Archive for May, 2015

Student Spotlight: Kathrin Kranz

Posted on May 5, 2015 in Students

Kranz, Kathrin 14-15Kathrin Kranz, a doctoral candidate in the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, recently received one of the Nanovic Institute’s Dissertation Fellowships. But before that, she received a Graduate Break Travel and Research Grant for winter break travel to Germany. There she conducted interviews as a part of her dissertation field research, and her funding made all the difference. Read about her experience in her own words!

I arrived in Germany at the height of the holiday season, a wonderland of Christmas sights and sounds. It was, in short, a beautiful time of year to begin my dissertation field research, nine days of which were generously funded by the Nanovic Institute. The main purpose of my trip was to interview experts and policymakers on the topic of arms embargoes and changing European arms export norms. While I had already collected archival data as well as government documents and media publications, I needed to conduct interviews to understand the informal dynamics of policymaking that are often difficult to deduce from written sources.

Having set up some interviews before getting to Germany, I started my journey in Bonn. During the course of my first meetings, it soon became clear that in order to meet and speak with insiders, I needed to be flexible. Because the holidays had just ended, many of the people I planned to interview were in different locations than they usually are, or were busy catching up with their work. And so, I spent a good deal of time on trains, traveling all over Germany to meet with experts, government consultants, civil servants, and members of Parliament (luckily Germans trains are comfortable and punctual, and have quiet wagons that are great working environments!). For this, the generous funding from the Nanovic Institute proved invaluable: it allowed me to be flexible, to change my travel schedule—often at the last minute—and to make my way to several locations without having to worry about whether or not I could afford the next train journey.

As a result, I met many of the experts and policymakers who are central to my dissertation research. I interviewed eight insiders during the nine days that the Nanovic Institute funded. It was a pleasure to find how welcoming people were, and how eager they were to help, despite their busy schedules. On more than one occasion an interview that was scheduled to last one hour turned into a conversation and a lunch, filled with anecdotes of work and of navigating the highly complex subject of the arms trade. The insiders’ accounts of German arms embargo politics and changing European arms export norms not only revealed some of the informal dynamics I was hoping to discover, they also changed some of the assumptions I had made.

For example, one account of a European working group meeting described how civil servants from European Union member states come together to talk about each other’s approaches to determine the legality of potential arms transfers. This sharing of information, said the insider, influences how she views decisions, and has contributed in subtle ways to rethinking some of the ways these are made. This was just one account of how European cooperation has begun to affect member states’ arms export policies.

The Nanovic’s Christmas travel and research grant not only allowed me to travel to Germany to conduct dissertation research, it also made it possible for me to make last-minute adjustments to my travel plans, which I would not have been able to afford otherwise. I was able to conduct eight interviews for my dissertation, which have enriched my thinking and findings. In addition, I was able to make valuable contacts for future research.

I am very grateful for the support the Nanovic Institute has given me. It was a wonderful experience to meet some of the people who contributed to some of the decisions I have been studying from a distance.

Student Spotlight: Lauren Seubert

Posted on May 4, 2015 in Students

Seubert, Lauren 14-15Sometimes we simply cannot see the flaw in our research design. It happens to the best of us. Lauren Seubert (’15),  who is majoring in Economics and Applied & Computational Mathematics & Statistics, learned that the hard way. The real trick is to be able to identify the flaw, learn about it, and then adjust accordingly. Lauren did exactly that, thereby turning what could have been a failed trip to Norway on a Senior Travel and Research Grant into a successful one. Read all about it in her own words!

My experience in Norway not only bridged the gap between my analytically focused coursework and my desire to exercise my skill set in a field work environment, but it also led to personal development by forcing me to adapt to unforeseen obstacles and constantly update my project’s hypotheses.

Prior to traveling to Norway, I spent many hours creating and refining a survey designed to measure various aspects of social capital; I then planned to use this survey as my data gathering instrument. Unfortunately, this method did not work well in Oslo, Norway. I believe the bad stretch of weather during my stay contributed to people’s respectful but negative disposition toward taking my 5-10 minute survey on the spot using my iPad. I was discouraged, but after discussing this outcome with my Norwegian contacts I learned why: Norway is generally an introverted society. Many Norwegians are trusting and communally centered, as supported by my survey responses, but they often times feel uncomfortable when approached by a stranger.

 A member of the university’s student union thought that this complex cultural norm might be an outcome of the transition that resulted largely from the economic success Norway achieved after discovering oil. In his opinion, this event not only marked the transformation of their economy from secluded and simple to one of novel global importance, but also affected society on a cultural level. Prior to the oil discovery, Norway’s history was tranquil and the Norwegian people were happy being left to their own devices. After the discovery, the Norwegian people felt a bit taken aback with the attention their country started to receive. While Norwegians may be extremely social and friendly amongst other Norwegians, they are still adapting to foreigners’ interest in their society. This discussion was extremely useful to my study in helping me improve and enhance my assumptions. Nevertheless, I was forced to adapt my study’s design going forward.

I resolved to create a link to my survey that could be emailed and only taken once so that people didn’t have to take the survey on the spot. Additionally, I transformed my instrument into an interview transcript to be used with various contacts. These contacts included: members of the student union and other student organizations at the University of Oslo, social researcher Signe Bock Segaard from the Institute for Social Research in Oslo, and Dr. Ole Gunnar Austvik, a professor of energy economics and management at the BI Norwegian Business School. Although this was not my original design and the randomization factor of my data was compromised, I gained the benefit of engaging more deeply in conversation through this interview environment.

For example, Dr. Austvik greatly augmented the explanatory case of strong institutions, a case made in many of the research papers I read, as an important factor in Norway’s success. He explained that this case was rooted in the rise of the hydroelectric sector in Norway, which occurred long before oil was discovered. It was during this time that Norway successfully and effectively built institutional consensus concerning their energy policy. Unlike the United States, energy policy was not a polarizing political question; rather, it was an objectively strategic one. Furthermore, Dr. Austvik extended this model to help me understand how this type of thinking has permeated Norway’s entire political sphere from international affairs to discussing the privatization of infrastructure companies. Norwegian society fosters an open forum of discussion thus allowing for the country to be flexible and adaptable while still proudly standing firm in their core democratically socialist ideology.

I was fortunate enough that my Norwegian contacts further supported me in seeking out other resources and contacts during my week in Oslo. I now plan to continue to use these materials and expansive network of contacts to further expand my study. I will also conduct data analysis on the data I gathered. Under the recommendation from Dr. David Campbell, I purposely constructed my survey instrument using verbatim questions from two well-known social capital questionnaires that are used widely to do comparison studies across many countries. This plan gives me the opportunity to still parse valid data, albeit not taken by me personally.

Overall, my experience was overwhelmingly positive. Not only did my project develop in ways I never thought imaginable before departing for Norway, but I was also blessed with the opportunity to immerse myself in an extraordinarily unique culture and meet wonderful people while doing so.

Thank you to the Nanovic Institute for helping provide me with this amazing experience I will never forget!