Security Studies Students Travel Far and Craft Dissertations  

Pleasant Ogedengbe and ErikaRicci, doctoral candidates in Security Studies at the School of Politics, Security, and International Affairs have recently returned from fieldwork in Maryland and Italy, respectively. While in Italy, Ricci was researching the Red Brigades, a leftist terrorist group active in Italy in the 1970s. She interviewed former members, the judges, lawyers and magistrates who conducted their trials, and people who came from the same community as the members and shared their beliefs but did not join the Red Brigades. She also visited archives in Milan, Turin, and the Rome center archive for trial records and other documents.  

In Maryland, Ogedengbe was gathering data for her dissertation project, speaking with and observing Nigerian immigrants in Nigerian-centric communities. She interviewed members of the community, asking them questions about how they view national identity, how first and second-generation immigrants view themselves as well as how they view African Americans, and exploring stereotypes within black communities. 


For Ricci, the most rewarding part of her fieldwork was her success at being able to find and interview relevant people in a relatively short period of time. Since the events of her research happened in the 1970, with many of the people involved on the side of the law in their forties at the time, so many had already died or become very difficult to find, and former militants were difficult to find and convince them to talk. Getting sources from both sides to share their stories was a rewarding experience for Ricci. 

For Ogedengbe, the most rewarding part of her fieldwork experience was learning to talk comfortably with strangers and conduct interviews, a skill that she didn’t think she could use before her fieldwork experience. For the interviewing process, a certain level of rapport is needed in order to get answers, and to get people to agree to speak with her. Ogedengbe said that she also found it rewarding to learn how to build trust, and that as she learned how to do that, people would be more open with her and she would even get suggestions for other people who might want to talk to her, which would help guide her fieldwork.

Ricci also shared how gaining trust in her interviews was actually one of her biggest challenges, due to the sensitive nature of her topic. “You have to be mindful of each word you are saying”, she explained. Ricci also found it challenging to learn how to relate to the people she interviewed, even if she didn’t agree with them or their actions. In order to get their opinions, she had to prove herself as an unbiased source that was committed to understand them, even when they wanted her to agree with them or share her own opinion. “If you lose their trust,” she said, “the interview is gone.” Ogedengbe had similar experiences, saying that it was sometimes challenging to sit through interviews where people shared negative stereotypes or made inappropriate comments. And although learning to step outside of her comfort zone and talk with strangers was a rewarding experience for Ogedengbe, it was also one of the most challenging parts of her experience. “I’m an introvert. Just the idea of going up to people was very daunting for me at the beginning,” she said.   


When asked if they had any advice for any graduate students considering fieldwork, both Ricci and Ogedengbe emphasized the importance of planning your trip ahead of time: “It’s a long timeline to organize everything–start ahead. Have everything planned before you work there because once you’re there, you usually don’t have a lot of time, you don’t have a lot of money”. Ogedengbe recommended consulting others who have completed fieldwork for advice and to get an idea of what to expect. They also related how instrumental their dissertation chairs, SPSIA Director Güneş Murat Tezcür, Ph.D., for Ogedengbe and Associate Professor Thomas Dolan, Ph.D., for Ricci, had been in preparing her for fieldwork. Ogedengbe said, “having [Dr. Tezcür] guide me through it was very key for me in terms of my success”. Both agreed that building relationships with people during  fieldwork will determine the ease and richness of the experience. 

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