I’m going to sound ancient, but I can’t help it: how time flies!
It feels like a week ago I was on my way to the first classes at MIT and Boston University, and all of a sudden the semester ended. I shouldn’t be too surprised though – there is mounting evidence that the Neuffer space-time is curved. From a safe distance, the 7 months of the fellowship seem like an eternity, but once you dive in, time starts racing. The fellow gets sucked into the vortex of challenging assignments, eye-opening classes and thrilling meetings, and before she realizes it, she’s halfway through.
This is where I am, my friends, and I must confess, I’m a little nostalgic already. So here’s an #appreciationpost about my academic experience at MIT because it’s been such a fruitful time, and late as I am to the Thanksgiving party, I’m feeling grateful today.
The Neuffer fellowship came at a time in my life when I was longing to go back to school. I’m 32, I’ve been a professional journalist for 7 years and during that time I fell in love with this job and gained quite a bit of experience. But because most of this experience came from freelance work, at some point I started to miss being mentored and having the opportunity to study what I’m really interested in.
The education system is built on a paradox: we study when we are so young that we only have a vague (if any) idea of what we want to do in the future, and then once we find that out (if we’re lucky), it’s usually too late to study it in-depth. We are busy with the set of responsibilities that is called adulthood. We learn on the go, and only a handful of us can afford to go to grad school. The Neuffer fellowship has given me that privilege.
During the fall semester, I could audit any course I wanted at MIT and theoretically also at the other Boston-area colleges (in practice, it wasn’t easy, due to a certain plague you may have heard of). After some back and forth, I made my final selection and focused on two areas of my interest: South Asia and gender. I figured that the Neuffer fellowship is the perfect opportunity to give academic context to my current reporting project – my book.
For the past three years, I’ve been working on a creative nonfiction book about the 45 million women that are missing from the Indian population due to widespread sex selection. I had spent a year reporting in the field, and I was lucky to complete my fieldwork just before the outbreak of the pandemic (I was flying back to Europe in February 2020, already wearing a mask).
At the Boston University, I picked a brilliant course on the history of India taught by prof. Benjamin Siegel, which gave me an overview of this endlessly rich subject. Beforehand, I had a decent understanding of some chapters of South Asian history which were key to my research, such as the Partition of India, but I lacked a broader perspective. At MIT, I took the Gender and Development course, which I told you about in one of my previous posts. I also attended some classes on the history of Indian literature and on creative fiction writing.
Apart from auditing classes (and interning for the Boston Globe – Neuffer fellows are busy bees), I’ve spent this semester working as a research associate at MIT Center for International Studies. I’ve had the time to dive into the incredible MIT and Harvard libraries, and to connect with experts in my field.
The most important of these meetings took place this week. I had the honor to interview professor Amartya Sen from Harvard, one of history’s greatest economists and a Nobel Prize laureate. I wanted to talk to him because Sen was the first person to have calculated that over 100 million women were missing from the world population (this was in 1990, today the figure is estimated at 145 million). I’ve waited three years for this interview and was overjoyed when it finally happened. It seemed like a perfect closure – the story of my book began with prof. Sen and now it ends with him. I’ll tell you more about our meeting in my next post, but for now, I’ll have mercy on you and let you go (this post is already a longread). I wish you a relaxed and fun Christmas. See you in 2022!