Tina Zhuo, like everyone else, was captivated by the Arab Spring, the demonstrations, protests, revolts, and civil wars that swept across the Middle East from Tunesia and Egypt to Yemen, Syria, and beyond. But because the political science major not only studied Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (her academic concentration), but also Chinese (her minor), she was interested in studying it from a slightly different global perspective for her senior thesis, “Role Learning: China’s Arab Spring Intervention Policies.”
“My major advisor, [Associate Professor] Barak Mendelsohn, encouraged me to study China and the Middle East based on my personal interests and the rapidly increasing salience of the topic,” says Zhuo. “My thesis advisor, [Visiting Assistant Professor] Raslan Ibrahim, helped me zero in on the subject of China’s humanitarian intervention policies in the Middle East.
What are the implications of your thesis?
My thesis research diverges from typical neorealist explanations of Chinese foreign policy as driven purely, almost mechanically, by strategic-material interests. Rather than assuming Chinese interests as given, I go a step deeper to understand how Chinese policymakers’ understanding of China’s role as a global actor informs Chinese interests and subsequent policy actions. Ideally, my thesis work would inspire researchers and academics to think critically about international relations from a constructivist-role theory perspective rather than defaulting to neorealist thought—and especially not offensive realism.
What did you learn from working on your thesis?
My thesis was my first experience working on an assignment that required constant tinkering or any kind of planning. Whereas for shorter papers it is ok to brainstorm, gain inspiration, and then write in huge chunks, the length and complexity of my thesis demanded continual effort on my part—reexamining how the different pieces of my thesis could work together, developing and redeveloping ideas, and all of the actual research! I learned the importance of understanding the greater picture, [and how] to not lose the forest for the trees.
How, if at all, has your thesis helped to guide your future career path?
My future is still ripe with possibilities at this point. Of course I am interested in international relations and diplomacy, but I have also gained insight into topics and functions less obviously related to my thesis, such as marketing and branding–for instance, in how policymakers convey a nation’s role or foreign policy strategy to the public. My thesis unexpectedly opened up new opportunities in my future.
Photo: (cc) Syria Freedom/Flickr
“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.