The Trudeau Centre for Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies Fellowship is for Political Science doctoral students at the University of Toronto who are conducting research in areas related to peace, conflict and justice. The recipients of this award become fellows of the Centre and have the opportunity to participate in its academic life.

I had the opportunity to sit down with the three PCJ Fellows for 2017-2018 and speak to them about their research and what advice they would give to undergraduate students currently studying in the Peace, Conflict, and Justice Studies program.


Portrait photo of Neekoo Collett.Neekoo Collett 

Broadly speaking, Neekoo’s research focuses on state violence against religious minorities. However, more specifically, she is interested in the persecution of the Baha’i, a religious minority in Iran. “The Baha’i case is really interesting to me for two reasons, which are really my two research questions,” Neekoo explained. Firstly, “why do governments expend the cost of persecuting religious minorities who pose no material threat to the regime?” The Iranian Baha’is represent less than 0.6% of the population and are apolitical by religious belief, so “there are really no nationalist or secessionist threat”. Secondly, “why do governments choose certain strategies of persecution over others?” In the early-to-mid eighties, the Iranian government executed numerous Baha’is, but has since shifted to “more cultural and social tactics as a way to financially and socially cripple the Baha’i”.

More than just the topic of her PhD thesis, Neekoo has personal connections that inspired her passion in the subject. Her mother’s family are Iranian Baha’is, and she does still have family living in Iran. “These stories that I’m researching are also stories that I kind of grew up with. I grew up hearing stories about family members being arrested and imprisoned,” she recalled. Neekoo hopes that her research and policy implications will lead to a more peaceful and just world.

Neekoo urges students in the PCJ program to be less concerned with marks and take more risks. “I think there is something really valuable about stepping outside your comfort zone in an academic setting and really challenging yourself to learn something new”.


Portrait photo of Christopher LaRoche.Christopher LaRoche 

Christopher’s research focuses on how great power geopolitics interact with global governance institutions and international norms. “I try to take great power competition and cooperation as a broad theme and then I look at how these things developed in certain historic milieus,” he explained. His dissertation, The Geopolitics of Intervention, examines how great powers used geopolitical elements of world politic, like spheres of influence, to legitimize their military interventions and delegitimize others over the last two centuries.

Christopher’s interest in great power geopolitics is moivated by an understanding that the actions of the great powers really do set the stage for the security environment of the rest of he system. “How the great powers interact isn’t necessarily determined like a physics mechanism where a balance of power will just naturally happen... it really is a world of our making”. The themes of peace and conflict are imbedded in much of his work and he tries to look at justice through different theoretical frameworks and historical perspectives.

For current PCJ students, Christopher recommends reading widely and frequently. “Writing really matters, and to write well, you have got to read a lot.” He encourages students to use Twitter and social media to connect with experts, but emphasizes the importance of reading literature with sustained arguments.


Portrait photo of Nathan Sears.Nathan Sears

While his areas of research are wide-ranging, Nathan is fundamentally interested in the traditionalist focuses of war and peace. Specifically, for his dissertation, he is exploring the systemic effects of historical attempts by a single state to dominate its known world. “I love history, and you notice this pattern throughout time where there are these attempts to, essentially, achieve world domination,” he noted. While traditionally studied in isolation, Nathan hopes that, “looking at these attempts to dominate the system may shed some light on when we get hegemony and when we get a balance of power, and then I may be able to bring both within a single model”.

Nathan’s focus on political philosophy and theory stems from a belief that, “IR is overly focused on methods and less focused on some of the great debates, ideas, and grand theory”, topics that have always been of interest to him. In regard to peace, conflict, and justice, he hopes that his research will help to explain whether hegemonic or balance of power systems are more conducive to peace and stability, and when it may be more likely for war to arise.

Nathan urges current PCJ students to “study broadly”. While there may be a tendency in academia to focus on a small niche, he argues that it is important to study in a variety of disciplines and “see what you can take from all of those different areas”. “U of T is such a great, big university and I think it’d be sad if they didn’t take advantage of that.”


Composed by Jonah Toth, based on interviews with the PCJ Fellows.