Population Studies
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Grant will boost careers for Brown-trained demographers

A new Hewlett Foundation grant will build on work at the Population Studies and Training Center to prepare Africa’s next generation of population experts, with special attention to women who may face obstacles in the field.
By Deborah Baum  |  October 20, 2009  |  Email to a friend

In the last decade, Brown’s internationally renowned Population Studies and Training Center (PSTC) has graduated 74 Ph.D.s, nearly half of them from developing countries. With its focus on demography, the program has been preparing graduates to lead research and policy initiatives in their home countries and around the world for the past 45 years.

The continuing significance of the center’s work has been recognized by a new half-million-dollar grant from the Hewlett Foundation that will enable the PTSC to train the next generation of population experts, with particular attention to those from sub-Saharan Africa..

Smith: Critical challenges for demographers in Africa.: Smith: Critical challenges for demographers in Africa. The PSTC has received Hewlett funding for training since 1978, and this latest grant is a renewal of a similar program formerly led by Michael White, director of the PSTC. The new cycle, led by PSTC Associate Director Daniel Smith, an associate professor of anthropology, expands the center’s work in the areas of recruiting students – specifically female demographers – and investing in their early-career support.

“We want to expand our support,” Smith says, “to assure that the young population scientists from sub-Saharan Africa and other less developed regions are able to launch successful careers with the greatest possible positive impact in their countries and regions of origin.

“We hear about the critical challenges – lack of infrastructure, poor research funding, and inadequate professional support – that face our trainees as they try to establish successful careers in their own countries after they receive their Ph.D.s,” Smith adds. “We believe the activities proposed in this program will address those directly and lead to increased numbers of scientists returning to Africa, as well as greater professional productivity and visibility.”

Likewise, the grant’s focus on women Ph.D. graduates stems from the less than ideal employment situations they face upon receiving their degrees. “The career challenges faced by women go beyond just gender equity in the field,” says Smith. “So many of the issues we study in population sciences run through the lives and bodies of women.”

In addition to building on past PSTC programs and accomplishments, the Hewlett Foundation grant supports:

  • new ways to target and recruit high-quality applicants from sub-Saharan Africa, including increased visibility at professional conferences, alumni networks, and targeted visits by faculty;
  • investing substantially in the early careers of recent Ph.D. graduates and other young population scientists by providing visiting postdoctoral fellowships, small seed grants, and other investments in professional development;
  • Brown’s ability to serve as a coordinating partner for regional networks of demographic scholars and to continue participation in the Wits-Brown-Colorado-APHRC colloquium, a collaborative effort between U.S. and African training institutions to foster scholarly exchange and collaborative research;
  • a focus on supporting the career trajectories of female population scientists in developing countries where there is a “tangible dearth” of women demographers.

With nearly 40 percent of PSTC associates involved in research on African demography, the center’s engagement in this area is distinctive among population centers. PSTC faculty and students have active research connections with scholars and institutions in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa, and Zambia; and PSTC students and alumni have conducted dissertation research in yet another five African countries. 

“At the PSTC, we are committed to the idea that sound population science research is an important way to figure out what kinds of policies and programs are needed to improve the situation in Africa,” Smith says, “including environmental problems, public health crises such as HIV and AIDS, women’s reproductive health, and the organization of services in burgeoning cities.

“The niche we can fill, as a center,” he says, “is to help train and place scientists who are key to solving the puzzle. You can’t undertake the right programs to address issues unless you have the people to understand what’s going on."