Faculty Interview Series: An Interview with Dr. Ariane Tabatabai, SSP Assistant Professor

By Brian Wickizer, Reporter

Dr. Ariane Tabatabai is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program. Dr. Tabatabai came to Georgetown University from the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, where she was an Associate in the Belfer Center’s International Security Program and Project at Managing the Atom in 2014-15, and a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow 2013-14. Previously, she was a non-resident research associate with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute.

Dr. Tabatabai received her PhD in War Studies from the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. She holds an M.A. in International Peace and Security with Distinction from the Department of War Studies, King’s College London and a double B.A. in Political Science and Cinema and Cultural Studies from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Dr. Tabatabai is on the board of the European Iran Research Group, a columnist for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a consultant for NATO, and a Senior Associate at CSIS. Her work has appeared in many forums including Foreign Policy, The Financial Times, The Boston Globe, The National Interest, and Haaretz. She is a frequent media commentator on nuclear issues, arms control, and regional security in the Middle East on such outlets as NPR, BBC, BBC Persian, Al-Jazeera, and France24.

What attracted you to SSP?

What attracted me to SSP is probably what attracted most of my students to the program: I had studied our core faculty’s work: Bruce Hoffman, Dan Byman, Keir Lieber, Colin Kahl, and Chris Fair to name a few. I had a lot of respect for their scholarship. So, the opportunity to learn from them was a big selling point. And, of course, the program has a great reputation and our alumni are doing great things. By next semester, I will have taught six completely different classes. It’s a lot of work, but I also really enjoy the process of preparing new courses. You end up learning so much. So, I thought I would intellectually benefit from the experience.

You’re a prolific writer and commentator. What has been your experience getting your views into the public debate?

It was a bit of an uphill battle to get recognition. The default in this town (and in our field) isn’t to take young women of Iranian descent seriously. So, I had to prove myself a lot. I still do. But I really enjoy writing and giving talks. It helps me keep myself updated on the ongoing events, think about what is being said and what is missing from the conversation, and try to find ways to contribute to the debate on various levels.

The two things I tell my students, which very much apply to anyone who wants to do media or writing, are:

  1. Know your stuff. Don’t publish a piece you didn’t fact check. That’ll do you more harm than good. Especially at the early stages of your career. If you go on a panel or do TV or radio and you’re caught saying things that aren’t right, you may not get a second chance.
  2. Be confident. It doesn’t matter if you’re the smartest and most knowledgeable person in your field, if you keep questioning yourself, your interlocutor will see that and won’t take you seriously. And why should they if you don’t even take yourself seriously? I see this with a number of my female students especially, they say something and immediately question it or undermine it. That said, there’s a sweet spot you need to hit: No one will listen to a twenty-something year old who thinks they’ve invented the wheel. Confidence, not arrogance or entitlement, is what you should aim for!

Which courses are you teaching at SSP?

I teach 500 almost every semester and 710 some semesters. Some electives I’ve taught so far are: Iran and the Bomb, Iran’s National Security Policies, and next semester I’ll be teaching the nukes course.

How do you run your 710 section? What do you emphasize and what are your expectations of your students?

My expectation is thorough research and good analysis and writing. I run the first couple of classes as part lecture and part discussion. I expect everyone to come in with a topic on the first day. After lecturing for a bit, I ask everyone to take some time to formulate a couple of research questions. We then discuss each question and everyone gets feedback from me and their peers. After those couple of classes, I meet my students individually every couple of weeks and have class every couple of weeks. I break the process down into a few key steps, some of which are graded, and some are not: Research question, proposal, outline, research design, the first draft, and final paper. I review and provide feedback on every step and each component also gets discussed in class.

What advice would you give to SSP students going into the research seminar? What is the best way to approach this project or prepare for it?

Do your homework and look up the professors teaching 710 before your register for your last semester. See whose style will work for you. All of your colleagues who have graduated have gone through the process, they will be able to help you in your decision-making process.

And come in prepared, know your topic. No one is expecting a clear and finalized research question and outline, a research project is a process after all, but don’t come in to the first class without a clue about a possible project.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.