Phoebe W. Moon and Tauhid Bin Kashem have a few things in common. The two international students took a big leap coming to the U.S. to pursue doctoral studies in political science on global supply chains and refugee policy, respectively. And their work has been rewarded. Moon, a sixth-year student from Seoul, South Korea, and Bin Kashem, a fifth-year student from Dhaka, Bangladesh, are recent recipients of Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation dissertation fellowships - funding support that allows them more time to focus on their completing their graduate research. Below, they expand on their UCI decision, how their work will make a difference, and more.
What made you decide to pursue political science as a general area of study?
Moon: I originally was interested in using political psychology to study the issues of traditional global security such as military intervention. When my advisor, Professor Etel Solingen, invited me to be a part of her project on the global supply chains and security in East Asia, I saw great potential in the topic. This was even before the US-China trade war started. I saw that using political psychology in international political economy was not as common and thought that could be a meaningful contribution to the literature. Since this project started, economic statecraft between trading partners became much more common. The US is still in economic dispute with China, and also a number of states it was allied to, such as Canada or the member states of the European Union.
Bin Kashem: In college, I took a course in political science that inspired me to systematically think about how people portray themselves in the political sphere and why they make the choices they do. I was hooked. In 2017, as I was preparing to start my PhD program, a genocide in Myanmar forced nearly a million Rohingya refugees to seek shelter in Bangladesh. I wanted to know why some countries decide to host refugees and others do not.
What research are you currently working on?
Moon: My research, very simply put, examines how global supply chains impact trade wars. In these supply chains one partner inevitably is more dependent upon another, relatively speaking, for key materials (i.e. South Korea is absolutely reliant on Japan for the chemicals needed to make semiconductors despite its status in the global IT industry). I’m interested in how these relationships of dependency affect non-military conflict escalation between states.
Bin Kashem: The majority of the world’s refugees find shelter in countries that have not signed any international or national agreement guaranteeing the rights of refugees—I call this the non-signatory puzzle. My dissertation asks why some countries go beyond their legal obligations to protect refugees. I try to answer this question by comparing the response to Rohingya refugees in four countries—Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand.
What interests you most about these areas?
Moon: I appreciate how easy it is to identify the importance of what I study to the world today. It used to be that economic sanctions were only used against “rogue” states like North Korea, but we’ve seen in the last few years that they’ve become a fixture of statecraft even among long-term trade partners (like China and the U.S.) or even military allies (such as the U.S. and the EU). In addition, we’re hearing now about how supply chain disruption is creating ripples in the global economy, and we can see this in the prices we pay for goods. It’s not necessarily a cheery thought, but it’s clear that conflict among global supply chain partners is here to stay.
Bin Kashem: Countries often decide to shelter refugees not merely because they are inherently generous but because they believe that hosting refugees will open doors to other forms of benefits from international organizations. But what fascinates me even more is how for some countries this purely instrumental attitude toward refugees can give way to a sense of moral responsibility towards refugees, leading to the enduring protection of refugees.
What implications does your work have for the general community?
Moon: In addition to some of the things I mentioned above—better understanding the causes of trade conflict, its prevalence today— there are a lot of different academic and general implications. The one that I wish to highlight the most is how the system of global supply chains, that we take for granted now, is inherently unequal. We hear about how Apple has this huge supply chain and see our clothes with tags made in another country, but we don’t often think about the geopolitical dimensions of these global supply chains. This is true of the states who participate, there’s a clear gulf between the wealth created within Vietnam and the U.S., say, but it’s also true of the individuals who participate. The livelihood of workers in differentially situated countries can vary dramatically, and the reality is that these states often face challenges when trying to move “up” the ladder to the position held by the winners in the current system. As I alluded to above, perhaps the most important takeaway from my research is that economic conflict within these relationships is likely to be a fixture of 21st century international politics, and so we really need to better understand the mechanisms behind it.
Bin Kashem: My research shows that there isn’t necessarily a correlation between the existence of refugee protection laws in a country and the refugee protection in practice. And so a lack of established laws need not act as a hindrance to convincing states to protect refugees. Instead, states can be persuaded to see that protecting refugees can grant them benefits from certain international organizations or United Nations agencies that are not traditionally associated with refugees.
Why is UCI the best place to pursue your work?
Moon: When I was applying to Ph.D. programs, I really appreciated the strength of the faculty at UCI in Political Science, but I was also drawn to the atmosphere of interdisciplinary research. Within my own department, for example, I have never been pigeonholed into using a single methodology, and my dissertation reflects that. I use both quantitative and qualitative methods throughout, including interviews, experiments, and statistical analysis. This is one of the standout strengths of our department, and of UCI more broadly.
Bin Kashem: The political science department at UCI has several incredible professors whose research is dramatically reshaping how we think about international norms, and policy responses to refugees and immigrants, especially in the Global South. From the very first, I was also struck by how supportive and friendly the graduate students here are, making life as a PhD student that much less daunting. The diversity and spirit of inclusiveness on campus and in Southern California also helped me, an international student born on the other side of the world, to feel like I belonged.
What was it like moving to the U.S. to pursue graduate school, and what challenges have you faced in your path? Major milestones?
Moon: Deciding to leave home and study in the U.S. for a Ph.D., by itself, has felt like a milestone. It was difficult to adjust to the nuances of American academia and social life, but I really do consider California home now. I’m a parent in graduate school, so it’s often difficult (read: impossible) to maintain that ever elusive work-life balance. I have survived, though, and I make a point of helping fellow parents in graduate school whenever possible because of this experience.
Bin Kashem: Being an international student and a person of color can often mean that I am the only one who looks like me in a class or on a conference panel. This can be challenging, especially when it combines with the specter of imposter syndrome that haunts Ph.D. students in general. But the process of learning to overcome this specter and of helping others to overcome it is one of the more rewarding experiences I have gotten in graduate school. Deciding to be a political science major in my second year of college, and deciding to be an academic rather than a banker as I had originally planned was a major milestone in my life. Deciding to come to UCI for my Ph.D. and finally, getting married in my second year here was also a major and incredibly rewarding milestone.
What has been your biggest accomplishment thus far at UCI?
Moon: I would say that discovering how much I love teaching, and working with UCI students, is the achievement I feel the greatest sense of accomplishment from. Especially since I had never taught before coming to the U.S. I also recently got married to a fellow graduate student here at UCI, so that’s a significant accomplishment in its own right.
Bin Kashem: Completing my two qualifying papers where I was pushed to go beyond existing academic debates and develop original arguments was, definitely, one of my biggest accomplishments at UCI.
What major grants and awards have received while in pursuit of your graduate degree? Any publications to mention?
Moon: In addition to being recognized as an IGCC Herb York Fellow, I’ve recently received the Carl Beck Award from the International Studies Association, which is given to an international relations paper that looks at a traditional issue with an innovative perspective. The project that initially got me interested in this research topic became a Cambridge University Press edited volume, and I have a chapter in it, too. The title of the book is: Geopolitics, Supply Chains, and International Relations in East Asia and is edited by UCI Distinguished Professor Etel Solingen. At UCI, I also got a David Easton Award, given to the best graduate student paper of the year, for a different project on national leaders’ military experience and third-party intervention.
Bin Kashem: I have received generous grants from the UCI Center for Asian Studies, multiple grants from the Center for Global Peace and Conflict Studies. I have been a recipient of the Kugelman Citizen Peacebuilding Research Fellowship and the Associate Dean’s Fellowship over the last four years. This year I received a dissertation fellowship to complete my research fieldwork from the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation based in the University of California, San Diego. I also participated in the UCI Grad Slam Competition this year and became the only finalist from the School of Social Science. I have several working papers I’m editing. The interview and archival data I will collect on my fieldwork this year will help further substantiate my arguments in these papers and prepare them for publication.
Understanding that grad life doesn’t leave a lot of spare time for other activities, are there things you’ve been involved in that you would recommend to other students?
Moon: I am working as a peer mentor for the Graduate InterConnect Program which connects incoming international graduate students with more senior ones. I started my Ph.D. program as an international student myself and I remember how hard it was to adjust to a new environment, so it is very important for me to help the people in the same situation. I am currently a peer mentor to around twenty incoming students from five different countries.
Bin Kashem: I am an official graduate mentor for incoming Ph.D. students in my department, and as a current graduate student have been a panelist for incoming students on visiting day.
What mentors have played an important role in your life thus far and why?
Moon: I really owe a great deal of my professional success to this point to the support and guidance of the faculty within our department. I could extol the virtues of at least half a dozen of them at length. However, it is my advisor, Etel Solignen, who has done the most to shape my trajectory as a scholar. She helped me identify a research topic that I’m passionate about. She has encouraged me to practice an eclectic approach to research that looks at questions from different perspectives and has provided me with resources and opportunities that have enabled me to succeed.
Bin Kashem: My Ph.D. supervisor Kamal Sadiq continues to be a role model and an inspiration. He has taught me not to shy away from asking the big-picture questions in research, and to not be afraid to think against the grain of received wisdom and established categories in the discipline. I also have much to learn from him about how to engage with students with empathy, generosity and not least, humor. I have also been fortunate to have other professors both here at UCI as well as in Amherst and Johns Hopkins who have encouraged me to pursue my academic goals and to find my voice in the prevalent conversations of my discipline.
What do you plan to do after finishing your graduate degree?
Moon: I want to remain in the academia. I’m interested in both research and teaching, and I hope to remain in a position where I can keep doing both.
Bin Kashem: I plan to follow in the footsteps of my professors at UCI and continue my research as a university professor after I graduate. They have demonstrated to me how teaching and the discussions that occur in a classroom are not separate from research but can frequently spark new lines of inquiry.
Any unique life experiences you’d like to share that have had an impact or played a major role in where you are today?
Moon: It was initially difficult for me to adjust to a new academic and living environment as a foreigner and a parent. There were certainly some low points when I first started my Ph.D. program. These experiences made me value promoting diversity as one of my own personal lodestars, and also made me much more cognizant about the hurdles and barriers that my students might be facing.
Also, I have a bachelor’s degree in French literature and if I didn’t come to graduate school, I probably would have become an interpreter or a translator.
Bin Kashem: When I was in fourth grade, my parents decided to move to the country of Brunei for several years. Being thrown into a completely new country at that age and having to learn a new language was challenging. But the sense of belonging that came with making new friendships in a different culture gave me an enduring appreciation for the value of immersing oneself in new cultures and in ways of life different from my own. I believe the seed of curiosity that this experience planted in me has continued to bear fruit as I try to research and understand international politics.
Also, I believe that immersion in nature is a rejuvenating counterbalance to the cerebral world of academia. Inspired by one of my favorite authors, the American thinker Henry David Thoreau, I became an apprentice farmer on a small vegetable farm in Maine after graduating from college. There, I worked for a few seasons surrounded by the mountains of Maine. I also love hiking, and have trekked in the Annapurna mountain range in Nepal and in the surrounding national parks in California.