The SSRC’s Dissertation Proposal Development (DPD) program was highly influential in facilitating my doctoral studies in political science. From the application process to preparing for each meeting, it gave me a structured way of organizing my thoughts for conducting my dissertation research—something every graduate student needs—enabling me to complete my PhD program in less than three years.
My project focused on how weak states in Africa were able to make effective militaries. Such a puzzle about an effective institution existing within an ineffective state was something that the DPD program empowered me to confront through different literatures. Encouragement from DPD peers suggested new ways of analyzing my research and how to frame it better. It also forced me to consider alternative ways of viewing my research. This improved the way in which I conducted and interpreted my interviews during my fieldwork in Senegal, Uganda, Rwanda, and Ethiopia.
Most importantly though, the DPD program made me focus on clarity in concepts, learning how to write about a topic for an audience across the humanities and social sciences. All too often, many disciplines in the social sciences and humanities focus are too doctrinaire, with overly narrow ideas and concepts that fall within the confines of one’s respective discipline. However, the DPD program challenged such notions, forcing me to develop the breadth and widen the scope of my research in such a way that it was interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary for the betterment of my dissertation. This was vital because it enabled me to write for a general audience that could better understand my analysis and argument. We should not stray away from borrowing ideas and concepts from other disciplines; instead, we should be embracing a wide array of literatures and methods in pursuit of how to best answer various puzzles and questions. This is what all academics should be striving toward in the twenty-first century and beyond.