Inspiring Interviews

Vincy Davis: Why choose between a desk job and fieldwork when you can have both?

If you’re a student of the social sciences, or a person from any other background who wants to combine academic work with the invigorating experience of going out in in the field; then you shouldn’t miss out on hearing from Vincy Davis. She lets us in on what life is like working at one of Delhi’s premiere think tanks and also about her secret ambition to make public administration sexy as an academic discipline.

Vincy Davis: Research Associate at Accountability Initiative

So, tell us a little bit about yourself Vincy.

Currently I’m working as a Research Associate at Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi. My primary area of interest is well, everything under the ambit of public administration including institution design, worker motivation and organizational culture. I like theories and am constantly trying to test these out through the empirical evidence that we gather. My passion for journaling, an interest in others’ life stories and a desire to just figure out how the world works – these factors have driven me towards this field. I have a bachelors in Journalism Honors and a Masters degree in  Political Science. Thinking back to the times when I fought to take up Humanities as my stream in school over other “safer” options, I can now safely say things have worked out well. One of my dreams is to make public administration sexy as an academic discipline. Right now most people engage with the subject only to crack the civil services exams! This must change.

What’s the most interesting thing about the work that you do?
During field work, I get to meet inspiring, interesting as well as not so great people who give shape to government policies and programmes. I find these people fascinating. Also love the fact that back in my office, I’m largely left alone to read and write about the things that hold a lot of meaning to me!

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Working in the field and at the grassroots level is a unique experience

How have your experiences in the field been like?
Positive. Though the field work that I’ve been exposed to in my current job been conducted mainly in poor and rural areas, the setting is usually rather controlled. My only issue is with the fact that penetration of toilets in rural pockets of most states is still abysmally low. A word of caution to aspiring researchers who wish to work in rural India – When you’re out toiling all day in the field gathering data, unless you’re cool with going in the open, hydrate strategically!
Do you think that there is enough government support for social science research in India?
All social science subjects are equal but some subjects are more equal than others! But in general, I feel social science research in India lacks in quality and rigor. Successive governments have let the social sciences languish for a variety of reasons. This is disheartening and actually detrimental to the growth of our society.
Who’s been the one person you met through your professional work that has inspired you the most?
Can’t pick one person since I’ve been lucky to have met truly inspiring figures who excel in their respective fields. But if I must name one, an all-rounder, if you will, then I guess that would have to be Mr. T.R Raghunandan. He is a former joint secretary to the Government of India and has devoted his life fighting corruption by launching public initiatives and working with different governments across the world. At the same time he juggles his elaborate hobbies including building entire museums! On top of it all this bureaucrat-scholar has a passion for teaching and is extremely witty yet humble. His unabashed zest for life and the sheer energy he packs is mind boggling. I’m convinced he packs in 48 hours’ worth of activities in a day. A true inspiration.
Tell us about the most challenging, yet rewarding things in your area of work.
I think the most challenging part of my work is communicating our findings and being able to show the big picture to audiences outside the research world. The most rewarding part of my work is, to borrow Oprah’s words, the “aha! moments” – moments when analysis leads to mental bulbs lighting up! Feels like I’m one step closer to figuring it all out which well, is never going to happen, but it’s a thrill and these moments are precious! It is also tremendously gratifying knowing that one’s work is adding to a body of literature that is rather underdeveloped in the country.
What is one book you would like to recommend for our readers that opened new perspectives for and inspired you?
Carl Sagan’s ‘Demon-Haunted World.’ He does a brilliant job of smashing the artificial distinction between philosophy and science, and demystifying the aura around scientists, in very simple prose. It is a testament of Sagan’s love for Knowledge and is an ardent appeal to the reader to discover ways to hone their sense of curiosity and wonder at the vastness of the universe.

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