Internship Series: Undergraduate Research in Kenya

Ashley_Davidson_20100912_0331_RTAshley Davidson
CAS’15 & Pardee | History & International Relations
Private Research 

Ashley Davidson conducted research in Nairobi, Kenya, through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP). 

CCD: Tell us about your experience in Kenya. What were your responsibilities? 

Ashley: I conducted research in Nairobi, Kenya, and wrote two senior theses related to Kenya: one that was history-related (how ethnic allegiances affect politics) and another focused on international relations (democracy building methods). I requested a grant to allow me to travel the country so I could familiarize myself with the topics, places, and people that were referred to in literature. My responsibilities included interviewing NGOs, former civil servants, and institutional representatives. I also followed local news programs, visited museums, and took note of additional research projects in Nairobi.

CCD: How did you find the position? What helped you get it? What resources (at BU or elsewhere) did you use?

Ashley: I found UROP through my history advisor, Phillip Haberkern, and my IR advisor, Timothy Longman. They directed me to the website and program and encouraged me to apply.

CCD: What was the best thing about the experience? What was the worst?

Ashley: The best part of the experience was being able to live with the family of a former minister of finance and education. They became a second family to me and provided endless narratives of Kenya before independence. In addition, by being affiliated with BU, most NGOs and organizations I wished to interview responded positively and with absolute willingness to answer questions. I met with NGO representatives such as the country director from OXFAM, a leader from Transparency International Kenya, academics from the Katiba Institute, and more. The worst part was being a witness to political and ethnic tensions which caused brutal attacks on residents during my stay.

CCD: What are the top 3 skills you’ve learned from this experience?

Ashley: With the help of Phillip Haberkern and Timothy Longman, I developed my first real research proposal. I also had hands-on experience in responding to different cultural norms. Even though I had spent time in Africa before, this experience reinforced the need to be respectful and mindful of different people’s special characteristics. And by requesting interviews, I learned that I must not be passive if I am to gain information. It is often necessary to speak up during conversations or walk into places rather than merely sending an email.

CCD: What are the benefits of conducting research?

Ashley: The biggest benefit of conducting personal research is that you are allowed to “grow” your own project. I left the United States expecting to investigate corruption in Kenya and its historical roots. I ended realizing that my research could be much more beneficial by addressing the root of obstacles for democracy and focusing on successful methods to develop Kenya. By going alone and creating a project, I learned to shape my work as opposed to imposing my ideas from across the globe.

CCD: What’s next for you?

Ashley: I am finalizing my questions for my theses. My history thesis focuses on why ethnic allegiances affect the political system of Kenya. I am also addressing its colonial origins and its changes over time. For international relations, I am honing in on successful democracy building methods by a civil society. Following these theses and my senior year, I plan to pursue additional research opportunities. I am currently applying for national grants to conduct research abroad. I am also applying for a job at a research law group in South Africa, as well as preparing applications for law school for the fall of 2016.


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