In a ceremony this January, Najwa Sado Safadi, PhD ’12, was honored with the Boston College School of Social Work 2018 Distinguished Recent Alumni Award. An assistant professor at the Doha Institute in the School of Psychology and Social Work, Safadi was nominated for the award by Associate Professor Scott Easton. In this Q&A, she discusses her time as a PhD student at Boston College and her research studying social workers in occupied Palestine, and she offers advice for PhD students interested in international opportunities.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today, and congratulations on your distinguished alumni award. Tell us about how you came all the way to BCSSW from the Middle East, in the first place.
Najwa Safadi: First of all, let me say that this award means a lot to me. It means the appreciation of my work and achievements; it means that Boston College continues to support me and believe in my research. It also means that the School of Social Work cares for the social welfare of Palestinians and believes in social justice and dignity for others.
When I decided to come to Boston College, I was working at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem and teaching in the department of social work. I received an announcement from the AMIDEAST/Palestinian Faculty Development Program (PFDP) about a scholarship opportunity to study in the United States. I applied for this opportunity, submitted all required documents, and did all required English exams. After that, I was invited for an interview, and Margaret Lombe was one of the committee members who interviewed me. After two or three months I was informed that I was accepted to the doctoral program at Boston College. I was very happy; it was a first step for improving my future.
What was your experience like at BCSSW?
NS: My experience as a PhD student was very difficult and rich; a lot of academic work: readings, assignments, comprehensive exam, publishable paper, proposals, data collection, and ultimately defending my dissertation. I was afraid of failure, and returning to Palestine without a diploma. But with support from my professors, my friends, and my family, I passed this stage successfully. My education also gave me better skills in solving problems. It was a great experience.
Tell us about your current appointment at the Doha Institute in Qatar.
NS: I’m an assistant professor, and my responsibilities focus on teaching, research, and writing proposals. But I have a better quality of life and work since recently moving to Qatar from Palestine. Life and work in Palestine is more difficult. I needed a lot of time to reach my campus each day because I passed several military checkpoints. I was similar to other Palestinians in that I was always at risk from continuing violence; I felt fear and anger each day. It was difficult to see. Also, you found your students and colleagues had the same experience. In Qatar, I can better prepare for my classes, deliver a higher quality of lecture, and have improved discussions with my students. I also have more time to participate in workshops and conferences, and to build on formal and informal conversations with colleagues on various topics.
What are some of the research projects you’re currently working on?
NS: My research is unique in that it derives from the ongoing situation in Palestine. I focus on social programs in a country that has experienced a long history of occupied status. Now it has limited self-rule on some parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The government has limited control over its resources and depends heavily on aid from the international community. Investigating the influence of this political and economic situation provides new knowledge that helps explain why there is insufficient social assistance and limited coverage of social programs.
For example, in my study about policies to combat domestic violence, we found that lack of fair laws for women combined with the current political situation makes the adoption of new laws very difficult. This reality is compounded by the absence of a legislative council in Palestine, the difficulty of working in the villages located in certain occupied areas, and the lack of financial and human resources available to existing ministries and government institutions.
We made similar findings (with regard to how the political situation in Palestine has a major impact on social programs there), when we investigated the well being of Palestinian social workers— this is a project I’m working on with Scott Easton and his wife Ikram. The results of our study found that the daily political violence significantly influenced the ability of social workers to complete their daily tasks, which in turn, increases their own feelings of stress and anger. Existing professional challenges normal to our field added to these feelings (such as job stress, low pay, high caseload).
What advice would you have for other PhDs who are about to graduate, as they think about entering into the global workforce?
NS: Don’t take a big rest, work hard to complete the journey you started: teaching, researching, and publishing. Be creative and proactive in suggesting research topics and invite your professors to collaborate; do not just wait for professors to invite you to participate in their research. Write a list of universities /schools of social work you want to work with and study all the information that is available online about these schools. Then think about yourself/your research interest/your experience, and decide which ones fit more with your goals.