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An Enriching Education

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Mary Langan
PhD Candidate
Abernethy Fellow

Q: What encouraged you to apply to Johns Hopkins SAIS?
A: I applied to SAIS in part because of my previous experience as a Masters of International Relations (MAIR) student. I enjoyed my courses, the faculty and the campus locations and I thought it would be a good fit for my PhD studies. Furthermore, I appreciated the faculty I would have the chance to work with in this program, who have scholarly expertise on Africa, International Development and Conflict Management.
Q: What has been on of your favorite experiences at the school so far? 
A: I have enjoyed the opportunity to spend a summer doing background research in South Sudan (the country my dissertation focuses on) as well as being an Abernethy Fellow in Bologna (who wouldn’t enjoy spending time in Italy!). During my first two years in the program, I lived in Washington DC and while there I really enjoyed being part of the larger DC community. Teaching ESL, youth mentoring and my Saturday morning Parkrun group were all highlights.
Q: Tell us about your PhD?
A: I am in the African Studies program and my dissertation focuses on the relationship between administrative unit proliferation and intercommunal conflict. Does creating more states/counties/districts have an impact on how communities treat each other and is part of that change more/less violence? My case study is South Sudan since it has had very significant redistricting in the recent past and it is a country I know better than most having lived and worked there. I am using a multi-methods approach that looks at the best conflict data available and pairs that with field work focused around key informant interviews and focus groups. Covid-19 has delayed my field research but I have been able to do many more remote interviews (primarily via Whatsapp) over the last few months than I anticipated.
Q: What have you enjoyed most about studying in Bologna and at SAIS Europe? 
A: On a very basic level, I have really enjoyed being back in a library. When COVID hit and it became unsafe for libraries to be open, I (like everyone else) was working from home. Being in a communal space with other hardworking students has been great for my productivity and I appreciate everything SAIS Europe has done to keep the school safe and open. I have also enjoyed being in such a beautiful city again. Being an American, we do not have walled medieval cities and being surrounded by so much history is a treat. Bologna works hard to keep its architectural charm and it is visible in everything from the two towers to the charming canals to the beautiful piazzas. 
Q: Are you currently working?
A: As part of my Abernethy fellowship, I work as a Teaching Assistant for the International Development Proseminar. I actually took the course as an MAIR student so it has been great to revisit the material and hear about all the exciting work that students have done even before they came to SAIS. I have also been working as a Teaching Assistant for the course Theories of International Relations. Even though it is based in DC, students are attending the course from all over the world this year so I have been able to hold my office hours and give feedback from right here in Bologna. It is one of my favorite SAIS courses so being able to TA for it has been an unexpected upside to the pandemic. 
Q: Tell us about how you SAIS experience has helped you advance your career goals?
A: SAIS gave me the tools I needed to get my dream job shortly after graduation. While it turned out I was not quite as excited about STATA and data analysis as I thought I was, it was a formative experience and I learned a lot about what I did actually want in a job. As a student focusing on International Development, who tried to take advantage of the econometrics courses being offered, I would not have been hired for that first position if not for my quantitative skills and regional knowledge. Since then I have used the critical thinking skills, appreciation for rigorous data management and analysis and passion for contributing my skills in positive ways in all my subsequent jobs. 

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