Gratitude For Our Team Member Dr. Allison Russell

Ariel Schwartz
January 7, 2021

CSIS has been fortunate to work closely with Dr. Allison Russell as our postdoctoral fellow. As Allison transitions from her work at CSIS, I checked in to hear more about what she worked on during her time at the Center, what comes next, and what words of encouragement the CSIS Team could provide as Allison embarks on her next adventure.



What are you most proud of regarding your work at CSIS?

I’m most proud of how I jumped into this role and was willing to say yes to any project or task. When you get a PhD, you’re trained in a very specific way to fulfill a specific role in academia. Working with CSIS, I was given opportunities to branch out from traditional academic roles and try my hand at new things. At times, I found myself engaged in a delicate balancing act between different roles and responsibilities, but ultimately, I am proud of my willingness to step out of my comfort zone and embrace every opportunity that this position has offered me. I don’t think I would have gotten the same experience in a more ‘traditional’ postdoc, and I don’t think I would have learned nearly as much.

What has been your greatest memory as a CSIS Team Member?

Definitely every opportunity to engage with the whole CSIS team. Whether it was team retreats, projects, or online and in-person co-facilitation, I always enjoyed working with other CSIS staff, consultants, TFs, and interns. Academic work can be very independent, and while I do very much appreciate that aspect of the work, I really enjoyed working with this amazing team at CSIS, who welcomed me from the start and were a constant source of inspiration. I learned so much from watching the way they approached their work, and I truly believe I’m better at what I do because of their guidance and example. 

Of course there were all the light-hearted, funny, and poignant moments in between the work…including the Great Laffy Taffy Debate, Peter’s Bruce Buffer impression, coffee breaks at Metropolitan Bakery, and many more.

What are you taking with you from this role?

It’s hard to pinpoint all the things…but I will say different perspectives on how to approach teaching and research than what I learned from my PhD. Ultimately, you need more than one lens through which to view the world around you in order to make sure you’re asking the right questions and remaining open to new ideas and possibilities. 

I’m also taking a network of incredible colleagues, students, and alumni. I feel grateful to have met so many people around the world dedicated to doing work that matters to them and their communities. We all come from different walks of life, but our belief that change is possible unites us no matter where we are or what we’re doing. It’s a powerful reminder to keep going on the days where things get tough.

What advice do you have for others in the world who hope to make a positive impact?

Two things: Grace and space. Always remember to give yourself grace on days when things aren’t going well, or when you’re in a bit of a rut, whether that’s personally or professionally. We all experience ups and downs; it’s part of life. We are neither our greatest successes nor our greatest failures; we are just ourselves at all times. You owe yourself the same grace and gratitude on both your best and (especially) your worst days that you afford to others.

In addition to grace, give yourself the gift of space – space to pause and reflect and contemplate the journey you’re on. We live in a very results-oriented society, where we often feel guilty if we’re not constantly producing tangible outputs that we can quantify. But without giving ourselves the time and space to do the less tangible work of self-reflection and ideation, both individually and collectively, we will move very fast but accomplish very little. I appreciate how CSIS nurtures and fosters moments for both grace and space in its curricula and programming, and I think we all owe it to ourselves to prioritize that more in our day-to-day lives.

Top three highlights of being a postdoc at CSIS.

  1. The team! (duh)
  2. The sticky notes! (just kidding)
  3. The espresso machine! (coming soon)

If you can summarize your time at CSIS in one word what word would that be?

Growth. I think about where I was in my professional journey when I started at CSIS, and I think about how far I’ve come. I’m grateful for these past two years for giving me the space to grow as an instructor, facilitator, researcher, and person. I am much more confident in who I am and what I can contribute to a team and to the world than I was two years ago. I attribute it to the CSIS team and their boundless energy, creativity, encouragement, and optimism for the work that we’re doing.

What’s next for you?

I am moving to Dallas to start a position as Assistant Professor of Public and Nonprofit Management at UT Dallas in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences.

Any parting words to the 2021 Executive Program students?

It’s been great to get to know you and learn about your interests and projects over the past few months. I am constantly inspired by the commitment and passion that Exec Program students bring to their work. It’s definitely bittersweet to be moving on, but I look forward to continuing to be part of this amazing network of changemakers. Please keep in touch and don’t hesitate to reach out to me in the future. Wishing you all the best!

Parting words from the CSIS Team

Allison was a key contributor to the CSIS team and we wish her all the best as she begins her academic career. Her keen insights, her sense of humor and her commitment to social impact will be missed at Penn. We can’t wait to see the great work she will certainly do in the years ahead. ~Peter Frumkin

Allison is a treasured colleague and our work and team are the better for her many contributions! ~Ariel

Thank you for all you did for the NPL program during your time at SP2. Your thoughtfulness, empathy, intelligence, and support will be missed, but I know you will continue to create impact for your students and society. ~Adam

You’re a grounding presence on our team, and it’s been so much fun to work with you. ~Anna

Thank you for all the time you spent teaching me the ropes at CSIS! I am so grateful for your patience and mentorship. ~Rosie

Allison, thank you for being an incredible professor, colleague, and person. Even though we will miss working with you at CSIS, you will always be apart of the CSIS family. Onwards and Upwards! ~Vaughn

Oh my gosh, where to start. I still remember our very first conversation, specifically how comfortable, honest, and fun it all felt. Little did I know that this was just Allison’s superpower and that in even the toughest working sessions, she’d keep us grounded, critical, balanced, and joyous. ~Kaveh

Our thanks goes to Allison for her excellent work with the Center for Social Impact Strategy. Our team is small, and every person on the team makes their own contribution to our culture and values. Allison has not just supported our programs and learners, but left her own mark on how we do what we do. Thank you!