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   Meet SPSSI’s New James Marshall Public Policy Scholar
   By Katya Migacheva, SPSSI Marshall Scholar

I started my tenure as the new James Marshall Public Policy Scholar with SPSSI on October 1, 2012. The past 4 months have revolved around learning about policy and politics, seeking and securing a placement, and shaping an understanding of what my contribution as a James Marshall Scholar might be.

Due to the presidential elections of 2012 and post-election transitions on Capitol Hill, until recently I was spending the majority of my time at the SPSSI Central Office. This allowed for a smooth transition from familiar academic settings to the world of policy. I have learned a great deal from working closely with SPSSI’s former policy coordinator Alex Ingrams. Together with the policy committee we drafted SPSSI’s policy priorities for the next several years; initiated and designed a congressional briefing on the Violence Against Women Act; and collected materials on several other issues. Immersed in the vibrant political life of Washington, D.C., I also had time to learn more about the work of different branches of the U.S. government, its political intricacies, and came to appreciate even more the challenge that SPSSI faces in its role as a bridge between social science and policy. I am incredibly grateful to the staff of the Central Office, as well as to the former James Marshall Scholar, Angel Colón Rivera, for their mentorship and guidance, support, and friendship.

This transition time also allowed me to research various placement options for the rest of my fellowship. Like many other recently graduated Ph.D.s, I found myself wondering what value I can offer to the world outside of the academy’s familiar walls. Indeed, as my degrees advanced, the focus of my work has narrowed. Over the years of graduate work, the big conundrum of intergroup relations I wanted to solve—how can we all get along—was broken down into a billion little pieces, and my task was to attempt to find answers only to one or two of them. So, it only makes sense that when I found myself again in the world of a “bigger picture,” I was not quite sure how I would fit in.

Having gone on multiple interviews, I now understand that, in fact, Ph.D. graduates possess a myriad of qualities that are professionally very attractive for jobs outside academia. Years of mastering scientific method make us excellent at organizing and testing ideas; having to constantly justify and defend these ideas to our colleagues and peers enables us to support our positions with logic and argumentation. The infinite literature reviews hone our ability to integrate information from multiple sources; experience of being in charge of multiple research projects makes us great project managers; and, our teaching skills make us good at conceptualizing and explaining. These are, of course, just a few examples of the many professional assets that would make many employers outside (and inside!) academia happy.

And so, after examining many options, I accepted an offer to become the Lead Democratic Fellow at the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission at the U.S. House of Representatives. I am delighted to have this opportunity: I get to work on the issues about which I feel truly passionate, while being fully embedded in the work of the Congress, and getting the inside view of the U.S. political process. In leading the commission, my task is to bring human rights violations across the globe to the attention of the U.S. Congress. As the James Marshall Scholar, my goal is to seek ways to bring social psychological knowledge into conversations on the Hill. I have been given an amazing opportunity to “walk the talk” and will have to transform my aspirations to merge social science and policy into tangible actions. I am excited to see what this challenge entails, and I look forward to sharing my experiences with you in future issues of Forward. Stay tuned!



—Katya Migacheva 

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