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GSS Doctoral Alumni to Collaborate with Cornell Medicine, Law, Tech on NY Displaced Migrants in Postdoc


Congratulations to GSS doctoral alumni Tanzilya Oren, GSS ‘22, who was recently offered a postdoctoral research position at Weill Cornell Medicine’s Human Rights Impact Lab!

Dr. Oren will work on research with displaced populations in New York with an interdisciplinary team, composed of scholars from Weill Cornell Medicine, Cornell Law, and Cornell Tech.

We sat down with Oren to discuss her research, her Ph.D. experience, and her excitement for the road ahead. 

How did it feel when you found out you’d be working at Cornell in this postdoc position?

This is an interesting position because it’s interdisciplinary. I work with migrants, and my research is with asylum-seeking migrants in New York City. The field itself is very interdisciplinary. It’s not that social work has any prerogative over the field, because migration is a very complex issue. The legal side of a migration is a very complicated issue, and there is a medical side to it. There is a case management side, and at the same time, the politics and policies are critical, because the United States immigration policy does not treat forced migrants well. So there’s a lot to do around migration, and it has been my main research interest.

What was difficult for me as a social work practitioner and a researcher was to understand this complexity, and also that there’s no public funding to serve asylum seekers historically. On the news and on TV there is a lot of talk about the buses coming from Texas and Florida to the north. It’s just showing a huge gap, and there is no infrastructure for forced migrants.

I’m excited to work within various disciplines to find solutions through  research and to bring evidence to the field, and to listen to migrants through participatory research. For example, there are many health issues including trauma among this population, but there is also an absence of legal infrastructure. Many asylum seekers have to go to court without the right to legal representation. 

So, it’s an intense topic. And one thing about the interdisciplinary aspect of this — it seems that in academia oftentimes different departments are very siloed in their own research, and they don’t have a lot of communication bridging them together. So, I felt very lucky when I found this team that brings medical, legal, engineering, and social work researchers and practitioners together to work on migration.

Why do you think academia is so siloed? 

I mean it’s mainly an issue in the United States. And why is that? Because you cannot do a Ph.D. in something if your master’s was in a different field, right? So, you are kind of stuck in the same pipeline.

At the same time the research methods are very much similar across many social science disciplines. I mean, It’s not that it’s not possible, there’s just no incentive for people to cooperate. And it all comes down to funding.

So, my idealistic view is if we work on migration, we should be very interdisciplinary, and we should advocate for ourselves to bring in funding. So that’s why I found this postdoc position posted in the department of anesthesiology at Cornell, where no social workers would apply.  But then I realized that it’s a human rights lab for refugees and asylum seekers, so I was adventurous and applied — and it seems like it’s a perfect place for me to be.

Would you say that your personal experience as an immigrant to the United States has had an influence on your research?

Of course, it was not an easy journey to be an immigrant, and come here late in life. So, it’s so all connected. So, I’m doing this research and working, and I’m helping myself in many ways. There is a self-incentive, right? So, it’s the thing that affects my personal life, my family, and the people I know. 

It is not always healthy to connect your personal with your professional life, but this is what’s happening in my case. So it’s kind of difficult to separate because I did this myself. I’m working with communities that I understand going through so many similar experiences.

What role did your work with Professor Marciana Popescu and Her Migrant Hub play in your education?

The Her Migrant Hub project was created at the end of my studies, when I was almost done with my dissertation. I helped to build our research team. I brought most of the women I know from different communities to be co-researchers representing different groups of forced women migrants. 

I also brought some colleagues — a social designer and partner organizations, representing various immigrant communities. So, it was fun for me because I’m connected to various asylum seekers through my volunteer and consulting work, and I brought the people I know onto this project to create the core group of women researchers who help us drive this project. I was happy to help build this project and involve all these different communities.

There are all these very diverse groups in New York City that these women represent. So, they help us to understand these lived experiences that the women and their communities go through. So, my experience is my experience. But then having these women from ten different countries come together and talk about our differences — but also our commonalities — that’s very important. I think that’s the impact of the project.

Why did you choose Fordham for your Ph.D. education?

I had this idealistic view that if I go to do research I will have more impact on policy because I produce some evidence. I’ll go and write and use my research to advocate for change.

As a new migrant, and the first in my family to go to college, I did not have a good idea about academia. I navigated college back home, and when I came here for master’s by myself, so I had no mentors or someone to explain anything to me. I live nearby Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus. I was adjuncting before I joined, so I knew a little bit, but it looked like a friendly place.

What was the biggest success of your Ph.D. career?

Helping build the Her Migrant Hub project, but also my research papers and my pilot research I did my first year — I immediately jumped into research while continuing my community practice. Fordham allowed this flexibility. Sometimes what happens in a Ph.D. program is you go in and you’re working for a professor, and there’s not much space to do your own work.

At Fordham, because I was what they called a “mature student”, they gave me the freedom to explore and choose my research topic and my own ideas. They supported me in all my endeavors. There is an appreciation for students’ work. And the program flexibility is the best thing.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give someone considering a Ph.D. program?

People have to ask the current Ph.D. students and those who just graduated for an informational interview. I know many of us are pretty open to chat. It seems like many people like me, or people who don’t have close family or friends who are Ph.D.s, don’t quite understand what it is for and how to survive. 

So I would say, if you want to enter, please have some informational interviews. I’m doing this project for international and migrant Ph.D. students — we are launching a website soon with all advice for future and current migrant and international students, to share our experiences, give tips, and other things. We are doing this to support people like us.


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