In conversation: Professor Arjun Bedi

Past, present and future of ISS research
Gabriela Anderson

With 21 PhDs supervised to completion, Professor Arjun Bedi is well-placed as the Deputy Rector of Research. Among other tasks, along with the Research Degrees Committee, he is responsible for the operation and the success of the ISS PhD programme.

Understanding the present and envisioning the future

Arjun joined ISS in 2000 and was trained as a development economist, but over time, development studies found him. The institute offers a heady mix of unparalleled internationalism and diverse perspectives and the potential to conduct cross-disciplinary research, which is core to his vision. 

‘Development is a very applied field and I think one of the limitations is that there isn’t enough quantitative training that takes place. We collect a lot of statistics and data but we need to be better aware of how to use this information. There is a view that development studies is a ‘soft’ field, but this is misguided. There is a need to reach out and integrate work from other disciplines beyond social sciences and combine them with development studies.’ 

Taking this one step further, Arjun elaborates on two innate qualities within the ISS research community: internationalism and background. This is a sentiment that Arjun shares with the head of the Research Degree Committee, Thea Hilhorst. Arjun highlights how the three core types of PhD students most commonly found at ISS come from academia, those with INGO and NGO backgrounds, and those with national or international policy backgrounds. Working in tandem with the multinationalism of ISS, researchers often find themselves able to forge a unique path: often one that allows them to take their knowledge back to their home countries but with new-found networks and capacities that allow for deeper impact.

'I realised it’s about the problem you study, not the discipline you use.'

The positive impact and the unique capabilities of ISS

As happy as he is for ISS having reached it, the 250th PhD milestone is not as important in Arjun’s view. What is more important, seeing how quickly the PhD programme has grown, is to make sure that the quality and impact that candidates make stays strong as ISS continues to develop its research. He refers to one of his favourite projects over the past years: a community-based health insurance project in Ethiopia which involved three former ISS PhD students and engaged with public officials. The team worked on a project that continues to develop and yield academic and policy outcomes twelve years later.

This is one of his favourite examples of the uniqueness of ISS’s PhD capabilities: combining research and real-world implementations that have a lasting long-term impact. One of Arjun’s goals is to ensure that PhDs are better integrated into ISS’s research and the faculty in general. In the past we had ISS staff research and ISS PhD research, but we have now started seeing more collaborative research between the two, which the Research Degree Committee is looking to make into a more regular feature of ISS’s research function.

And of course, where else can we find such a unique combination of practical, theoretical, international and academic? The hope is to continue to harness and develop the power of this invaluable combination and create cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary, cross-academic impact not just within ISS but outside it too.

More information

Download our digital booklet: Celebrating 250 PhD graduates at ISS

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