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Q & A with CISSM Research Associate Ariel Petrovics

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Ariel Petrovics

Dr. Ariel Petrovics recently joined CISSM and SPP as a Research Associate and Lecturer. In addition to her research, Petrovics is currently teaching the PLCY720 International Security Policy graduate-level course. Petrovics discussed her background and research interests.

1. What attracted you to come be a Research Associate at CISSM?

CISSM is a rare blend of academic research and applied policy analysis, and is perfectly situated to provide policymakers with nonpartisan insights. It has a history of engagement both in and around Capitol Hill, and frequently provides academic perspectives and research for key decisionmakers. My approach to research uses a similar blend of academic insights and policy relevance, and I have used CISSM research in my own work so was interested in the research here long before I came to the department. Beyond the good research fit, I was also drawn to the teaching program here. As an academic, one of the most direct ways to have far-reaching policy impact is to help train and work with graduate students poised to begin careers in policy. Many CISSM graduates go on to build careers shaping policy, so arming this next generation of leaders to better use and evaluate cutting-edge research helps bridge the gap between policy and academia.

2. Tell us about your educational and professional background?

I grew up in DC, where international politics really happen right outside your door. Interested in how and why foreign policies could sometimes help but at other times hinder our national security, I pursued a BA in History with a minor in political science from Bucknell University, and went on to work for the American Enterprise Institute’s Foreign and Defense Policy department helping develop the Critical Threats Project. After a brief sabbatical as a professional athlete – I was a member of the US sprint kayak world championships team from 2009-2016 – I received my PhD from University of California, Davis in 2019. During that time, I was the Herbert York predoctoral fellow for the Institute for Global Conflict and Cooperation and a Research Associate at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. After receiving my PhD, I held positions at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs as a Stanton postdoctoral fellow and then as a Managing the Atom/International Security Program research fellow. Besides continuing my research at CISSM and Managing the Atom, I am now also working as a Nonresident fellow with the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

3. What are your current research interests and what are you working on at CISSM?

My research is largely directed at better understanding the effectiveness of foreign policies for addressing current threats to international security. To that end, I have several interrelated research areas. My book project compares the effectiveness of common foreign policies for inducing nuclear reversal in proliferating states. Using a mix of quantitative cross-national analysis and case study research of Iran and North Korea, this work compares when and under what conditions some policies help roll-back nuclear weapons programs, and when they risk inciting greater proliferation instead. A related series of articles compares when economic sanctions are an effective tool of statecraft, and when they risk backfiring instead. Finally, my co-authored papers and edited book volume examine the risk of counterproductive consequences of nuclear policies, the risks posed by nuclear postures for inciting inadvertent crisis escalation, and the role that domestic publics play in nuclear programs. These will tie into the Iran polling data that CISSM has spearheaded, as well as some of the collaborative workshops and seminar series it hosts.

4. What do you hope to achieve during your time at SPP and CISSM?

I have several research, teaching, and collaborative goals while at CISSM. On the research front, my primary effort is publishing my ongoing research articles and coauthored projects, the first of which are under review, and the edited book volume intended for submission to university press this winter. In my teaching role, I hope to help grow CISSM curriculum training graduate students to evaluate advanced research methods for testing policy effectiveness, supporting their work as both consumers of academic research and eventually producers of new policy innovations. Finally, I plan to grow my work supporting CISSM’s collaboration with other leading academic and policy institutions through a series of negotiation simulations, cooperative research projects, and regular working groups. This type of partnership serves to not only generate innovative research but also provides opportunities for rewarding professional networking, connecting CISSM graduates with outside scholars and institutions in need of their unique skills.


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