Alumni Profile: Tim Wright | 2021 | News
1) What is your degree and your dissertation title?
I have a PhD in Political Science. My dissertation is titled “From Predators to Providers: The Role of Violence and Rules in Establishing Social Control”
2) What is your current position/title?
I’m currently the Director for Western Europe on the National Security Council. I’m also a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army
3) As is often the case for SSP alums, when you finished your dissertation you had an important choice to make between a position in the policy world and an academic career. What inclined you toward the option you chose? Do you have any advice to share with current SSP students as they weigh their career choices?
As an active-duty Army officer, I knew I was returning to an operational role. A vital graduate school decision was already made for me. As I have looked at the various jobs I can do in the Army, however, I’ve tried to make choices that gave me more options in the future, rather than less. Granted, most choices close some doors, but making a choice now that opens more doors in the future always made sense to me.
4) Would you say that your experience at SSP has continued to influence your current position? What key concepts or values from SSP have served you well in your current position?
My experience at SSP influences me every day. Given my job, its not surprising that the content of my coursework and dissertation has relevance. The degree to which it is relevant has been a mild surprise. Academic research and theory actually does matter in the policy world. It’s more than the substance, though. My experience at MIT and SSP rewired my brain and changed the way I view the world. I listen better, I think more critically about what people say and write, and I am much more willing to update my thinking when someone presents me with a compelling argument backed up by data. Simply put, it made me a better officer and a better person.
5) One of the primary premises of the MIT SSP is “War is an extension of politics. Politics causes wars. Policy must be the governing force.” Can you explain how, in your experience, this has been true or false? What has been your own experience?
This is absolutely true. Whether fighting in the wars of the last twenty years, preparing my units for the conflicts of the future, or working on the National Security Council, I have witnessed policy as the governing force over our military and how we pursue our security in the world.
6) What is the part of your current position that you think allows you the most satisfaction and/or dissatisfaction and why?
It’s incredibly satisfying to have an influence on national policy, whether directly or indirectly, almost every day. Whether I’m coordinating interagency action, interacting with foreign governments, or preparing policy papers for our senior leaders, I’m reminded every day that the work we’re doing really matters.
7) What in your career are you most proud of and has SSP been a part of that?
I’m most proud of the people whose lives I’ve impacted throughout my career. Nothing gives me a greater sense of satisfaction than seeing someone I’ve led succeed. SSP gave me so many more tools to reach people in different ways, challenge people to think harder about a problem, or guide someone’s personal and professional development.
8) What, outside of SSP and your work here, has been the factor that has most influenced who you are now, and what your current research interests are?
My experience as a Squadron Commander in Europe, both in Germany and in the Baltics, raised a host of interesting questions about how deterrence functions in the modern world.
9) Looking back, what, if anything would you do differently?
I have few regrets, but I do have a number of things I’m thankful for. I’m indebted to the professors who invested an outsize amount of time and effort into my development. I truly appreciate the rigor of the program and how it challenged me to evolve. Most importantly, I’m deeply grateful for my cohort. I made lifelong bonds with a group of pretty amazing people…and that doesn’t just happen. I’m a lucky guy.
10) What is the key piece of advice that you would pass along to current SSP graduate students, or those just beginning their careers?
Get outside your comfort zone. In my life, I’ve grown the most when I’ve left what is known and comfortable and taken on something new. It can be hard – it will be hard – but you’ll be better for it…on more levels than you expect.