Student Spotlight: Leslie Marshall
Department of Political Science
Explain your area/s of research.
Broadly speaking, I’m interested in questions of representation and participation in the public sphere, and how the political and economic context in which policies are implemented affects whether those policies have a measurable impact on the people they are designed to benefit. In pursuing this research agenda, I’ve partnered with academics and policy-driven organizations in both Uganda and Lebanon. I am especially interested in gender-oriented policymaking, and in how gender influences the policy implementation process at various stages. More recently, I’ve been researching lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex representation in public administration around the world as part of multidisciplinary collaboration between the Ford Institute for Human Security within the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and the United Nations Development Programme.
What inspired you to choose this field of study?
I’ve been passionate about challenging injustice since I was a kid, but it wasn’t until after I spent six months working in Uganda in 2014 that I became motivated to focus my energy specifically on various forms of gender-based discrimination in the public sphere. I returned from that trip feeling angry and upset by the struggle I had witnessed, but also encouraged by the commitment of so many Ugandans to improving women’s representation and participation. I realized that if there’s anything I would still be passionate about working on 10 years from now, it’s gender equality and how we can build systems to help get us there.
Explain the importance of your research.
There is often a considerable gap between the policies and legislation that exist on paper, and the effects of those policies as experienced in practice. While gender-sensitive policymaking is important in and of itself, we also need to understand how to go from producing those policies to making sure that people truly benefit from them on the ground. My research contributes to our understanding of that process by examining how the local political and administrative context in which national policies are implemented affects who benefits, when, and how.
What has most influenced you as a scholar?
My experiences with faculty and staff at Pitt have arguably done more to influence my development as a scholar than any other single factor. I’ve changed the topic of my main research agenda more than once while at Pitt, and each time I’ve been met with unbelievable support and encouragement from my mentors and colleagues, both within my department and outside of it. These interactions have changed the trajectory of my career path by introducing me to opportunities to work on projects in Lebanon, Uganda, and elsewhere. Moreover, it is through conversations and research partnerships with my colleagues that I find myself continually encouraged to keep an open mind, read broadly, and seize opportunities to expand my scope of skills and experience whenever possible.
Why did you choose Pitt to pursue your graduate degree?
From my first interactions with members of the political science faculty at Pitt, I was struck by the obvious pride our department takes in fostering graduate student-faculty research partnerships. My time in this program has felt a lot like an apprenticeship; I’ve been fortunate to learn from some of the most creative and innovative people in my field, and I’ve been encouraged to experiment and pursue a wide range of research interests where I can apply the skills that I’ve learned through working side-by-side with my colleagues. I also sincerely appreciate that my department offers roughly the same funding package to all admitted Ph.D. students. I think this does a lot to help facilitate the culture of support and collaboration that exists here.
What are your plans after graduation?
I would be thrilled to end up in a university environment that encourages collaborative research with policy-makers and other non-academic actors in applied settings, and that also emphasizes teaching applied skills to students. Alternatively, I could also see myself working for the United States government or an international organization where I would be able to use my skills and substantive expertise to continue working on these issues with both researchers and policymakers alike.