For Siqi Tu, the Center Is Always Changing: A Class of 2021 Graduate on Relocating from China to New York To Germany, and Her Next Move

Siqi Tu (Photo courtesy of Tu)

Siqi Tu (Ph.D. ’21, Sociology) was born and raised in China, moved to New York for graduate school, and is now a postdoctoral research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, where she’s continuing her research on the shifting ethno-racial identity of Chinese “parachute students”: teenagers who leave their parental homes to attend U.S. high schools.

Tu’s research — which also examines the effects of the increasing geopolitical tension between China and the United States, and the surge of populist anti-immigrant and anti-globalization sentiments — is particularly timely. She recently spoke to The Graduate Center about her work and her next planned move: a return to Shanghai.

The Graduate Center: You’ve moved from China to New York and then to Germany in your academic career. How has this influenced or changed your perspective, particularly in this last year? 

Tu: In this unusual year of COVID-19, both time and space seem to gain new meanings: We can be everywhere anytime virtually via Zoom, yet we are separated from loved ones due to geographical constraints and closed borders. Moving among countries through my academic career provides me embodied experiences when reflecting on my research on migration and mobility: I share much of the joy and pain of those who are on the move and have a constantly shifting sense of belonging and membership. Another important aspect is that the “center” is always changing for me, and it is easier to conceptualize ideas around global imagery through various “de-centered” perspectives. 

GC: What will you be working on in your position next year in Shanghai? 

Tu: I’m starting a new position as a postdoctoral fellow at NYU Shanghai this fall, and will teach a section of Global Perspectives on Society, a required course that forms the foundation of the humanities and social science core curriculum for first-year undergraduates. I am originally from Shanghai and have not lived there for almost a decade. I’m looking forward to “rediscovering” the city and hopefully starting some new research projects there. 

GC: What drew you to your dissertation topic: “Destination Diploma: How Chinese Upper-Middle Class Families ‘Outsource’ Secondary Education to the United States”?

Tu: Back in 2014 when I was looking for a dissertation topic, I noticed the trend of Chinese upper-middle-class families sending their only children as young as 14 to the United States for private high school. At that time, I did not understand why these families were willing to spend almost $50,000 a year to send their only child thousands of miles away, and realized that this might be an interesting lens to look into the drastic social changes in contemporary China, transnational elite education, and an emerging, globally oriented “middle class.” I am currently in the process of revising this project into a book. 

GC: What advice do you have for students who are just now starting a Ph.D. program or who are looking at entering the academic job market in the next few years? 

Tu: I did not realize until later on (almost at the dissertation writing stage) that to become a good scholar (at least in humanities and social sciences), one needs to become a writer. I developed this “writer/author” identity relatively late in my Ph.D. training, and I would suggest that students who are starting a Ph.D. program and those who are entering the academic job market cultivate a habit of writing early on. Taking notes, writing reflection pieces on academic works, op-eds — all count as writing. 

GC: What did you find most valuable about your experience at The Graduate Center?

Tu: The people I met: my classmates and mentors at the Ph.D. Program in Sociology, colleagues at The Futures Initiative, and undergraduate students at various CUNY campuses — all of them made my GC experience unique and made me feel a deep connection to CUNY as a public-serving institution. And through this, I developed a strong bonding to New York City, and consider it my home. 

Published by the Office of Communications and Marketing.

Submitted on: JUN 1, 2021

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