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Radcliffe Fellows Praise In-Person Program

The Radcliffe Fellowship is an annual program hosted at Harvard that brings scholars from across disciplines to pursue a project of their choosing.
The Radcliffe Fellowship is an annual program hosted at Harvard that brings scholars from across disciplines to pursue a project of their choosing. By Truong L. Nguyen
By Christie K. Choi and Jorge O. Guerra, Crimson Staff Writers

As the first semester back on campus comes to a close, fellows at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study said they were grateful for an in-person experience after the previous year's fellowship operated remotely.

The Radcliffe Fellowship is an annual program hosted at Harvard that brings “students, scholars, artists, and practitioners together to pursue curiosity-driven research” across the disciplines of science, journalism, music, creative writing, and more. The 50-person program is currently being conducted in-person.

The fellows this year are pursuing a diverse array of projects, ranging from research on mathematical climate modeling to investigative journalism on the subject of political assassination. One fellow, David Dominique, is composing a multimedia opera on political journalism and activism.

Dominique said the in-person format has enabled him to develop fulfilling relationships with his colleagues.

“I would have done it if it were remote, but I think it would have been a very different experience,” he said. “I think some of the relationships that are being formed would just be fundamentally different in nature.”

Elizabeth A. Baker, a current Radcliffe fellow and artist whose creative work focuses on using media to portray “sonic and spatial worlds” that can symbolize philosophies, also said that getting to collaborate face-to-face with other Radcliffe fellows has been a particularly meaningful part of the program.

“I needed to find access to a boat to drop hydrophones [to collect underwater sound],” she said. “It just so happens that one of the fellows — her neighbor is a lobster man and has a boat — so I will be going on the lobster boat to go drop hydrophones for recordings for my project.”

Annalisa Quaini, a current Radcliffe fellow working on mathematical models to predict climate change dynamics, said she is enthusiastic about the opportunity to work and interact with other fellows in such a diverse environment.

“I am enjoying being part of a diverse group of people," she said. “In math, the group of people that you're normally surrounded by is not very diverse; I appreciate that over here.”

Some of the fellows, however, said Harvard’s reopening still poses challenges. Baker said she found readjusting to in-person activities challenging.

“I would say it has been a difficult transition for me and continues to be difficult to transition because, even though I know everyone is tested, everyone has a cold and I'm just like, ‘Oh, I don't know if I can be around you right now,’” she said.

The reopening also did not resolve all of the Covid-19 restrictions placed on in-person research. Journalist and current fellow Suki Kim, whose project requires that she conduct interviews in the field, said that the pandemic continues to pose difficulties to in-person journalism.

“Field reporting has been prevented by Covid,” she said. “It’s not as free and as easy as it was.”

Some fellows said a silver lining of the pandemic was that they found more time to conduct research.

Anthropologist Chidi Ugwu, who delayed his fellowship during the 2020-21 academic year, said that he was able to accomplish “much more writing” on his project during his time at home than would have been possible otherwise.

Rajiv Sethi, a professor at Columbia University who participated in the 2020-21 program, said his typical workflow and collaboration style were disrupted by the pandemic.

But Sethi added he found Zoom and virtual meetings convenient.

“It allowed me some flexibility,” Sethi said. “I could join conversations, even when I was traveling — when I was outside of the United States, because I had to be away for family reasons for a while.”

Paul Martini, another fellow from last year’s program, said the greatest disappointment about not working in-person on Harvard’s campus was not being able to bring his family to Cambridge.

“I missed the opportunity for my family to experience a different environment for the year, which I think would have been a lot of fun,” Martini said.

Sethi and Martini said they are both looking forward to Radcliffe's plans to bring the 2020-21 cohort to Harvard's campus this coming summer, where they will have the opportunity to convene in person for the first time.

“I really appreciate the fact that they’re having an in-person, on campus session next summer that they’ve invited people to,” Sethi said. “I’m looking forward to being there.”

–Staff Writer Christie K. Choi can be reached at christie.choi@thecrimson.com.

–Staff writer Jorge O. Guerra can be reached at jorge.guerra@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @jorgeoguerra_.

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