Changing the Tracks

Several of this year’s tenure-track faculty members have stayed at HSE previously as postdoctoral fellows. The HSE Look talked to Arnab Roy Chowdhury, Assistant Professor at School of Sociology, about his experience and on how best to get immersed into the HSE academic community.

What’s been the major feature of your previous year as a post-doc at HSE? What do you define as your success during that time?

I’ve been involved in many activities as a postdoc, namely, doing new research, submitting articles for publication, teaching, and participation in summer and winter schools as well as conferences. I believe that getting teaching experience is very important for postdocs, since otherwise in your first year of tenure-track you might be not so good in the classroom. Last year I taught three courses for undergraduate and graduate students, supervised term papers and one master’s thesis, and I was very happy when my students performed well.

I published two papers and two book reviews, already with HSE affiliation, and I think it’s a significant achievement in one year. My h-index increased from 2 to 4, which means that at least 4 to 5 papers have cited my work, and it’s great not only for the quantifiable results of academic work but also for seeing that your research has an impact on others.  Besides publications I also did a bit of fieldwork in Bangladesh for several weeks for my ongoing research on refugee crisis issues. Apart from all this I have also explored a lot of places in Moscow and around it, and visited Saint-Petersburg.

Did you get to know a lot of colleagues in your area of research at HSE?

I did my postdoctoral year at the Public Policy Department, and at first workshop they organised I found out that my colleagues worked on similar issues, so I collaborated with them.  Then I also learned more about colleagues from School of Sociology, like Christian Fröhlich, and School of Political Science, like Ekim Arbatli, because they work on social movements, sociology of conflict, migration, political sociology, which are my areas of interest.

I also had a chance to expand my international academic network with the help of Public Policy department through their connection to very prominent international scholars from Canada and Singapore, and to collaborate with them. I also went to Germany for a public policy conference at Freie Universität Berlin, and we are actually coming up with an edited book for which I am writing a paper and an edited volume of a journal, for which I am writing another paper. So that was really fruitful.  Apart from that I also participated in conference at Göttingen University which is even more directly related to my area of research - it was devoted to sociology of violence, migration, especially forced migration and refugees. So I presented the paper on Rohingya refugee crisis and I will shape it in a journal paper very soon.

What are your plans for a first year as a tenure-track?

Obviously, I will have courses to teach and students to supervise, but I also want to focus on research and on organising a conference. Regarding my own work, usually once I do some fieldwork and come,  back, I articulate my thoughts in a small paper summary and then I usually publish it on venues which are public. By that I mean things like Journal of International Affairs which is not peer-reviewed journal but a freely accessible  website with academic content. I do it as outreach, so that my work gets widely known in the academic circles, and so that others who are interested in this topic know that I have started this research and they can reach me.  Also, I am writing my book proposal, hopefully it will get accepted by a  good university press, maybe Oxford or Cambridge, and then I will start preparing my book manuscript which will take about one year to submit. So if all goes well my book will come out by 2020.

Apart from that I plan to apply for external funding so as to organise a workshop at HSE and a panel at the conference of European Sociology Association. For this particular panel  I will bring the speakers from HSE, one speaker from France, one from USA, and after we present our research, if time permits, either next year or after that these papers will be brought together in a Q1 journal volume which we will edit. So this is the initial plan: a workshop in HSE next year, and a sociology conference panel in Europe, probably in Manchester, and then coming up with the journal issue.

Regarding my own research, I plan to go for a field trip to India about for two-three weeks, so as to update the data for my book. And before summer I plan to go for a month-long  visiting fellowship, probably in the US or Australia.  In my years as a postdoc I have formed good liaisons with colleagues from George Mason university, Australian National University, Griffith University in Australia, Academia Sinica in Taiwan, which is a really good research institute in South East Asia, as well as with colleagues at University of Limerick in Ireland, University of Antwerp in Belgium, Göttingen University in Germany and  Aarhus university in Denmark. I hope that this wide academic network will help me in getting external funds to organize workshops at HSE and at other universities with HSE colleagues, to bring visiting scholars to the university, and to create edited journal issues from these academic events.

Any advice to those for whom it’s the first year at HSE?

My main kind of advice would be: I think it is best to start writing early, with a lot of energy, because time flies very fast. Typically in social science journal papers get rejected at least twice, so the earlier you have an article to submit to your first-choice journal, the better because if it gets rejected you still have time to submit it to other journals (and it’s wise to consider the list in advance). When you plan like this, academic publications become a question of discipline, and not as difficult or daunting as they might seem.

I also strongly recommend never to neglect teaching opportunities, because not only we help the students learn, but also as academics we get a lot of new ideas when we talk to the students. Also, teaching a courses forces one to read outside of the immediate research focus, which, again, is a great source of ideas and material.

My practical advice would also be to get immersed in the university life, because there are so many seminars and workshops happening at HSE almost every day, and it’s important to find time to attend at least some of them. It’s also a great way to meet colleagues and potential collaborators not only in your research area, but also from neighbouring fields, which lends well to interdisciplinary research.

Read the full October 2018 issue for more stories