Carnegie Mellon University

Faculty Q&A: Mark Toukan

Mark Toukan is an Associate Political Scientist at the RAND Corporation and a Lecturer at the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University. His research interests include strategic competition, proxy warfare, conflict management and escalation, conflict forecasting, and military training.


What is one piece of advice you would give your students? 

I advise students to find an angle in their courses that excites them, even if that angle seems idiosyncratic, and to pursue that angle in their work. From my experience as a student and from the experiences of my past students, I find that coursework tends to be most productive and interesting when students can find a way to incorporate their individual interests. Some of the most engaging work that students have done in my courses has come, for example, from students choosing case studies or research topics that might not have seemed obvious given the readings or the syllabus.

What are your current research interests?

I am currently interested in security cooperation, especially around military training and exercises; how security cooperation affects political stability in partner states; and the relationship between strategic rivalries and civil wars.  

How does what you do in the classroom reflect the impact on the world that your field has?

Policy actors rarely struggle to find social science research that can be portrayed as supporting a cause, whatever that cause may be. This is because claims about politics and policy are difficult to evaluate in a systematic fashion. I go out of my way to emphasize the limits of different approaches for studying policy issues, the importance of triangulating between multiple methods and data sources, and the development of skills to critically assess how social science research is used in the public sphere.