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Journey to Graduate School
This post is part of a series of blog posts written by incoming and second-year graduate students in the Early Graduate Fellowship Mentoring Program. Students were asked to provide a brief description of their research interests and how they came to those interests.
The parallels that appear among different regions of the world with prevailing structures of social inequality are intriguing. Picture yourself walking down the street and seeing a local officer in military gear attacking two civilian men. You may recall images from Ferguson during the 2014 protests. But in fact, this is the reality of peoples in a number of countries around the world today—people who are systematically defined as less.
My name is Lina Saud, and I am a rising second year graduate student in social psychology at Rutgers U. My research is broadly concerned with social inequalities: what maintains them, and what results from them. I have been interested in this topic for as long as I can remember. Growing up, my mother shuttled my sisters and I around to protests surrounding a range of issues. Her activism opened my eyes to injustices that had existed for some time, and others that were just in fruition. In high school and early in my college career, I was committed to speaking truth to power, primarily by attending and organizing protests myself. I hoped to secure a position in the State Department with the ambitious goal of steering foreign policy in a more even-handed direction.
During my junior year, I applied for a fellowship that would put me on track to earn a Master’s degree and a guaranteed position at the State Department. I was rejected. I reflected at that point on my chosen path and what I’d learned so far in my undergraduate career. I admitted to myself then that my knowledge of the issues I was so passionately defending was extremely limited. As they say, the more you see, the less you know. Almost naturally, I became more interested in research. That year, I conducted a research project on the educational opportunities of refugee children in the Middle East compared with non-refugees. That work was important, and it demonstrated how critical insights could and needed to be gleaned through the research enterprise. That summer, I conducted research on political development at Innovations for Successful Societies at Princeton University, and on economic development at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Geneva, Switzerland. I also began conducting research on Americans’ stereotypes of Muslims for my senior thesis. Of these three research endeavors, I found my senior thesis research to be the most engaging. While it didn’t carry the international focus that the other two opportunities had, which I sincerely value, it had an element of pure discovery that I could not find elsewhere. What I would soon realize is that the academic approach to research was what I found so enticing about my senior thesis project.
After completing my thesis and graduating, I was set on pursuing a graduate degree in social psychology. I worked for a year as a lab manager at Princeton where I got to hone my skills in social psychology research. In that setting, I was introduced to the vast literature on race inequality and helped develop several studies that I would run on race relations in the U.S. This past year at Rutgers, I began work with my advisor on a project looking at social Darwinism (i.e. “survival of the fittest”) as an ideological pillar upholding a range of social inequalities in the U.S. I’m excited to see what discoveries I might make moving forward. Social psychology is a dynamic field with a range of methodologies at one’s fingertips, so the options ahead for studying this critical topic are vast.