Second Annual MURF Symposium

The Mortara Center hosted its second annual Mortara Undergraduate Research Fellowship (MURF) Symposium on Tuesday evening, March 3, 2015. Each sophomore and senior MURF gave a presentation on the research he or she has completed thus far in the MURF program.

Soumyajit (Shom) Mazumder (BSFS ’15) began the presentations by introducing the question that has defined his undergraduate research: Why do states relinquish sovereignty to international institutions? As an underclassman, Shom tackled this question by reviewing the literature on politically motivated foreign aid for his mentor Professor James R. Vreeland. After noticing a lack of attention to EU foreign aid in the literature, Shom began his own project on the politics of EU aid, ultimately presenting his research at the 8th Annual Conference on The Political Economy of International Organizations. He next addressed this relationship between sovereignty and international institutions through the lens of bilateral investment treaties and leader survival. Now Shom hopes to consider a question that has puzzled him throughout his time as MURF: Can international institutions challenge the so called “Race-to-the-Bottom” in policymaking? In conclusion, Shom offered a unique perspective on the fellowship and its beyond-the-classroom nature. Without the pressure of grades, the MURF program has allowed him to fail often and use his mistakes as constructive learning opportunities. And by pursuing a single topic throughout his undergraduate career, he has been able to dig beyond superficial observations, while sharing his knowledge with his peers in the MURFs program.

Duncan Hobbs (BSFS ’17) shares Shom’s interest in political economy, researching the impact of globalization on the social and economic welfare of developing countries. Under the mentorship of Professor Nita Rudra, Duncan has spent the last year exploring the literatures on intra-industry trade (IIT) and African free trade agreements (FTAs). Duncan proposed two questions in assessing these literatures: Do developing countries engage in South-South IIT? And, why do poorer African countries enter FTAs? Duncan has learned that developing countries do not typically engage in South-South IIT, and that African countries enter FTAs to expand their competitive sectors and contract their uncompetitive ones. Now in his third semester of the program, Duncan thanked Professor Rudra for teaching him the important skill of breaking down large, overwhelming tasks into manageable steps.

Samantha Mladen (BSFS ’17) echoed Duncan’s gratitude for their mentors’ guidance. Her proseminar professor, Professor Elizabeth Stephen, gave her the academic tools necessary to analyze migration, a topic that fascinated her during her gap year in Germany. With the support of Professor Stephen, Samantha spent her first semester as a MURF preparing to conduct interviews on German-Turkish migration patterns in Turkey.  Before traveling to Alanya, Turkey, Samantha knew that this migration flow, historically dominated by Turkish immigrants, had reversed in 2006, when more Germans began migrating to Turkey. Samantha now believes that the migration flows have flipped again in the last five years, as the political and economic environment in Turkey is less desirable now than in Germany. Upon returning to DC this semester, Samantha began working with Professor Susan Martin at the Institute for the Study of International Migration. She is now developing a case study on Ukraine for Professor Martin’s book on irregular migrants who fall into crisis.

Elaine Colligan (BSFS ’15) presented a research approach distinct from those of her peers. Reflecting her interests in climate change and gender issues, Elaine conducted participatory-action research last summer in Djirnda, Senegal regarding the influence of gender on vulnerability to climate change. Elaine informed the audience that the literature tends to dismiss the detrimental effects of climate change on men. At the beginning of her time in the fishing community of Djirnda, Elaine began to realize the limitations of such a female-oriented gender analysis. By diverting from this monolithic narrative, Elaine gained critical insights on the gender dynamics in Djirnda and communities like it. She found that men dominate the most lucrative industry—fishing—and consequently suffer from unemployment and financial uncertainty as a result of climate change. Women, meanwhile, predominately engage in the physical tasks associated with a fishing community, and thus bear the immediate physical and social hardships from the effects of climate change. Though the consequences differ by gender, Elaine posits that it is hard to determine who is more harmed by this environmental disruption.

In their concluding remarks, all MURFs expressed their gratitude to the Mortara Center, Director Katheen McNamara, and Assistant Director Moira Todd for supporting their research endeavors and noted it has been a transformative experience for them.