Interim Dean of Social Science; Professor of Social Research and Public Policy Hannah Brückner joined NYU Abu Dhabi in 2011, drawn to the combination of teaching excellence and support for her research. She explains how the University has shaped her work, and how she in turn has been able to shape the University.
I already knew NYU Abu Dhabi’s founding Dean of Science, Iván Szelényi, who joined the University in its first year. I ran into him that year and asked how it was going, and as we got talking he asked me if, since I had a sabbatical coming up, I'd be interested in spending some time here. I joined at the start of the 2011 academic year as a visitor, and got involved in the social science curriculum and the intellectual projects in the division as well as mentoring individual students and, honestly, I fell in love.
I realized there was room here for me to grow and to take on more responsibility, so I took a permanent role, and I haven’t looked back.
My students here are fantastic. They come not just to learn, but to change the world for the better; they’re not here to become rich, but to enrich the world. They’re so smart and hardworking and I find their goals worth supporting.
In helping to build the social science division I’ve learned a lot from other faculty. We have a very interdisciplinary culture. As a social scientist I observe something in the world and try to explain it from my disciplinary viewpoint; different disciplines might have different answers to the same observation, and being able to juxtapose these diverse ways of looking at the world is ultimately a more satisfying and comprehensive way to work.
For example, right now I’m working on a paper that looks at the consequences of out-migration of men from Kerala in India to the Gulf. I’m trying to understand the impact of that on the social situation of women in Kerala. I’ve been able to discuss my work with one of my colleagues in economics who knows the literature on labor migration well, and these conversations have helped me conceptualize this paper, and to plan the statistical analysis in a way that’s robust and meaningful.
I learn a lot from hanging out with economists. I’ve broadened my mind in lots of different directions since coming here, from talking with economists, and with anthropologists and colleagues who work in literature. Their perspectives and the literature they know gives me the opportunity to think more deeply about the issues I’m researching.
This particular piece of research also came about in part because I’m in Abu Dhabi — 85 percent or more of the people here are migrants, including me. It made me think about the sending societies and what that means for those places. In one of the districts of Kerala where I do my fieldwork a third of all households have a migrant worker, and almost all of those have come to the Gulf. There’s lots to discover and for a social scientist like me, being here is perfect.
Being able to juxtapose diverse ways of looking at the world is a more satisfying way to work.
The University’s support for research is really wonderful. It was such a pleasant surprise to realize how much the University cares for us — they provide the resources we need for our work, and if you ask for something you need to proceed, they work hard to make it happen.
What’s unique about NYU Abu Dhabi is its combination of a research university with a liberal arts college. We care about students, we care about teaching, we have a curriculum we constantly develop and improve, and at the same time, we have research infrastructure and ambitions that you don’t find in many other places in the world. These things are our raison d’etre.
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