Graduate Spotlight: Aeshna Badruzzaman

Aeshna Badruzzaman
Doctoral Candidate, Political Science
CATLR Graduate Student Liaison and Future Faculty Program participant

What made you interested in studying international relations and comparative politics at Northeastern?
My background has been pretty interdisciplinary. My undergraduate degree was in development studies and economics and my master’s was in politics, with a focus on political economy. Currently, I’m studying the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in development from a political science lens.

How did you first learn about CATLR?
In the summer of 2017, after Trump was elected, I was teaching Introduction to International Relations for the first time, and was nervous about potential contentious discussions given the political climate. I’d worked with young people outside of Northeastern, for instance as a counselor and facilitator at a non-profit that focuses on conflict resolution. But I wanted additional tools on how to lead productive discussions. I’d heard about CATLR through faculty and through their newsletter. There was a workshop on difficult conversations that I wasn’t able to attend so I reached out to Hilary [Schuldt], CATLR’s Director of Project and Team Strategy. We had a one-on-one consultation and she gave me different ideas and techniques to use in the classroom.

What made you want to be a Graduate Student Liaison?
I was really excited to be learning about all these topics and wished I’d known about them earlier. I wanted to make sure other students knew about these resources, too. So when Hilary recommended I become a Graduate Student Liaison, I applied.

What is your role as a Graduate Student Liaison?
It’s flexible, but I basically try to publicize CATLR’s resources as much as possible, and gauge the interest and needs of my fellow students. I keep a bunch of CATLR materials in my office to share with other students, as well as information about the Future Faculty Program. In previous years, I’ve also spoken to incoming students at the Political Science department orientation to let them know about CATLR as a general resource.

In the Political Science department, we have “PoliTea,” which is our Political Science Graduate Student Association. I’ve spoken at PoliTea to let students know about opportunities through CATLR, such as workshops and the Future Faculty Program. I also co-organized a workshop with Alexia [Ferracuti], an Associate Director at CATLR, about writing teaching statements. A lot of students expressed interest in having guidance in writing a teaching statement and that filled up really quickly. I try to gauge interest among students and bring ideas to Alexia.

Are there any workshops in particular at CATLR that have really helped you?
I went to a workshop about writing diversity statements that has been really helpful as I start applying for jobs, since I had never written a diversity statement before.

There was a workshop on student-centered syllabi that was really interesting. We had to bring in a copy of a syllabus and think through tangible changes we’d make to help our syllabus be more student-centered, and not just procedural.

Something I hadn’t thought much of before attending CATLR workshops was stereotype threat and the cognitive load that students bear when they’re faced with different stereotypes. One CATLR workshop I went to discussed this idea and how the way our assignments are framed can influence student performance. For me, one of the most helpful resources has also been the one-on-one consultations.

I really appreciate that CATLR’s recommendations are always research-based. If they are discussing something like stereotype threat, they will also share the peer-reviewed research that documents the ways it is a problem. In addition, they also give you specific suggestions and techniques for addressing the problem.

You’re also a Future Faculty Program participant. How has that helped you?
After attending a variety of workshops, I read about the Future Faculty Program. The program has provided me with support in getting my teaching materials together and has enabled me to get feedback on them.

What advice do you have for others interested in being a Graduate Student Liaison or Future Faculty participant?
For becoming a Liaison, it’s not very time-consuming. It can involve just forwarding and sharing the CATLR emails or it can be more involved, such as organizing workshops. Also, I think it’s important to try to reach out to your department and develop buy-in there.

For Future Faculty, if you attend a few workshops, you’re already well on your way to fulfilling the program requirements. So, if you’re doing any type of teaching, whether that’s your own course or leading group discussions, I’d recommend you attend a workshop and see if you’re interested as a first step.

What has the process of writing and editing your teaching statement been like? How has your teaching statement evolved over time?
I drafted my teaching statement the first semester that I began teaching as an Instructor of Record, without ever having discussed the genre with anyone before. I didn’t know what was expected, and initially, my teaching statement was pretty vague. I’ve since revised it several times after attended a workshop at CATLR focused on writing teaching statements and seeking outside feedback on my writing.

At first it was difficult to distill everything that I thought was important about teaching into 1-2 succinct pages. I found it really helpful to free-write and reflect on my priorities as an educator. As I thought things through, I realized that the driving force behind many of the examples that came to mind related back to my own experiences both as a researcher and as a student. As a student, I found traditional discussion formats (such as a professor poses a question, students raise their hands to respond) intimidating. As a researcher, I bridge theory and practice, I seek to build an inclusive environment and critical dialogue, equipping my students with skills that transfer beyond the classroom.

Once I realized this common thread, I was better equipped to write about the variety of assessments I’ve incorporated over time, including things like UN simulations, student-led debates, and peer-feedback workshops, with intention and related to my identity as a researcher. As I continue to modify my teaching statement, I’ve found it super helpful to seek outside feedback (including from Alexia, an Associate Director at CATLR) to make sure that my ideas are clearly articulated– especially considering that this document is one that typically only gets a quick read from hiring committees. The major ways I’ve modified my teaching statement include providing specific, concrete examples and spelling out how these examples relate back to the environment I create in my classroom.

What does it mean to you to be both an educator and a learner?
I’ve been a teaching assistant for a bunch of courses and I’ve taught, in terms of my own classes, Introduction to International Relations and also Research Methods in Political Science. For teaching Introduction to International Relations, the content is not new to me by any means, but in teaching that class, for example, I am both an educator and a learner. I’m introducing the material to students who are encountering these theories for the first time. Seeing how the students grapple with these concepts and relate them to the real world always makes me think of the theories differently.