Summer Thesis Research: It's Not Just a CFIA Grant, It's an Adventure

For some students, thesis research does not mean months spent in the dusty stacks of Widener or in Pusey's antiquated archives. Rather, research constitutes spending the summer after one's junior year to live with African peasants, study contemporary British print unions, or reside in Indian refugee villages in Mexico. Behind all of these travels, lies what some have called the best-kept secret at Harvard, the Center for International Affairs (CFIA) grants for summer research.

One of a few programs at Harvard that offers money for students to do thesis research, the CFIA grant program funds grants from $500 to $1000. Often, juniors supplement these grants with money from the Center for European Studies, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Center for Latin American and Iberian Studies, or the Center for East Asian Research.

Director of Student Programs at the CFIA Donald Babai says, "These grants are designed to give students a kind of exposure to study abroad, and to do things that have not been done before that they would not have been able to do otherwise."

"Harvard takes very seriously its financial responsibility to its students... It is interested in its students and will do anything to facilitate their research for important projects, such as honors theses," says Samuel Huntington, Eaton Professor of the Science of government. "When students are looking for advisors in the fall of their senior year, I ask them if they ever thought about doing research abroad. They ask me how they could have done that," adds the CFIA director.

Last year 52 students applied for the 13 awards and Babai says that he thinks even more students will compete for the grants this year. Of the 22 students who won CFIA awards in 1984 and 1985, two graduated summa cum laude and 17 earned magna degrees.

The application, which this year is due on March 16, consists of recommendations, grades and a three-page proposal for a project, Babai says, adding that financial need is not considered. "The most important part of the application is the feasibility, justification, and cohesiveness of the proposal," he adds. The selection committee consists of two professors, one of whom is Babai, the executive officer of the CFIA, Chet Haskell, and a student member of the International Relations Council.

Each grant recipient becomes an undergraduate associate of the CFIA and leads a seminar on the topic of research which is open to the Harvard community. for three seniors, whose tales are related below, the CFIA grant provided them with money to do thesis research they could not have done otherwise.

Covering the Press in China

Amos P. Gelb '86-'87, who spent last summer researching the Chinese press, calls the CFIA program "one of the greatest things Harvard does." He compares the grant program to the core program, saying, "It's the best foreign cultures, social analysis, moral reasoning and historical studies education I think I'll ever get."

The East Asian Languages and Civilizations concentrator used his $2200 grant to research the extent to which the liberalization reforms associated with Premier Deng Xiao Ping have spilled over into the Chinese press. "The press will show the true colors of reform; it's the melting point of reformation," he says.

Gelb, who is fluent in Chinese, spent his summer interviewing foreign and domestic journalists, talking to government officials and academics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The Adams House resident knew that he would do his thesis on China after he spent a year in China working as a market analyst for IBM and Altman, Inc.

A thesis, Gelb says, "is something original that should wrap up your Harvard career." He adds that he does not think he could have written a thesis unless he had visited the country he wanted to study. "If I had to write a library thesis, I would not do it," Gelb says.

Although the British-born Gelb says he plans to return to China after graduation and be a journalist, he adds he will probably eventually return to his native London. "China can burn you out; it can China-you-out," he says.

Turkish Travels

Marta Hoilman '87 spent her summer under the roofs of hundreds of tiny shops at the Covered Bazaar in Instanbul, Turkey studying Turkish haggling practices.