From Helsinki to Hanoi – An Interview with UNU-WIDER Alumnus Aziz Karimov

21 February 2014

Susan Servas

UNU-WIDER alumni corner, Aziz KarimovAn interview with WIDER alumnus, Aziz Karimov

Every year UNU-WIDER hosts a number of PhD interns and young scholars from around the world who participate in the different research and professional development activities of the Institute. As part of the UNU-WIDER series ‘Advice to Early Career Researchers’, Susan Servas (SS) from UNU-WIDER’s Knowledge Services spoke with economist and former UNU-WIDER Research Fellow, Aziz Karimov (AK), who shared highlights of his experience as a young researcher at the Institute and his next steps at the International Livestock Research institute (ILRI) in Hanoi, Vietnam.

SS: How did you come to know about UNU-WIDER? What were your first impressions? 

AK: I first came to UNU-WIDER for the PhD Internship Programme in 2011 as I was completing my postgraduate studies at the Center for Development Research (ZEF), Bonn University, Germany. My doctoral thesis focused on the applied economics of agricultural production systems of Uzbekistan, my home country. I was so impressed with the research environment and support I got from colleagues at the Institute that I was thrilled to be subsequently selected for a post as Research Fellow.

Making the transition from PhD studies to career research was an incredible learning experience for me. I discovered that a graduate student, or someone undertaking their PhD, may demonstrate tremendous research skills but can easily lose their compass when moving from a purely academic to a professional setting. In my case, as an early career researcher at UNU-WIDER I was introduced to the full range of challenges of being part of a vibrant research programme—from research to project management, collaborating with international research teams and engaging with experts from various disciplines.

SS: What advice would you give to other early career researchers? 


  1. Learn to communicate to multiple stakeholders

One highlight of my experience at UNU-WIDER was being involved on the environment and climate change theme of the ReCom (Research and Communication of Foreign Aid) programme. It introduced me to the concept of research impact and the importance of making research actionable to different stakeholders, such as policy makers, who can influence development in their contexts.

In my area of research, I have to interact with many stakeholders including other researchers and experts such as agronomists, engineers, hydrologists, etc. When I was at UNU-WIDER, part of my work was also to interact with and lecture students on topics of my specialization as the focal point for the UNU-WIDER–HECER Master’s Programme in Development Economics. Knowing the importance of effectively communicating the relevance of my research to different audiences, and the positive change and learning this leads to, makes my work more rewarding. 

  1. Expand your network

The fact that the word ‘wider’ in UNU-WIDER means broad or extended leads us to refer to this often through word play. In fact, I´ve learned that having a broad outlook is vital to scholarship that is truly international in scope.

As a young researcher from Uzbekistan, my contacts were mainly from Central Asia. The advantage of working at a think tank of the United Nations, as UNU-WIDER clearly is, was that I was exposed to a diverse and multicultural environment with colleagues from, literally, all over the world. I was also given the opportunity to expand my professional network by co-leading a project on climate change and green growth collaborating with the African Economic Research Consortium. Looking back, this was an immensely formative experience for me as it opened doors to collaborate with African scholars whose perspectives enriched my understanding of the issues.

  1. Develop an intuition

In my experience, good research does not always equate to finding the right answers—most of the time it means having the patience and acuity to formulate good research questions. This may seem contrary to our evidence-based sensibilities, but looking back I see that much of my ability to balance practical and strategic approaches in my work was thanks to developing an intuition around what advice to follow, what directions to take, and trusting in my own ability to come to conclusions of what works and what does not. 

SS: What are your next steps after UNU-WIDER?

AK: As of 1 January 2014, I have taken up a new position as a Research Scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Hanoi, Vietnam. ILRI is headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya and is a member of theCGIAR consortium.

I will specifically be working as part of the CGIAR Research Program (CRP) on integrated systems for the humid tropics. This CRP is a worldwide initiative that aims to help poor and vulnerable rural households, particularly those headed by women, in tropical Africa, Asia, and the Americas to increase their livelihoods from integrated agricultural systems intensification while sustaining their land for the next generations. 

SS: So, how are you adjusting to life in Hanoi? 

AK: Hanoi is a large and heavily populated city. As you can imagine, it is quite a change from the calm and often snowy cityscape of Helsinki. Hanoi is developing quickly which means more traffic, more noise, and one can see dynamic growth everywhere. It's a very exciting place to be right now. 

I am extremely happy to begin this next chapter in my career and to immerse myself in fieldwork in a developing country. One could even say that the move reflects what it means to be a UNU-WIDER alumnus—that of being part of a wider network bridging the Global North and Global South.

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