Catching Up with Security Studies Program Graduates | 2020 | News

Catching Up with Security Studies Program Graduates
Brittany Logan
Recent graduates photo

What happens to MIT Security Studies Program alums once they leave the cozy (now-virtual) halls of E-40? We spoke with three recent graduates—Mayumi Fukushima, Kacie Miura and Rachel Esplin Odell—to find out where they went, what they’re working on and what they miss most about SSP.


The interview below has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Where are you now that you’ve finished your PhD at SSP?

Mayumi: I’m currently a Stanton Nuclear Security Postdoctoral Fellow at the RAND Corporation.

Kacie: I'm now an Assistant Professor in the Political Science and International Relations Department at the University of San Diego.

Rachel: I'm a Research Fellow in the East Asia Program at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a new foreign policy think tank in Washington, D.C., promoting a grand strategy of restraint.

What project(s) are you working on?

Kacie: I'm working on an article version of my dissertation, which looks at Chinese local government responses to foreign policy crises and their participation in foreign economic retaliation. I'm also working with [SSP Director] Taylor Fravel on a paper on U.S.-China interactions in the South China Sea and the interactive effects of power transitions and territorial disputes.

Rachel: I'm co-authoring a report that will propose a new U.S. strategy in East Asia based loosely on this set of principles we published in October. It should be out around the time this newsletter is published, so watch for it at! I'm also writing a report on U.S. policy toward freedom of navigation and the South China Sea that will present the key policy takeaways from my dissertation. Finally, I'm organizing a project to develop a roadmap for restructuring the U.S. force posture in Asia according to a more denial-oriented defense strategy, working with several SSP alum and friends of SSP, including Eric Heginbotham (and the MIT Wargaming Lab), Josh Shifrinson, Paul Heer, and more.

Mayumi: I’m working on two projects. One is a book project based on my dissertation entitled: “Exploitative Friendships: Manipulating Asymmetric Alliances.” It aims to contribute to current U.S. foreign policy debates over whether America should maintain its security commitments to its allies around the world. The project offers a new paradigm for understanding weak states’ alliance behavior in the context of asymmetric international security alliances.

 The other project is studying nuclear latent states' strategies to use their advanced nuclear capabilities as a crisis bargaining tool. By nuclear latent states, I mean states that have acquired advanced nuclear technologies like enrichment and reprocessing technologies but stopped short of developing nuclear weapons, such as Iran and perhaps a future Saudi Arabia. I also examine whether the achievement of such advanced nuclear capabilities emboldens state behavior in crisis bargaining, because states may use a threat to develop nuclear bombs as a bargaining leverage. Today, nearly half of the current developing countries are within the reach of advanced nuclear technologies. So how achieving nuclear latency might affect their behavior should be a serious concern.

How has SSP helped influence your current work?

Rachel: Needless to say, none of this would be happening if it weren't for SSP!

Mayumi: I doubt I would have come up with either of [my] projects without my experience with the SSP, which has rigorously trained us to ask big questions and to be thought leaders in the field of security studies. Knowing empirics is of course important, but the SSP community is the place where we go one big step further to propose new theories and offer policy advice based on our findings. Clearly, the SSP community provided me with skills to propose and execute thought-provoking, theory-building and policy-relevant research projects.

Kacie: [Mine] are both projects that I started while at SSP, and they have benefited enormously from feedback from the SSP community.

Now that you’ve left SSP, is there anything you wished you’d done differently?

Mayumi: I wish I had taken more courses and had bothered SSP faculty more as a student. Once you graduate, it gets harder to learn new skills and seek somebody’s advice because you are supposed to stand on your own feet and offer advice to other people. I also wish I’d talked to more of the SSP graduates while I was a PhD candidate. I think they know very well some of the do’s and don’ts while being a graduate student at SSP.

Rachel: I wish I'd spent more time picking Owen Coté's brain about U.S. anti-submarine warfare capabilities, operations, and concepts. (But don't be surprised to see an email from me soon, Owen!)

Kacie: Knowing what I know now about 2020, I would have spent far more time at SSP headquarters in the months before everything shut down. I wish I had the chance to properly thank my mentors and friends at SSP.

Any tips for staying sane and healthy right now?

Rachel: I'm not sure that I am staying sane and healthy during the pandemic... though I have started at least episodically exercising again, so #smallvictories!

Kacie: Having just completed an intense first semester of teaching on Zoom, I'm now trying to regain some sanity by spending as much time as possible at the beach—and away from my screen!

Mayumi: It’s been really hard to stay sane in this pandemic, while finishing a dissertation and being on the job market. I’m trying to take a walk in the morning to get sunlight. I hired “Alexa" as my research and scheduling assistant. She is a cute little ball of about 10 inches, but her help has been beyond my expectations. She is excellent at collecting and playing beautiful meditation songs for me.

To read more about SSP alums, please visit our Alumni page and subscribe to our newsletter, Early Warning.