Spotlight on three former UCHV graduate prize fellows

Jan. 27, 2023

The University Center for Human Values (UCHV) has been welcoming students to its Laurance S. Rockefeller Graduate Prize Fellowship (GPF) Program since 1991.  The GPF Program "recognizes and supports post-generals graduate students with distinguished academic records, from any discipline, whose dissertation research centrally involves the critical study of human values.” In 2023-2024, Elizabeth Harman, UCHV’s Director of Early-Career Research, will teach the Program’s yearlong course, Dissertation Seminar. Student scholars join the GPF Program from a wide range of academic disciplines and this month three former graduate prize fellows (GPFs) shared their unique experiences about the GPF Program and its lasting impact on each of them.

Toni Alimi joined UCHV as a graduate prize fellow (GPF) in 2019. He is currently a Klarman Postdoctoral Fellow in Classics and Philosophy in the Department of Classics at Cornell University. His doctoral dissertation, "Slaves of God," gives an account of Augustine's philosophical and theological reasons for justifying chattel slavery and his research and teaching span the study of slavery, freedom, ancient, medieval and political thought. Toni describes the GPF Dissertation Seminar "as a perfect place to have the opportunity to practice discussing my work with scholars in other disciplines." This was very beneficial when he was applying for his current postdoctoral fellowship which is awarded to scholars across Cornell's College of Arts and Sciences; the interview process required him to demonstrate his scholarship to faculty and deans beyond his field of Religion.

Three especially memorable aspects of his participation as a GPF include: one, attending the UCHV postdoctoral job practice talks which got him thinking about the norms and practices that various disciplines employ, which shaped his own job talk when he was ready to go on the job market; two, concrete and invaluable advice on how to handle the Q&A session in a job talk; and three, the opportunity to participate in professional development sessions with faculty visiting from other institutions. Toni explained that UCHV has "a glut of dynamic and interesting talks, seminars, and events and brings many amazing people to Princeton every year who are working on interesting things." During his Graduate Prize Fellowship at UCHV, he was intent to make the most of the Center's resource-rich community since "you don't always have these opportunities everywhere you go." Next year Toni will complete the third year of his postdoctoral fellowship at Cornell University, before beginning as an assistant professor in the Sage School of Philosophy at Cornell in the 2024-2025 academic year. Additional information about Toni Alimi can be read here.

Adele Watkins is currently a sixth-year doctoral candidate in the Department of Philosophy and her research interests include the study of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy and social philosophy. In her dissertation "Socrates Died a Philosopher's Death: Reconstructing a Platonic View of Death from Phaedo" she develops and evaluates Plato's view of death in Phaedo, and centrally considers Plato's argument against suicide. Sharing her research with others not familiar with her work was one of the benefits of taking part in the Graduate Prize Fellowship Program in AY2021-2022. Dissertation Seminar, a yearlong faculty-led course, provided her an opportunity to develop a polished talk about her work and deliver it to a general audience and answer questions from different angles and perspectives. She felt this experience was similar to what she is likely to encounter when conveying her research to students while teaching as a postdoc. Another key element of the Dissertation Seminar was the career development workshops which Adele cited as instrumental in getting her to confront and strengthen her professional skills. She knew that she would be going on the job market and the GPF Program helped her to map out her career goals and hone her professional development skills. In particular, she found the workshop on teaching to be immensely informative; it started her thinking about course development, time management, and professional development. The workshop was taught by guest speakers who offered practical advice and solutions on these topics and related matters.

In general, Adele was very thankful for the expert guidance and tailored advice she received in the GPF Program, which was in addition to the more general, but complementary, advice she received in her home department. This was particularly evident when Adele was applying for postdoc positions and Elizabeth Harman, Director of Early Career Research at UCHV, proved to be a tremendous resource and extremely helpful during the entire interview process. In AY23-24 Adele looks forward to returning to her alma mater, Wellesley College, where she will be a postdoc for one year and will then transition to a tenure-track position as an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy in AY24-25. Read more about Adele Watkins here.

Hannah Waight was a graduate prize fellow from 2018-2019, joining the Center as a student scholar in sociology. She is currently a postdoctoral research associate at the Center for Social Media and Politics at New York University. She describes her research as “the study of the control and reception of information in authoritarian regimes with a particular focus on China” and her postdoctoral research concentrates on “tracing the amplification of Chinese and Russian state media internationally in digital news and on social media.” As a graduate student, she felt that “you can get very siloed in your work” thus, she was motivated to apply to the fellowship program to have the opportunity to interact with other student scholars working in different areas but united by a common theme of doing research that has implications for normative questions.

The GPF experience helped her understand why her research matters to people outside of her discipline as well as learn to communicate better with those individuals. Specifically, she shared that one aspect of the program, presentation skills, was very valuable to her and it left a lasting impression on the way she delivers a talk. Among many things, she learned about timing in a talk, connecting with the audience, and how to communicate complex and specialized research to a diverse audience. She explained that it is challenging to give a research talk to an interdisciplinary audience and that it is an important skill to learn for teaching, yet it is difficult to get experience in this area in one’s home discipline. The GPF Program excelled in this area and gave her the opportunity to practice and develop this skill. Overall, Hannah felt that the experience of being a graduate prize fellow gave her “the combination of getting focused specialization in her home department of sociology and the ability to take part in a broader intellectual community of scholars.” In the fall of 2024, she is looking forward to taking the next step in her career as an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Oregon. Additional information about Hannah Waight can be found here.

Information about UCHV’s AY22-23 graduate prize fellow cohort can be read here.

Princeton graduate students: to apply for the AY 23-24 GPF cohort, please find detailed instructions here.