2022 Impact Awards—Talent Award winner: Semra Sevi

Despite having only received her doctorate in political science (with distinction) from the Université de Montréal in 2021, Semra Sevi has already demonstrated she is an outstanding and prolific researcher with impact as a public scholar.

Currently a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow at Columbia University, and also affiliated with the Centre for the Study of Political Behaviour at Western University, Sevi has published nearly 20 articles in peer-reviewed journals, a book chapter, and a research report for Elections Canada. She has as well authored numerous opinion pieces and been interviewed extensively in major broadcast and print media. Her publications and data on democratic representation, including how voters evaluate candidates, are cited frequently and are proving to be influential.

For her SSHRC-funded doctoral dissertation, What Voters Want: Identifying Voter Preferences for Candidates, Sevi collected and analyzed Canadian historical candidate data at the federal and Ontario provincial levels going back to Confederation. She published her original datasets—the largest of their kind—on the Harvard University dataverse in 2019 (and has kept them updated) and they have since been downloaded thousands of times, earning her global recognition.

The datasets include candidates’ information such as unique identifiers, names, ridings, age, gender, occupation, party, vote share, Indigenous origins, and identification with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. These data are an unprecedented resource for students and researchers and will facilitate an array of new research projects—including longitudinal research that was not possible before.

“I am committed to developing research-driven responses to political inequality and to open science,” says Sevi. “I believe it is very important to share data and to replicate and pre-register research plans, because scientific findings have the potential to affect people’s lives and impact public policy.”

Longitudinal analyses like Sevi’s that focus on who is elected have received less attention from researchers, but are important for clarifying how well the Canadian legislature captures the diversity of the population it represents.

One impact of Sevi’s research findings is evidence that voters are not biased against women candidates.

“I argue that recruitment may be a bottleneck for women politicians. Parties in Canada act as gatekeepers for the pool of candidates from which voters can choose when they cast their ballots. Increasing women’s representation in Parliament requires more women to run, which means more women need to be in the candidate pool.”

Her major research accomplishments are even more impressive given her personal story. Born in Turkey to a Kurdish family, Sevi immigrated to Canada as a five-year-old. Just a few months before leaving Turkey, she suffered a horrible accident that hindered her development. As a young child in a new country, she had to relearn how to walk and talk again. Later on, already fluent in three languages, Sevi learned French in order to be able to work with her PhD supervisor, André Blais, one of the world’s leading experts on voting behaviour and electoral systems.

Perhaps motivated by her own story, Sevi is passionate about mentorship, both through formal and informal channels, viewing it as a way to reduce inequality and to empower underrepresented students.

“I see mentorship as a core aspect of my academic work. It is important for passing on best research practices, working collaboratively, and for navigating the publication process. I also regularly help first-generation students with their admission materials and grant applications.”

Sevi is grateful for SSHRC funding, which has made her research possible at both the doctoral and postdoctoral levels.

SSHRC support gives my research credibility and has encouraged me to keep going. And, as a first-generation scholar, I am both thrilled and very touched by winning the Talent Award. I wouldn’t have dreamed of coming this far.”

About the award

The annual Impact Awards recognize the highest achievements in SSHRC-funded research, knowledge mobilization and scholarship, as well as the highest achievements resulting from a SSHRC fellowship awarded.

The Talent Award recognizes outstanding research achievement and career potential from a SSHRC doctoral or postdoctoral fellowship or scholarship holder.

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