A Reflection on the Benefits and Joys of Faculty Research

I moved to the U.S. from India in the fall of 2000. I enrolled as an undergraduate student at Luther College, Iowa. The liberal arts curriculum at the institution provided me with the opportunity to explore a variety of major fields.

While there, I became interested in political science and took a few courses in international relations and comparative politics. These courses were taught by a brilliant, engaging and self-deprecating professor, Dr. Jim Rhodes, whom I admired very much. It would not be an overstatement to say that these courses changed my life.

By the time I graduated from Luther, I had made up my mind to pursue a career in the field of international politics. My goals led me to first complete a master’s degree in political science at Ball State University, Indiana, and later a doctoral degree in political science at Miami University, Ohio. I joined the Department of Political Science at the University of St. Thomas in fall 2008, almost immediately after I finished my doctoral studies at Miami University.

During both my undergraduate and graduate studies, I attempted to gain a better understanding of the politics, economics and society of my home country, India. My doctoral dissertation dealt with the politics of economic reforms in India. Since coming to the University of St. Thomas, I have continued to pursue research on India.

My research agenda focuses on examining changes in Indian politics since the end of the Cold War. Specifically, I analyze the changes observed in the country’s foreign policy since the Cold War years, and in describing India’s case, I attempt to demonstrate how globalization presents opportunities for countries to build stronger relations with each other and overcome old hostilities and suspicions.

The rise of India has implications for not just the Asian continent but the U.S. as well. India is the world’s largest democracy, the second-most populous country in the world, a nuclear-weapons state with one of the world’s largest military forces and the third-largest economy in the world behind the U.S. and China in terms of Gross Domestic Product (Purchasing Power Parity) or GDP (PPP).

India has seen sustained economic growth above 5-6 percent a year over the past two decades. The Indian market, with its burgeoning middle-class, is gradually opening up and foreign companies are eager to invest in many sectors of the economy. As an emerging power, India is expected to play an increasingly significant role in global politics in the 21st century.

My research also attempts to examine how India deals with various domestic and international challenges as it aspires to join the ranks of great powers. I have shared the results of my findings with the larger academic community through journal and book publications, conference presentations and invited research talks.

My research work has been funded by the University of St. Thomas’ Center for Faculty Development Research Grant and the Partnership-in-Learning (PIL) Grant.

India is a country of unparalleled diversity in terms of ethnicity, language and religion. It is a place where an ancient civilization interacts with modern technology and economy. I have been interested in learning about the different faces of India since my undergraduate days.

The more I conducted research in this area, the more I became fascinated by the complexities of Indian politics. Indian foreign policy formulation and implementation involves multiple actors and organizations and is shaped by often-conflicting ideologies and perspectives. Tracing the motivations behind the decisions of India’s policymakers and the effects of policies is always an intellectually stimulating exercise. My teaching is designed to transmit this enthusiasm to my students. Outside the classroom, I also have delivered research talks across campus for students interested in my field of study.

My work on India has been useful for the course I teach on South Asian politics at the University of St. Thomas. My research allows me to keep abreast of the latest work done in my field. It has helped me introduce students to new ideas and perspectives necessary to understand current developments in the South Asian region in general and Indian politics in particular. I discuss how the literature on the subject has evolved, what the major questions are, how to identify and evaluate evidence, and how to interpret the results. My primary aim as an instructor is to get students to think like political scientists. This involves examining research questions in the field through a scientific process engaging in critical analysis, utilizing relevant theoretical framework.

At the University of St. Thomas, I have utilized various opportunities provided by the Center for Faculty Development to support research and scholarship. This includes collaborating with students on research projects. I received a PIL grant to hire a student research assistant during spring semester 2012. I was working on a book manuscript on India’s foreign policy at the time and required assistance in identifying literature on South Asian history and geography, researching India’s foreign policy toward the South Asian region, and analyzing how the major international relations theoretical perspectives may explain India’s foreign policy.

My research assistant, a former student by the name of Michael Ed, provided invaluable services during the writing of my manuscript. As part of his work, he identified literature, collated and summarized information, and examined the merits of various arguments and perspectives. The manuscript has since been accepted for publication as a book by Routledge publications.

Apart from this, I also have served as faculty mentor to a student who secured an undergraduate Collaborative Inquiry Grant (CIG) from the Grants and Research Office during spring semester 2013. Erin Statz, a current political science major, conducted research on “Democracy promotion in India’s foreign policy” and presented the results of her research at the Minnesota Political Science Association’s annual conference as well as at a national undergraduate political science conference in Washington, D.C., over the past year. This coming fall semester, I will have the opportunity to mentor another student who has recently received a Collaborative Inquiry Grant. This student will be working on the subject of civil wars in South Asia.

I believe that the PIL and CIG grants are extremely useful for both faculty and students. It provides faculty with the opportunity to share knowledge and expertise in a given area and conduct joint research with students on a topic of mutual interest. It also familiarizes our students with the kinds of work political scientists engage in and allows them to pursue scholarly interests beyond the classroom.

Under the guidance of the faculty mentor, students develop valuable research skills that provide them with a strong foundation for graduate school and/or employment in academic think-tanks and businesses. It also enhances the student’s candidature when applying for future scholarships, fellowships and awards.

For most faculty members like me, research informs their teaching to a large extent. I’m fortunate that the University of St. Thomas provides opportunities for faculty to pursue research, including partnerships and collaborations with students. The PIL grant and the research grant I received from the Center for Faculty Development has made it possible for me to pursue my scholarly activities. I hope to continue to study the new trends in India’s foreign policy in the 21st century and contribute to the existing body of literature on the subject. I believe that research conducted by faculty helps them grow as scholars and enables them to participate in real-world problem-solving and the creation of new knowledge and sharing it with students.

Finally, collaborating with students through the CIG grant program provides faculty with an opportunity to mentor a future scholar. In line with the university’s goals, it helps faculty guide students in learning how to think critically and work skillfully for the advancement of knowledge and the common good.

Associate Professor Dr. Arijit Mazumdar teaches in the Department of Political Science at UST. 

From Exemplars, a publication of the Grants and Research Office.