In November, I served on a phenomenal panel sponsored by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) and the Kaldor Center for International Refugee Law at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). The purpose of the “Empowering Emerging Scholars in Forced Migration” panel was to draw attention to the importance of rigorous and applied research on refugee populations to inform empirically-sound migration policy. Below are the notes on my comments, which start at about 43 minutes into the video above.

  1. How might one seek research roles outside academia, and then how can one juggle those different roles while pursuing research that you love?

I certainly don’t have any answers to the perfect, magical career, certainly in comparison to some of the impressive prior speakers, but I suppose I have some lessons learned from a career I really love. I work in three capacities: academically as a professor at African Leadership University, in research as a Fellow at the University of Rwanda, and as an NGO and development consultant, but these all entail qualitative research design.

First, I would say that graduate degrees and academic expertise should come before the consulting because consultants need to bring a lot to the table. Additionally, the easiest way to ensure you can find research outside of academia is to pursue research that has very clear policy implications, e.g. climate change or immigration in Europe. A good question to ask yourself if you would like to pursue research outside academia, “Can I visualize a government employee wanting to hear what I have to say in their office?” If you can imagine that, then there may be policy implications.

I said “yes” to everything in my 20s, even unpaid, and now, a decade later, I target my efforts to ensure that every project I work on:

a) compensates me in some way,

b) fits within two academic disciplines, and

c) serves at least two purposes on my three-section CV; this means it could actually fit within two sections of my CV (my sections of my CV are teaching, research, and consulting).

2. How can early-career scholars promote their work to build a public profile—especially in the midst of limited travel and networking opportunities during COVID?

I actually think this is the ideal time to build a public profile because you can engage online/give talks without the time and financial burdens of travel. As an example, I am on three panels this week in three different countries, otherwise impossible in person.

For early career scholars, I would recommend you get on every email list you can, and then spent a portion of every week sifting through email blasts to look for engagement opportunities. To build a public profile, my main lesson is that it isn’t enough to put your work online, you have to use your work to have a discursive conversation online through reposts, tweets, conversation threads, etc. As an aside for balancing promotion of your work with your personal happiness, I dislike Twitter and have just accepted that my work will have limited impact because I won’t use it. That’s OK with me.

Lastly, find a way to ensure that your work is topical today in the news. My website posts about current events get at least 50 times more traffic than my purely academic posts, especially if I include a news link. The internet now requires that all of work, no matter what the topic, can be linked to today’s news.