Spring 2021 Student Interview: Andrés Sebastian Besserer Rayas

Andrés Sebastian Besserer Rayas is a level II Ph.D. student in the Comparative Politics subfield who studies migration.

The interview below has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Claudia Benincasa: You’ve written about and presented on state control and immigration, particularly, state control’s effects on migrants. What are you currently working on and have you been involved in any related organizing work?

Andrés Besserer: I like to think that I’ve found what Orwell thought of as the best motivation to write: political purpose. He advised people to write about a subject through which they might “push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.” For me, it’s migration. Taking Dr. Michael Sharpe’s brilliant course on the politics of immigrantion helped lead me there. Working with Dr. Robert Smith on researching undocumented and DACAmented people is another influence and our findings ended up being used in an amicus brief in the Supreme Court in favor of DACA—it was exhilarating to see research have that sort of impact (and such a relief that SCOTUS upheld DACA!). Volunteering for immigrant-serving organizations during the Trump era and the pandemic has also provided a sense that this topic is important to research and write about. I think finding such motivation is really important. 

I’ll be presenting some research on transit states at WPSA with my colleague Dean Schafer (co-authoring has been great!) and I’m waiting to hear back from APSA. Last year, I presented at APSA and ASA, and it was really good. 

CB: You’ve had the opportunity to study, teach, and research at several places of higher learning. What sets the GC Political Science department apart?

AB: So many things! I think the sense of community is a big one—students really work together, help each other out, and learn from one another. Professors at the GC are also accessible; it is easy to get advice and insight from incredible career researchers. This is truly remarkable. Finally, student voices count a lot in our department. And, because of this supportive environment, student initiatives frequently take off.

CB: You were born in Mexico City and worked at the Instituto Nacional Electoral (INE) before returning to school. What led you to ultimately pursue academia?

AB: I worked organizing elections in Mexico’s electoral management body for quite a while. I did research and policy design/evaluation—specializing in campaign finance regulation. It was a really exciting job, especially when the institute started adopting technology as part of its procedures. 

Despite being so interesting, I guess I always knew I wanted to go into academia. Working at the INE felt a little like procrastinating, like doing something fun but knowing that you must eventually turn to what matters most. Academia always felt much more like a calling or vocation. 

CB: As a recipient of a Fulbright fellowship, what advice do you have for students to produce quality applications while also teaching, taking classes, and doing their own work?

AB: Start writing your application and gathering the documents early, much earlier than what seems reasonable. You’ll do a lot of re-writing so you want to get the initial draft down soon. It is crucial to have generous readers to support you, including professors, fellow students, friends, and former employers who want you to succeed. For me, the ideal generous reader is someone who encourages you as much as shows you how to improve what you’ve written and challenges your argument to make it better. Having readers to help you also keeps you accountable to deadlines. 

CB: What inspired you to make your podcast, The Ballot Box: Elections Around the World

AB: I work with two friends from my Master’s degree at University College London, Chris and Johnny, who are now Ph.D. students in the U.K.. Doing the podcast is so much fun! It is good to reconnect with friends and it allows us to see each other regularly. We think through elections together: how they are organized, why they matter, how the rules shape political incentives, and what sort of contextual knowledge is required to make sense of them. This is basically what we talk about on the podcast. Some of my favorite episodes so far are “2021 Preview,” the “Ecuador and Lichtenstein” one, and the one on “Catalonia and 14F”. But we launch about two episodes per month, so there’ll be more soon!