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HSD PhD student Eric B. Kennedy is not the type of doctoral candidate that is content to cloister himself in an office or library, hunched over a book or keyboard. While acknowledging the value of compiling data and writing, it is out in the field that he really feels energized. It is essential to “constantly go out and be stimulated by new experiences,” he says. “Otherwise, you risk producing a boring and incremental end product.” He’s certainly practiced what he’s preached as he’s worked on his dissertation, a project focused on finding best practices and effective institutional mechanisms to engage multiple stakeholders on controversial environmental management issues. The well being of those stakeholders motivates him: “These are generally good people who believe very different things because of their backgrounds and have to find ways to work together on controversial issues.”
Kennedy got his first taste of fieldwork and ethnography with SFIS Professor of Practice Gregg Zachary. He further honed his research methods under the supervision of SFIS affiliate Barry Bozeman with a heavy emphasis on crunching numbers and developing models. Kennedy considers the two exceptional instructors as “yin to each other’s yang.” Leveraging SFIS’ strong links with other departments, Kennedy is an active collaborator with graduate students and faculty members at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, the Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC), and the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment (SSEBE).
Kennedy considers his progression as indicative of his experience as an HSD student. “Many of my stories are stories of confluence,” he observes. “Two or three things that initially seemed unrelated came together in exciting ways.” In his eyes, that is what SFIS is all about. He emphasizes the importance of taking advantage of every opportunity to go to meetings and conferences and then come back to the desk and see how the knowledge gained interacts with your own research. “You have to be able to play this game of expanding and coalescing while still being as productive as the people you see in the SFIS hallway.”
A look at everything Kennedy has achieved already proves that he’s played that game well. He received a three-year doctoral fellowship from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). Like fellow HSD student Michael Burnham-Fink and CSPO director and SFIS faculty member Dan Sarewitz, Kennedy was a Generation Fellow with the Breakthrough Institute. He has presented and conducted research in places as far flung as Australia, Italy, China, Qatar, and Wales. Somehow, in the midst of all that, he has managed to get several years of fieldwork under his belt and has continued to volunteer his time in acts of public service.
For Kennedy, one of SFIS’ strengths is the ability to prepare researchers for a wide variety of career paths. Alongside academic careers, Kennedy is also interested in working in public service or policy-related think tanks.