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Rachel Bergsieker


Rachel at the SPSA conference.

Program: 2016 Southern Political Science Association’s Annual Conference

Research: “The Leaving Behind of 'The Girls Left Behind': DDR's Gender Failure in Sierra Leone"

Award Recipient: SIS Travel Grant

  My participation in the 2016 Southern Political Science Association’s Annual Conference was notably complimentary to my professional development. At this meeting I was able to present my research entitled, “The Leaving Behind of the 'The Girls Left Behind': DDR's Gender Failure in Sierra Leone” on the Gender and Comparative Policymaking: Women and Politics(Comparative Politics: Developing Areas) Panel. Thanks to the detailed review of my paper by the panel discussant, Dr. Joanne Green of Texas Christian University, I am equipped to make important changes/additions to my research that will prepare it for future publication.Specifically, Dr. Green highlighted the added strength of including a comparative analysis.While my case study examines the gendered impact of the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) process on women in Sierra Leone, Dr. Green suggested comparing this process to a contrasting case that was more gender-inclusive. Developing a comparative approach will strengthen the footing of my paper and thus improve its quality for subsequent publication.

Secondly, participation on this panel enabled me to engage with developing research in my field.For example, co-panel participant, Patrick G. Coy of Kent State University presented his coauthored research entitled, “The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the Challenges of Intersectionality Peace Praxis,” which highlighted the absence of intersectional approaches/language employed by peace organizations. Knowledge of this gap can influence my own verbiage and dedication to inclusivity as I begin a career in peacebuilding upon my graduation in May. 

At the 2016 SPSA Annual Conference, I acted as Chair for the Gender and Health Policy:Women and Politics (Public Policy) Panel as well. This opportunity facilitated the development of my leadership skills, as I was able to direct panel participants in administrative logistics and mediate a constructive and Socratic discussion after presentation of the research. Specifically,within this role, I acted with authority to restrict panel participants to presentation guidelines and facilitated organized question and answer between panelists and audience members on the contested subject of abortion politics. These leadership skills are examples that I will be able to highlight in interviews as I transition to my professional career.

Attending panels and conference events additionally allowed me to network with my colleagues in the field. While my amateur status as a student presented a challenge to recognition, I was able to overcome this handicap through professional presentation of my research. Both during the discussant review and post-panel, my initiative and writing skills were noted by my co-panel participants. Thanks to this professionalism, I was able to establish email communication with a colleague post-conference to discuss future research endeavors. 

American University’s School of International Service travel grant funding enabled my attendance at the 2016 SPSA Annual Conference, enriching and complementing my academic studies and professional development. As a result of my participation in this conference, both as a panel participant and panel chair, I feel better equipped to finish my studies at American University and embark upon my career as a peacebuilder.