather than sociological approach to her topic.
Moving forward, the group provided recommendations on planning and performing field work, noting that it is essential to first understand the feasibility of what you want to do and where you want to go (considering conflict, travel difficulties, and even issues of gender that may cause difficulty in retrieving the desired information) before completing a proposal. For example, is it realistic to attempt to learn an entirely new language before leaving? And can you count on your potential interviewees to talk to you, or to be honest?
From the day’s discussion, the team identified a few key recommendations when proceeding with a dissertation prospectus:
- Make sure all possible empirical answers are interesting enough to write a dissertation about.
- Don’t promise anything in your proposal that you don’t want to do or wouldn’t be interested to delve into further.
- Consider reverse engineering another dissertation to see how the author did it: Uncover what their research question could have been, and determine how you would write something similar.
At other meetings, the group also focuses on editing and improving one another’s article drafts, practicing job interviews and discussions, and helping one another turn finished chapters into journal articles.
To learn more about the Graduate Student Associate program, click here.