Mohammad Chaichian | Professor of Sociology

Mohammad Chaichian

Q&A with Mohammad Chaichian, professor of sociology.

MMU: I understand you presented at the Annual meeting of the Eastern Sociological Society in February and March, and at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, how did you become involved with these conferences?

MC: For many academics who are involved in research and scholarship in addition to their teaching responsibilities (including myself), attending and presenting at conferences is an ongoing occurrence. Discipline-based conferences and meetings provide excellent platforms to share and exchange ideas and scholarship results, as well as networking with other academics who have similar research interests.

MMU:  Was there an idea or bit of research you learned during the conference and found especially interesting? What did you walk away with? 

MC: I have never returned from a conference empty handed, and as the old saying goes, research and scholarship is an upward spiral of a cumulative knowledge.

MMU: How did you become interested in these topics? Where does your passion for these subjects come from?

MC: Unlike many other academics and scholars, my approach to research is rather eclectic. More precisely, being employed at a primarily teaching university such as MMU has allowed me to by-pass the prevailing “publish or perish” mentality that governs elsewhere in research-based institutions, and choose my research topics for which I am passionate about. My research projects begin to take shape once I find a topic to be both interesting and having social significance within the limits of my academic training and expertise.

MMU: How does your research or work outside of MMU inform what you teach in the classroom? In what ways do students benefit?

MC: My classroom teaching has always been informed by my research and scholarship, and I share my research findings with my students in many of my courses. Students benefit immensely from faculty scholarship, as we increasingly emphasize students’ involvement with research both in collaboration with their professors and on their own; and expectation to present their research findings at regional conferences and our own Scholars Day event on campus.


MMU: You recently published a piece of work titled, “The Role of Shared Ethnicity in Facilitating Stepwise Migration of Educated and Skilled Individuals: The Case of Iranian Graduate Students in Turkey.” Will you give us a brief synopsis?

MC: In this article, we examined the status of Iranian graduate students as stepwise global skilled migrants who enroll at Turkish universities, but with the intention of moving to their final destination country in the West. Based on survey data collected from fifty respondents we analyzed their migration strategies and career plans at mezzo-level, and concluded that more than 72 percent of them can indeed be classified as stepwise migrants. Turkey is a preferred intermediate country particularly for migration of Iranian graduate students of Turkish–Azeri ethnolinguistic origins. They use social media to communicate with a global social network of friends to facilitate their move to the final destination country. Then, equipped with accumulated ‘migrant capital’ in Turkey, they select a final target country based on its employment prospects, extent of democratic freedoms, and the quality of higher education. Finally, while in Turkey, as job seekers they also monitor fluctuations in global demands for skilled workers in their respective disciplines.

MMU: How did you become interested in the topic, and why did you decide to focus your work on the topic?

MC: One of my areas of research interest, is the effect of globalization on migration of the young, educated individuals from countries in the Middle East to Western countries mostly to the European Union, the U.S., Canada, and Australia. This is also known as “brain drain” whereby countries of origin such as Iran pay for the cost of education of these young and bright students, yet it is the Western (host) countries that eventually benefit the fruit of their skills and education without bearing the costs! The idea for this project came from one of my mentees (Homa Sadri), who is a PhD student from Hacettepe University, one of Turkey’s prestigious “global” universities in Ankara. While studying in Turkey, she observed that most Iranian graduate students at her university were of the Turkish-Azeri ethno-linguistic regions in Iran who had cultural and linguistic affinities with Turkey, their intermediate host country. This first-hand knowledge became the impetus for us to design and conduct our research project by focusing on Iranian graduate students in Turkey (see the information the table and map below). 

Iranian Graduate Students' Proximity to Turkey

MMU: Will you give us a glimpse into your research, writing, and publishing processes? Did you face obstacles? If so, how did you overcome the obstacles?

MC: This particular project’s focus was on a peculiar pattern of international migration of young and educated individuals from Iran as it is affected by socio-economic, cultural, and political factors at national (Iran), regional (Turkey and the Middle East), and global levels (Western countries). The fact that both authors (myself and Ms. Sadri) are residing in the U.S. made the data collection process more challenging and time-consuming: It took us almost 18 months to design, implement, collect and analyze our data! The first challenge was identifying Iranian graduate students in Turkey.

Another obstacle was bringing Iranian graduate students in Turkey on board. Even if our non-random sample of fifty respondents was respectable, it by no means was satisfactory which may be attributed to their lack of trust in us. Thus, except for respondents who were acquainted with the co-author, others may have perceived us as outsiders and hence ‘untrustworthy’. In addition, the ongoing suppression of political opponents by Turkish government after the failed coup d'état in 2016 may have also discouraged some Iranian graduate students from responding to our survey, in order to protect their residency status in Turkey.

The final challenge was to find a respectable journal in the field to publish our very specialized article. After submitting our article to several journals and getting rejection letters from a few, it took us more than a year to finally get it published!  

MMU: What impact do you hope this publication has? If people take one thing from your work, what should it be?

MC: Despite its shortcomings, we hope that, as one of the first systematic studies of stepwise migration of educated and skilled individuals, this article will serve as a resource for other scholars who are interested in conducting research on this subject. In fact, our article’s findings we have already been contacted by another scholar in the Netherland whose focus is also on Iranian students in Turkey and the European Union countries. The one main thing that readers of our work can take is that, regardless of these students’ plans and intentions to complete their final leg of migratory journeys as stepwise migrants, governments in second and third countries control the in-migration bottlenecks based on their immigration laws that often reflect fluctuations of labor market demands, and diverse positions taken by political parties in power on immigrants and immigration.

MMU: What’s next in your work? 

MC: There are two new projects already on my agenda. The first is a follow-up with those Iranian graduate students who have completed their final leg of migration and have arrived to the United States as stepwise migrants. Not all get a chance to fully utilize their education and skills in the destination country. Considering current climate of the Trump administration regarding immigration, particularly from Muslim countries, these are all important variables that we also intend to examine in our follow-up analysis of “brain waste” among Iranian immigrants in the United States.

The second project is the completion of a manuscript for my fourth book. In brief, I am embarking on a new intellectual journey based on a simple question that has occupied my mind since my early professional years as a practicing architect and urban planner, and later on as an urban sociologist: Can architectural practice and designing the built environment advance the cause of social justice? In other words, can we achieve social justice by a conscious and politically informed plan to design our built environment that can promote spatial justice? In fact, the reason for my professional change of course and defection to sociology was that I became increasingly disillusioned and frustrated with the failure of most practitioners in those fields to address the above-mentioned question and respond to the needs of ordinary citizens. The manuscript proposal is complete, and I am exploring my options to find an academic publishing house to submit my manuscript.