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Bowen uses PhD to bolster career in international relations


DU international studies Professor Jonathan Adelman describes Nicholas Bowen as a throwback in the very best sense of the word.

Most university students enroll to forge a career, prepare to join a think tank or to build upon an existing academic body of work. Bowen simply wanted to absorb as much information as he could.

“He doesn’t want to be an academic and a researcher,” Adelman says. “He really just wants to learn for learning’s sake. That freed Nick up to do whatever he’s interested in.

Bowen, who graduates with his PhD in international studies on June 3, says it’s always been his goal to pursue a nonacademic career in international affairs — even if it meant being a student for much longer than anticipated.

“That is why I moved to New York in 2006 to work for the United Nations. Since then, I have also spent time in Geneva and the West Bank,” the 32-year-old says.

At the UN, Bowen rubbed elbows with former weapons inspector Hans Blix and attended Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s swearing-in ceremony.

“Such events happen rarely, and I felt privileged to be sitting in the General Assembly that day,” he says of the latter occasion.

Bowen says he heard positive comments about DU while living in Barcelona after obtaining his undergraduate degree, a conversation that eventually led him to Colorado.

At the time, he didn’t intend on staying at the University of Denver very long.

“When I first arrived, I thought I would be here for only two years,” the London native says. “But the academic staff was extremely encouraging and suggested I apply for the doctoral program.”

Looking back, he applauds the “interdisciplinary approach” found in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies as well as the individual classes within.

Bowen cites Professor Jack Donnelly’s Introduction to International Politics and Micheline Ishay’s Epistemology as two of his favorite DU classes. And his days listening to Adelman inspired the angle for his dissertation topic.

“It became apparent to me that social theorists tend to neglect the vital role that individual opposition leaders play in the revolutionary process,” Bowen says. “That is why I set out to explore the conditions that give rise to such forms of authority in the first place, and the characteristics of leadership that make them a success.”

Adelman says Bowen’s dissertation reflects the student’s overall approach. There is no “Department of Revolutions” he could appeal to with his topic. Plus, he embraced the subject in an unconventional fashion.

“He chose these two unusual cases to compare: Cuba and Iran,” Adelman says. And he did so by putting less emphasis on structural factors — like the economy—  and more on the leaders emerging in these cultures.

“He’s bringing back not the state, but the role of human beings,” Adelman says.

Adelman holds out hope that Bowen would reconsider his goals and join academia. The professor thinks the profession could use people like him.

“I told him, ‘You should be an academic. You put all this energy into it,’” Adelman recalls. “He’s very charming and unaffected. He’s a straight-ahead kind of person. He tells you exactly what he thinks. That’s refreshing.”

Bowen isn’t quite sure about the next chapter in his globe-hopping life. He’d like to stay in the United States if possible, preferably in New York or Washington, D.C.

“I think it would be wrong to offer any bold predictions about the future,” he says. “Experience has taught me that you can never be sure what is coming around the corner.”

DU’s graduate Commencement ceremony begins at 4:30 p.m. June 3 at Magness Arena. For more information or to watch a live stream of the ceremony, visit the DU Commencement website.

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