Paul Staniland says that what he would most like to give the world is an understanding of war and ethnic conflict and how it can be stopped. “One of the most difficult challenges for policy makers and academics is to figure out why these horrible things exist,” he says. “Developing a few modest answers could really contribute a lot.”

Education was a big theme in Staniland’s family. Both his parents are political science professors at the University of Pittsburgh, and like them, he was drawn to that field.

Staniland graduated from the University of Chicago in 2004 with a degree in political science. He once worked in the office of a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and in the office of the mayor of Chicago. Now, he is at MIT pursuing a Ph.D. in political science and is also a student in the Security Studies Program. He is the recipient of an MIT Presidential Fellowship.

Staniland’s research interests are international relations, civil wars, ethnic conflicts, and nationalism. “I want to become a professor at a major research university,” he says, adding that the most valuable gift a teacher can offer a student is not so much providing the right answers as much as asking the right questions.

“It’s important to ask questions that will find answers to these problems,” he says. “It would be great to figure out a way to alleviate some of the world’s conflict. I want to become a successful professor who does interesting research, but it would be wonderful to merge being a good scholar with having something powerful to say to the rest of the world.”