UMass Boston

Global Governance and Human Security Doctoral Students Awarded for Excellence in Research

06/29/2023| Adam Mooney

As part of the McCormack School’s graduation awards ceremony in May, the academic departments at McCormack selected students from their doctoral, master’s, and undergraduate programs who stood out as exemplary. The Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance awarded several master’s and doctoral students for their excellence in Global Governance and Human Security (GGHS) programs. This year, two doctoral students, Polly Cegielski and Nadezhda (Nadia) Filimonova, were selected for the GGHS Excellence in Doctoral Research Award.

Two doctoral students, Polly Cegielski and Nadezhda (Nadia) Filimonova, were selected for the GGHS Excellence in Doctoral Research Award.
Two doctoral students, Polly Cegielski (left) and Nadezhda Filimonova (right), were selected for the GGHS Excellence in Doctoral Research Award.

Presented by Stacy VanDeveer, chair of the Department, the award honors two distinguished doctoral students for their extraordinary excellence in doctoral research. Both Cegielski and Filimonova completed their dissertations this academic year in the Global Governance and Human Security PhD program. Cegielski, whose dissertation is titled “Security, Gender, and Power: NATO's Advising Program in Afghanistan,” defended her work in September 2022, while Filimonova defended her dissertation “The Practice of Climate Change Adaptation Governance in Arctic Cities: Understanding Local Policymaking Interactions in Norway and Russia” in November.

In recent interviews, the two PhDs reflected on what the award means to them and how it marked a rewarding, albeit surprising, end to their time at McCormack, where each had the opportunity to participate in several fellowships and research opportunities that deepened their studies in global governance and human security.

For Cegielski, who characterizes her work within the fields of critical military studies and feminist security studies, the dissertation represents a culmination of research that began during her time as a gender advisor in Afghanistan and took several years to complete. “It was totally unexpected [to receive the award], especially considering how long it took me to get it done,” Cegielski commented.

Before coming to McCormack, Cegielski had several career interests and aspirations, beginning with a degree in anthropology with an emphasis in Middle Eastern studies followed by a master’s in public administration. Then, she planned to do archaeology in Egypt, pondered managing museums, and thought about nonprofit management. “That led me down an interesting path where I did none of those things,” she joked. Instead, she ended up working at the University of Colorado for about seven years, where she got involved with teaching and became immersed in gender studies, due to a lingering interest from her undergraduate work, where she took several women’s studies classes, and a lifelong dedication to feminism. “I was very interested in gender studies, and then I got an opportunity to go work in Afghanistan,” she explained. There, she was exposed to how people of different genders experience conflict differently, citing the horrors that Afghan women faced because of their gender. As an educator, Cegielski felt frustrated with how gender was glossed over in security documents, which brought her to the study of gender and security within NATO’s advising programs for Afghanistan.

In bringing that work to UMass Boston, Cegielski had an early conversation with Jane Parpart, a faculty fellow in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance whose work on gender and security, with particular attention to the military, made Cegielski feel that McCormack was where a proper fit for her research.

Cegielski’s experience during several tours on advisory teams in Afghanistan developed into her dissertation, which examined power and gender in security narratives found throughout NATO advising programs. She used a mixed methods approach that included analyzing over 140 documents from the NATO training program using critical feminist discourse and interviewing 90 research participants, 80 of whom were advisors, administrators, or trainers and 10 of whom were Afghan counterparts.

Reflecting on her time in the PhD program, Cegielski cites a number of opportunities as having played a significant role in shaping her studies along the way. “I was very blessed,” she explained. Of note to Cegielski, she received funding to attend a conference in Japan on the subject of borders, went to Scotland to present a paper she wrote in Anna Agathangelou’s class, held a Boren Fellowship where she learned Pashto in Tajikistan for nine months, had a Fulbright Scholarship in Uzbekistan where she taught global governance for six months, and participated in the Transdisciplinary Dissertation Proposal Development Program in which she and several other PhD students worked with three professors at UMass Boston to develop their dissertation proposals and attend two conferences. “All of these experiences were wonderful,” she commented.

Having finished classes at UMass Boston in 2017, Cegielski had lived abroad for many years by the time she successfully defended her dissertation. As such, emails from McCormack were not particularly relevant, and she often deleted mass notices. But on the occasion of her graduation from McCormack—even though she would not be in the country for the ceremony—she decided to read the email announcing awards more closely, thinking maybe someone she knows would be listed. She joked, “I looked at it and thought, ‘Holy crap—my name is there!’” Then, more seriously: “It’s hard to say what this award means to me. I’m incredibly honored and incredibly grateful.” Thanking the people who helped her along the way, Cegielski named Stacy VanDeveer, Kelly Ward Mason, and Leigh Murphy as “my biggest heroes there. They’re all wonderful and have been such a great support to me.” Meanwhile, she thanked her dissertation committee—Jane Parpart and Stacy VanDeveer of UMass Boston, Cynthia Enloe of Clark University, and Amanda Chisholm of King's College, London—and suspects that she owes each of them “enough chocolate to fill a cauldron.”

For Nadezhda (Nadia) Filimonova, whose work focuses on climate change in the Arctic, the GGHS Excellence in Doctoral Research Award reflects her perseverance through the many challenges that she faced as an international student completing her dissertation in Russia amid minimal funding opportunities, the pandemic, and the country’s war with Ukraine. As she commented, “It is great to have received this award. This is recognition of really hard and challenging work during COVID and being a scholar from Russia in the current circumstances, which are harsh.”

Coming to the McCormack School with a very clearly defined research interest in the Arctic, Filimonova learned from her dissertation chair, Stacy VanDeveer, that a greater interest for her lies in urban governance more broadly. First learning about the program after meeting Dr. Maria Ivanova, now director of the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University, during her Fulbright fellowship, Filimonova commented that “I really loved that the program was broad in the sense that it isn’t focused on the Arctic, but that would broaden my experience and my vision in terms of academia. I could really surround myself with interdisciplinary research.”

Prior to joining the GGHS PhD program here, Filimonova had a long interest in the Arctic, drawing inspiration from her father, who spent 40 years researching in the Arctic and Antarctica. Growing up with his stories—and being inspired by the strength and braveness of her mother, who raised Filimonova alone for half a year or more at a time while her husband was away on expeditions—Filimonova went on to have several opportunities to study with people equally interested in the Arctic. At St Petersburg University in Russia, her professors were excited by and encouraged her work on the Arctic. After getting a grant from the Swedish Institute to pursue a master’s degree at Uppsala University, she once again found people to research the Arctic with. Then, she was lucky to be an intern at the Stockholm Environment Institute in Sweden, which was a chair of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation in the Arctic, at the time. Finally, upon returning to Russia, she worked at the Russian State Hydrometeorological University, where the chancellor of the university supported her research projects on the Arctic. “The Arctic was always present in my life, but I felt like I was still missing some kind of skills and expertise on how to conduct research,” she realized.

During Filimonova’s time at McCormack, her doctoral studies centered on policies responding to climate change in the Arctic, where climate change occurs at a rate four times faster than everywhere else in the world, she explained. In her dissertation, Filimonova worked to counteract the public perception of the Arctic as simply a space full of ice and polar bears to remind readers that two-thirds of the Arctic is comprised of urban spaces. She said, “In the end, urban municipalities in the Arctic are the ones that will take on the burden for adaptation and some of the mitigation of climate change,” so it is important to communicate local needs at the global level. This is one key takeaway for Filimonova from her time at McCormack: “We should pay more attention to human-centered research,” she commented. “For me, that means focusing on cities and trying to connect the local needs to the national and especially global levels when we talk about governance.” Another key takeaway for Filimonova has been the importance of interdisciplinary research. “It’s sometimes challenging to find common grounds with people from different backgrounds when it comes to theoretical approaches or methodology,” Filimonova said, “but I found interdisciplinarity to be really important” at McCormack.

Here, her doctoral research has taught Filimonova the value of interdisciplinarity. In fact, when reflecting on the successes that this Excellence in Doctoral Research Award captures, Filimonova is quick to thank her dissertation committee and chair. Echoing Cegielski’s appreciation for the faculty at McCormack and beyond who helped them to the finish line, Filimonova commented, “As I see it, it is not only me getting this award but all five members of my committee, both internal and external.”