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Reena Patel is a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Department of State. She is also the author of Working the Night Shift: Women in India’s Call Center Industry (2010), which explores the biases toward women in Indian society as seen through the lens of the call center industry, the influence of western culture, and globalization.
“My biggest take away from that experience was to never make assumptions,” she said. The women rode together in vans to work night shifts in American call centers and were sometimes perceived as prostitutes, she said. It showed Patel how public space relates to power and dominance.
“They may have money and education,” she said, “but it’s not buying them mobility.”
Patel is also a member of the first graduating class (2003) of the Global Technology and Development master’s degree program in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. Later, it was a GTD faculty member who encouraged Patel to continue her education and pursue a PhD in geography at the University of Texas in Austin.
“I never once even imagined a PhD,” she recalled. “I didn’t even know people who had PhDs!”
She credits her GTD degree with helping to catapult her career in Foreign Service. As a diplomat, Patel has served in peacekeeping operations in the Sinai Peninsula, as vice consul with the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara, Mexico, and as a political officer and staff assistant with the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, Spain.
“I believe in the work we do,” Patel said. “We shape and change people’s lives.”
Her unique experiences and successes made her a perfect choice to speak at SFIS’s spring 2017 convocation. She shared her adventures and insights with humor and humility -- as well as the fact that success did not always come easy.
While she knew that publishing her research was one of the best ways to expose her research, it wasn’t easy. “It requires perseverance and a thick skin in the face of rejection,” she said.
Months after sending her book proposal to 13 different publishers, all but one had rejected her. After thinking it was not to be, Stanford University Press contacted her and offered her a book contract.
“They were my number one choice,” she said. “I’m glad I wasn’t given the opportunity to settle.”
More adversity stood between her goals and entry into the Foreign Service. She knew she wanted a job outside of academia, an inclination she attributes to her time as a Peace Corps volunteer early in her career. During her first year in the GTD program, she learned about the David L. Boren Graduate Fellowship, which provides research funds to graduate students and offers opportunities for securing a job in the federal government.
One of the programs offered was the Diplomatic Fellows Program. If accepted, applicants must pass a scored interview. Patel applied during her final year as a PhD student, but failed to pass the interview. She applied a year later and again failed to pass the interview — this time by 1/100 of a point.
“Needless to say, that was not a good day,” she confessed.
She finally passed on her third attempt and soon after moved to Madrid to serve as a political officer in the US embassy.
While her ability to shrug off rejection and persevere in the face of adversity has served her well, she attributes much of her success to her time at ASU — a sentiment she shared with the graduating class of 2017.
“The critical thinking, research, and analytical skills that I developed in the GTD program directly contributed to my ability to access these opportunities and excel at them.”
Written by Adam Gabriele