My name is Raisa Chowdhury and before coming to Princeton I worked for about five years in the ecosystem of USAID-funded development programming. When I decided to pursue graduate school, I knew I was interested in understanding and preventing different forms of political violence. I hoped school would give me a roadmap for how to do those things more effectively so more individuals are able to thrive.
What I’ve realized in the last two and a half semesters is that this place isn’t going to give me that roadmap. But here’s what I am getting here.
In Field 2, I’m getting a sampling of the most important academic evidence on development. Professor Kohli’s gateway course gives a fantastic comparative overview of development trajectories around the world and why we wound up at the state of the world we’re at today. The required course in the second year gives a sampling of more granular evidence across different sectors. These courses ensure that leaving SPIA, every Field 2 student has a solid foundation in the greatest and latest in development research. Courses with a more thematic focus provide practice in applying an analytical lens as a simulation of a policymaker’s task.
Everybody who comes into SPIA regardless of field has to take a core that includes economics and statistics courses. As a result, I can confidently say I have a greater facility interpreting and utilizing technical research than I had coming in.
While I knew I was seeking technical guidance when I left the workforce for academia, what I was also secretly searching for was inspiration. Like many who work in the development industry, after a few years I was jaded about the potential for impact. I found myself deeply uncomfortable with the field’s neocolonial roots as well as the racism, arrogance, and inefficiencies that are baked into its systems.
Just because we got into Princeton doesn't make us particularly extraordinary or uniquely qualified to take on revolutions. At SPIA, we are mostly generalists. But what sets us apart is that we are willing to take on the biggest questions impacting people’s lives – not as a philosophical musing to pass the time, but as our life’s work.
My classmates are willing to look at the development industry and international affairs at large for all of what it is. They balance asking hard abstract questions with recognizing the need to continue forging ahead and experimenting to figure out what yields results for lived realities. They look me in the eyes and force me to reckon with why I’m here, with an unspoken “me too” imbuing the air. They have helped reinvigorate my belief that we have a part to play in effecting systemic change.
The roadmaps won’t be handed to us because they don’t exist. We’re on uncharted territory in a constantly evolving world, but SPIA has helped me calibrate and sharpen my navigation tools. For those who will join the SPIA community with the class of 2024, I hope it does all this and more for you too.