May 21 2009

Different connections for different purposes

by at 2:01 pm

I capitalize on a combination of my strong and weak connections in my intellectual pursuits, and use my network for different purposes. I write about research at Georgetown, which spans thousands of topics and areas. Anything I want to know more about is researched here – piracy, HIV/AIDS, health economics, violence in the Middle East, dolphin communication tactics, you name it. Often my articles reflect my own interests and subjects I want to learn more about.

While interviewing Georgetown faculty (weak connections) I get to bounce my theories off of them. I’m dealing with experts, some of who have devoted their entire careers to their research areas, so I feel confident in the responses I get. I may not always agree with their opinion, but I know they’re not coming out of thin air either. These interactions help me reshape or reinforce my ideas and way of analyzing situations.

This bleeds over into my personal life, or strong connections. Most of my friends are either from international backgrounds or work in development, peace and conflict or other international affairs areas. Coupled with living in Washington, this means discussions of news of the day or debates over a social topic take an international affairs bent.

Take Somali piracy. The issue fascinates me, especially the visual of several men on small boats keeping the U.S. Navy at bay. I wanted to know more about this, so I interviewed a piracy expert at Georgetown – a weak connection in my network. We talked about poverty as a root cause of Somali piracy, but also the U.S. intervention in the 1990s, international efforts (or lack thereof) to boost up Somali government and the law of the seas.

Piracy later came up among my friends and, as inevitably happens, someone began a sentence with “Yes, but you have to consider …” and took on the topic as an examination of economic systems. Professionally and personally, connections in my network tend to approach issues holistically and I’ve been subconsciously trained to do so as well. It focuses my approach on the big picture rather than using tunnel vision. I’m finding that kind of holistic approach emerging in my class research papers, with different disciplines considered to answer questions. This can be challenging, especially with disciplines I know little about, but is helping more learn to stop favoring one discipline above all others.

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