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Conflict Resolution Institute

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Faculty Spotlight

Timothy D. Sisk

Timothy D. Sisk is Associate Dean and Associate Professor at the Joseph Korbel
School of International Studies and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development and International Peace, a research and policy institute at the School.

Sisk serves as an Associate Fellow of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy in Geneva, Switzerland, and is involved in a major research project for the U.N. Development Program on statebuilding in war torn countries. His latest book is titled International Mediation in Civil Wars: Bargaining with Bullets (Routledge 2009).

How did you become involved with the Conflict Resolution Institute?

I got to know Karen [Feste, CRI Co-Director] in 1998, when I first got here. She was just beginning to put together the program...and I worked with her because of my experience at USIP (United States Institute for Peace). I helped design the core curriculum... and I've been on the faculty committee since the very beginning. I was interim director when Karen was on sabbatical.

Which courses do you teach here?

The principal course I teach, which addresses this field, is on postwar peace
building, which looks at the current international efforts to build sustainable peace after civil war. The course involves an initial look at conflict assessment and the implications of peace agreements for postwar implementation. Students do a comprehensive analysis of postwar peacebuilding in a country of their choice.

What qualities or perspectives do conflict resolution students bring to the

The interdisciplinary training that they have and the concern with the practical
implications of theory; how the theory can help inform practice and policy. That, I think, is the most engaging part of ConRes students. Most of them tend to have some kind of experience that they bring to the table that other students might not. So conflict resolution students bring practical field experience, particularly those who are former Peace Corps volunteers or others.

What does the future hold in the field of conflict resolution?

That's interesting. Most of the recent work these days goes in two directions: one looks at psychological aspects of conflict management -- very important in my field, civil wars where there are questions of relative status. Another is the deep economic drivers of conflict...I think we have a lot of good theory that looks at environmental deprivation in conflict, environmental scarcity and violence...and a lot of good theory around ethnic conflict and constructive identity, but [we do not have much in] the interaction of all these. I think this is the real frontier for the field, particularly when you look at the outbreak of major civil war. The other big area is helping with the
effects of climate change, where we have to have stronger theoretical approaches that can show how climate change induced economic, environmental and cultural changes may in fact be conflict inducing.

What career opportunities do you see for current or prospective students?

It depends on whether they are domestic or international. I can speak most to the international arena. It is pretty clear the most development approaches today emphasize multi-party stakeholders. They emphasize conflict resolution themes; the ability to reach consensus... If someone was smart enough to really specialize not just in health and conflict,...but in the international arena, working with major pharmaceuticals and local NGO's, that would be a very interesting area. And there is an enduring demand in international organizations, such as the U.N., that are working in this field.

What advice would you offer to current students or those considering the field?

Write a really good thesis. Really take the time to have a strong methodology
for the thesis and to include up-to-the moment, cutting-edge, methodological
orientations...a mixed method. Don't just write up a think piece, but really show that not only do you have the substance skills to write a thesis and say something important, but that you have the research skills coming out of it, because that is what employers are looking for. They look for people that have a good core knowledge, but also, absolutely, the real ability to work with complicated research design and methodologies. That's what I think is most important.

Korbel School Associate Dean Sisk can be reached at