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Prof. Barbara Wejnert: “Dream High and Reach High”

Prof. Barbara Wejnert is a recognized sociologist and social researcher, known for her contributions to the field of comparative studies on societies and cultures. She is a sociology professor at Cornell University, currently teaching at the State University of New York – University at Buffalo. She is the author and editor of 16 books and over 60 scientific articles. Her research mainly focuses on analyzing social transformations, including processes of globalization, migration, and socio-cultural changes. She is an expert in the field of comparative research.

The article is part of a series of Coopercnius conversations with Polish scientists with foreign scientific backgrounds.

How did your journey into science begin?
I’ve always been fascinated by science, probably because I had a lot of questions about how everything works and why. My interests were not only related to the functioning of society but also to the relationship between different sciences. For example, I could relate certain problems and explanations in physics to political or social phenomena. To this day, I think comprehensively, not confined to one field of science, but bridging between various disciplines, noticing many commonalities.


What factors led you to decide to move abroad? What were the biggest challenges associated with this decision?
I never thought about going abroad; it was a coincidence. I was at a meeting with a professor from a university in the United States, and we started talking about the Solidarity Movement, which happened to be the subject of my doctoral research. The conversation ended with an invitation for lectures from that professor. I was a freshly minted doctor and saw the trip as an adventure. I started writing my first book and decided to accept the invitation for an extended stay. After immersing myself in research and teaching students, I became involved in the academic community here and stayed.


What benefits does working in an international scientific environment bring compared to working in Poland?
I’m not sure if these are benefits, but probably different perspectives on science, more comprehensive and comparative. I work in an environment without thematic limitations, not only in the field in which I am trained. For example, I am trained as a sociologist, a political sociologist, but I’m seen more as a political scientist, a specialist in politics and democracy. I also work on social equality, particularly on equal rights for women. I teach and publish on environmental protection topics as well.


What are you currently working on, and what is the main focus of your scientific research?

I’m currently finishing two new books, focusing on environmental studies and the impact of politics on the environment. I’m also delving into the study of democracy and its aspects that differentiate it from autocratic rule. Additionally, I maintain close contacts with many scientists from Poland; we have joint publications and research projects.


What aspects in your field particularly interest you?
Many new topics continually pique my interest, such as the global rise of dictatorship and autocracy, the spread of populism, the weakening of democracy, and the impact of these changes on the daily lives of people, societies, and the natural environment. However, if I had a second life, I would become a physicist.


What is your most important scientific achievement or discovery, and why is it significant?
My most significant scientific achievement is the study of the cause of the global diffusion of democracy from 1800 to 2005, developed using multilevel regression statistical methods. The book was published by Cambridge University Press, and I provided the database I developed to the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research in Michigan. This dataset is widely used and available for free to all scientists. The research conducted is immensely important for policymakers in various countries, as it proves that democracy mainly spreads through contacts between countries, “networks,” rather than through economic growth. This new thinking should change the relations between democratic and non-democratic countries and lead to greater peaceful development in the world. My latest project is studying what mainly influences the rapid spread of dictatorship, which destroys societies in many countries and threatens peace.


What advice would you give to young scientists at the beginning of their scientific careers?
The most important things are dreams of a better tomorrow and diligent work towards fulfilling those desires – striving to fulfill your own dreams and helping others achieve theirs. That’s how I teach my students: use your knowledge to improve the quality of life for all of us in the future – live so that tomorrow is better for both you and others. My motto is “dream high and reach high“. I believe that young scientists should aim as high as possible, beyond the level of their dreams, and do everything to realize those dreams.

Fot. Unsplash

Barbara Wejnert
Marta Sikora
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