Bernadett Sebaly Receives First-Year PhD Student Award

March 16, 2021

Bernadett Sebaly, a student at the Doctoral School of Political Science, Public Policy Track has been awarded the CEU Academic Achievement Award for First-Year Doctoral Students based on her exemplary coursework, first year of doctoral studies, and performance during the comprehensive exam at the end of the academic year. We congratulate Bernadett, and use the occasion to ask her a few questions:  

SPP: What motivates you to do a PhD? Why did you choose the Public Policy Track at CEU?

Bernadett: I want to contribute to finding a solution to the crisis of liberal democracies. I enrolled in CEU after ten years of work as a civil society professional and an activist leader in Hungary. In both roles, I was fully committed to elevating new leaders and bringing people into politics who have no or very little privileges. But how many opportunities did we miss due to low resources or bad strategy? As much as it makes some people uncomfortable, I believe we cannot revive democracy without the participation of ordinary people in public life. The current structures that civic organizations or movements offer (and donors fund) are often more alienating than engaging. This is what I would like to change through my research. I chose the Public Policy Track because it is in line with my solution-oriented approach to science.

SPP: How was your experience during the first year? What were the highlights?

Bernadett: The first year in a PhD program is an arduous journey because we have to pin down our research and define the focus. A professor told me once: when you have a good research question, you have done half of the job. I think this is very true, and writing the prospectus helps crystallize it. This year is also about taking on this new identity of being an early-stage researcher. This process is unique for everyone. For me, it was about redefining my connections with the communities I was previously working with and contributing in a new way with the expertise I gained at CEU. This is not a straightforward process, but it is necessary if you want to stay connected to the field and are committed to linking the worlds of social movements and academia in a fruitful way.

SPP: Please explain what a prospectus is and what research questions and ideas you developed in it.

Bernadett: A prospectus is a research proposal that summarizes your main ideas, most importantly, the topic of your interest, your question, and the path that will lead to answering that question. My question is related to the policy impact of social movements. I want to understand how the inclusion of beneficiaries – people who are personally affected by a social issue – influences movement outcomes over time. Are the claims of inclusive movements more pertinent to burning social issues? When social change efforts do not embrace the issues or leadership of particular beneficiaries, does it contribute to the polarization of society? I will analyze the Hungarian housing movement, a dynamically changing field of civic action showcased with different network configurations. I will use both quantitative and qualitative methods, including social network analysis.

SPP: Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years? What are your plans?

Bernadett: First of all, I hope to finish my PhD within a reasonable time! CEU is an amazing institution with fantastic professors, and it is a matter of personal deliberation how many years one wants to invest as a PhD candidate into personal growth and when one feels ready to return the knowledge to society. I’m also trying to find a good balance in this and use this privilege that CEU creates responsibly. After I finish, I’d like to become an expert who can provide answers for civil society organizations, social movements, and donors working in authoritarian or autocratizing environments. I might be working with donors, research institutions, or movements, depending on what the future brings.

SPP: Last but not least: how do you like Vienna as a student?

Bernadett: I spent a fantastic semester in Vienna in 2019 before the pandemic started. Vienna is a liveable city with vivid cultural life, excellent bike infrastructure, and a lovely Danube bank that is used for recreation instead of car transportation. Some of the best parts of living in Vienna, including its café and bar culture and diversity, flow from its relatively affordable rents and excellent public housing infrastructure rooted in Vienna’s social democratic political tradition.