What They Learned: Yvonne Yan ’21

The political science major, who also majored in psychology, explored China’s lack of military allies for her thesis.

Yvonne Yan is from Suzhou, China, a large city outside of Shanghai, but she had set her sights farther afield for her political science thesis. Initially, she wanted to explore military alliance patterns in East and Southeast Asia, but in her research, she noticed something unique about China: it had no allies.

“I further solidified this finding by looking over many powerful countries today and in the past century and realized all of them had allies,” she said. “I shared with my thesis advisor that I would like to switch my thesis onto understanding the puzzling choice of China, and this more honed-in topic worked out!”

So Yan, who also majored in psychology at Bryn Mawr, focused on her home country, discovering that China’s decision to have no allies was not an accident, but instead, the result of rational, cost-benefit analysis. 

“The conventional wisdom is that alliances are imperative to strengthening countries, but this could be a Western-centric view of international relations,” she said. “We are seeing more non-alliance trends, at least contemplations and emerging norms in Asia that partnerships can be implicit and informal. I think understanding the potentially biased undertones of current alliance literature can really offer a fresh take on future studies.”

Yan begins work at Boston Consulting Group this September. 

How did your thesis advisor help you during the thesis process?
My thesis advisor is Barak Mendelsohn, whom I’ve known for more than three years. He was absolutely relentless in getting all his advisees to start thinking about a thesis topic early on, and as the fall semester started, he did not waste one second to keep the work rolling… He is not an expert in China, but he was able to take me away from the facts and critically evaluate my arguments from a purely theoretical and logical perspective that sometimes I cannot do when I become buried in the empirical. His sharpness always inspires me to challenge my own thinking and refine my arguments. The biggest thing I learned from having such a demanding and sharp advisor is that I can always bounce back from whatever setbacks and mistakes are only temporary as long as I am willing to work on it. 

What did you learn from the thesis process?
There are no inherent obstacles I cannot overcome and that boost of confidence transformed not only how I approached my thesis work, but also how I dealt with every challenge later in my life.

I wouldn’t say that my thesis is directly related to my future career path, but I believe the toolkit I have nurtured in the process will be essential in any future endeavor I decide to take on, and of course, my Haverford journey would not be complete without it (both literally and figuratively)!