January 2022: In Focus

Chasing Conflict: Senior Pursues Passion in International Relations

Dalya Berkowitz“What I’m most interested in is international relations,” says Dalya Berkowitz, a Dietrich School senior double-majoring in political science and psychology with a minor in French.

“My freshman year at Pitt, I took International Relations with Professor Charles Gochman from the Department of Political Science—a fantastic course. I was immediately assured that this would be my career path.”

Berkowitz is particularly interested in conflict: “conflict prevention, mitigation, resolution, and setting up sustainable post-conflict institutions,” she explained. “My hope is that this mélange of studies will allow me to identify how individuals’ actions fit into political science but also to understand the psychological forces driving them, becoming able to address, predict and shape the future trajectory of international relations broadly, and conflict studies and foreign policy especially.”

Research has been an important and fruitful aspect of Berkowitz’s career at Pitt. Toward the end of her sophomore year, Berkowitz knew she wanted to be involved in research in her field. She sought out Burcu Savun, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science.

“Dr. Savun has a truly impressive background and had research interests that directly aligned with my own,” says Berkowitz. “Dr. Savun has offered me so much advice and mentorship beyond working as her research assistant. Last semester, she graciously invited me to take a graduate-level course she is teaching that greatly aligns with my interests: Peacemaking and Peacekeeping. Through this opportunity, I have been able to hear from exceptionally intelligent people who, in many cases, have already begun successful careers in the field of international relations. Hearing these nuanced perspectives, from the papers we read and discuss to the experiences of classmates, would not have been possible without the help of Dr. Savun.”

Berkowitz began working with Savun in September 2020. At first, their interactions were limited to emails and Zoom calls due to COVID-19 restrictions. Berkowitz’s first project was timely, focusing on governments that blame refugees and violate their human rights during epidemics.

“I researched any health crises in which I found governments had violated refugees’ human rights through harassment, encampment, use of force, etc. to deflect blame from state institutions and returned the examples to her along with sources [Dr. Savun] could cite for possible use in the paper,” offers Berkowitz. “I also cultivated case studies focused on civil wars: the moral hazard problem, third-party intervention, third-party security guarantees in peace treaties, the likelihood of a rebel group fighting, self-determination movements, and non-violent tactics. I worked on a dataset involving refugee flows and am working now on a dataset focused on protests about energy prices.”

So how does a researcher studying international relations spend her time?

“No two assignments are the same! It’s fascinating,” says Berkowitz. “On the macro level, on any given day I am usually either researching case studies or building datasets. For the case studies, much of this involves internet research. This entails digging for hours trying to find information on events that have not been well documented. You run into problems of documents that are lost or in another language, documents with conflicting information, and of course there are often holes in the information where you have to try to piece together what really happened. But I also conduct this qualitative research the good old-fashioned way—at the library!”

Data analysis also relies on Excel, noted Berkowitz.

“Through working with both the case studies and datasets, you not only become informed on the conflicts and issues you are studying, but you also begin to notice patterns in types of conflicts, protests, refugees, you name it.”

During summer 2021, Berkowitz served as executive office intern at The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES). She came across this opportunity after attending one of Pitt’s virtual career fairs during her junior year.

“IFES works most obviously on promoting free and fair elections around the world, but just as importantly, on establishing equality, fighting corruption, and sometimes operating in countries experiencing conflict,” says Berkowitz.

“My work for them was just as varied,” Berkowitz adds. “Most of my time was spent writing. I was entrusted with writing drafts of letters to foreign countries and organizations, briefings and readouts for our 400-plus staff around the world, and taking notes at senior leadership meetings as well as an annual board meeting.”

By being exposed to these high-level meetings and communications, Berkowitz said, she gained detailed insight into the operations of an international nongovernmental organization.

“I was able to learn how to work toward goals in the face of conflicts, as with the elections in Ethiopia, with other US agencies, and in finding compromise in conflicting goals,” Berkowitz recalls. “I was even able to meet the Guatemalan Ambassador to the U.S. on one occasion! The people I worked with were incredible in their impressive accomplishments and their kind willingness to offer me advice in my own career. I am very grateful to them and to Pitt for presenting me with this opportunity.”

Next up, Berkowitz hopes to obtain a master’s degree and continue to pursue a career in international relations.

“I envision working for the U.S. government, an international organization, an NGO, etc. on foreign policy, conflict, and creating sustainable cross-cultural connections,” she says.

“What convinced me to attend [Pitt] was the sense of community I gathered when I visited. People were friendly, engaged and eager to help. I have found this to be true throughout my education at Pitt.”

Berkowitz said she is glad she chose Pitt for her undergraduate education because it gave her the opportunity to conduct research with Savun and to interact with other helpful faculty members.

“Through this work and in coursework with other professors, I have gained a well-rounded education in my majors with professors always willing to offer me their time and advice,” offers Berkowitz. “Pitt has given me a wonderful community of friends whose own drives and aspirations push me to be better every day.”

Return to the January 2022 issue »