“It’s not like any of us are free — some of us are enjoying the freedom a little bit more than the other folks, but we’re still entangled with each other regardless of whether we address it or look away from it,” she said. …”So my work has been to chase all of these interconnected ways in which we are entangled so that we can understand that this is not just the responsibility of those who are underrepresented and appressed to disrupt these structures of inequity — it’s all of our responsibility.”
Bhattacharya realized her affinity for qualitative inquiry while working on her Ph.D. at the University of Georgia. In reading powerful ethnographic accounts of research, she became captivated by and immersed in the work. She found herself asking, “How is this research?”.
“Then I paused, and I thought, ‘It just shifted my thinking,’” she said. “It really shifted my thinking — in ways that it would have never shifted if I had read a statistical report. It shifted in a way that touched my heart, it moved me as a human being.”
These moments led her to pursue a path in qualitative research and to use creative modes of inquiry in her work with hopes of moving others.
“Ideally I really wanted to create knowledge in such a way where people would be inspired and compelled to look at an issue, whatever the issue was, in ways that they haven’t before,” she said.
This vision and spirit can be found within Bhattacharya’s teaching as well. A professor in the Research, Evaluation, and Methodology doctorate program, she has transformed the structure and dynamics of her courses to keep learning and personal growth the priority.
Implementing a structure with no interim grades, she provides each student a breadth of feedback on assignments without the weight of points taken off. Instead, she emphasizes focusing on the learning, encouraging her students to take risks on their projects and to push the boundaries of their thinking without fear of penalty.
“When you have these expectations that your students are incredibly capable beings with infinite potential and you treat them with that kind of dignity and respect, they rise to it anyway,” she said.
The goal in her courses is to be a thought partner alongside her students and to foster their development as future agents of change.
“If they have a position of power, then can they call out inequities,” she said. “If they are in a position of power, then they can advocate for somebody who cannot do self-advocacy without a lot of significant harm to them.”
While Bhattacharya understands this may not resonate with every student, even reaching a few can make all the difference.
In receiving the Distinguished Alumni Award for research, she found herself reflecting on the span of her career and the body of research she is committed to serving.
Although her field of study may be considered niche, the acknowledgement she has received from students who thank her for creating space and representing them in research makes this honor, those before it and those that will come after it, all the more meaningful.
“It’s moments like this, like that, that I feel so assured that it was OK to follow the calling, even though at that time, or ever, the work we do is not for the promise of a reward,” she said.
Bhattacharya is honored that the University of Georgia has recognized her among so many other incredible, worthy alumni and she is excited for the reach this award will give to her work.
“It just energizes me to continue doing that work,” she said. … “It’s not just valuable to the group that I particularly work with. It crosses boundaries, it crosses borders and that’s when I know that even if you do culturally situated work — if you do good work — it’s not contained in the boundaries of the people with whom you work because it’s inspiring in ways that you didn’t even imagine.”