Fellows' Reflections: Jordan Lee

When I decided to major in Middle East Studies, I had no idea what I was going to do with my degree after graduation. I knew that I loved the subject, but was clueless as to how I could turn that passion into a job of any kind. A few years and many classes later, I had developed a slightly clearer focus – I knew I wanted to live in the Middle East and work in politics in some way – but concrete career goals eluded me. Luckily, while finding ways to avoid studying for finals, I noticed an advertisement for the MENAR Fellowship program, which seemed to offer just what I was looking for.  

My official title is Policy and Research Fellow at Qatar University’s Social and Economic Survey Research Institute (SESRI). SESRI conducts surveys of Qatar’s population on topics ranging from political concerns to charitable giving to attitudes towards gender equality. It then analyzes the survey data and distributes its analyses with the goal of informing governmental policy-making with quantitative data.

SESRI employees carry out the interviews by phone or in person and record survey responses in an electronic database. Once the survey has been carried out, SESRI analysts perform statistical analyses on the survey data to identify patters and draw conclusions. Finally, the analysts write reports and policy briefs on conclusions that may be of interest to policymakers in Qatar. In addition, since the majority of SESRI researchers are academics, they also use survey data to support articles in peer-reviewed journals.

My work focuses on data analysis and report/academic paper writing, with about 30% of my time dedicated to statistical analysis, 40% to researching for papers, and 30% to actual writing. Because I am free to choose the projects I work on, I can immerse myself in topics that most interest me.

For example, one of my first projects was to author a report on data collected for the political opinions and attitudes portion of SESRI’s annual Omnibus survey. This survey gathered popular opinions on trust in the government, the importance of democracy, Qatar’s rapid socioeconomic change, and many other topics. Working on this project allowed me to familiarize myself with Qatar’s political landscape, which is one of my professional goals for my time here. I’ve also authored a policy brief on the public attitudes towards – and potential economic benefits of – water conservation efforts in Qatar. This project allowed me to develop expertise on water scarcity mitigation techniques, one of the most urgent needs for Qatar and other countries on the Arabian Peninsula, and indulge my longstanding interest in natural resource management.

Working for SESRI has also given me opportunities beyond the specific projects I’ve worked on. Through the Institute’s onboarding program, I received training in STATA statistical software and, as a result, have greatly improved my quantitative analysis skills. Because SESRI is part of Qatar University, I have been able to audit classes in the University’s Arabic language program as well as the Gulf Studies program (an international relations graduate program that focuses on the Gulf region). In addition, my position at SESRI has allowed me to attend many conferences, lectures, and panels where I’ve made great professional connections.

One reason I came to Qatar was to continue learning about an area of the world that I spent so much time studying in college. Working for SESRI has allowed me to do that to an extent I would have never expected. I look forward to what the next few months will bring.