Senior Research Specialist Kaan Cankat wins the Princeton Writes Prize

July 12, 2021

The research support staff of the Industrial Relations Section embody much more than just dexterity with data. Recently we learned that Kaan Cankat’s essay, “On Your Terms,” was awarded the 2020-2021 Princeton Writes Prize.”  Cankat is a Senior Research Specialist in the Industrial Relations Section at Princeton, where he supports Economics Department faculty on research on labor topics.

This annual staff essay contest, designed “to encourage and recognize outstanding writing on the part of University staff,” is open to any member of the University’s academic professional, administrative, and support staffs. Each year a topic is determined by the selection committee, and submissions are accepted through February. The award-winning essay and honorable mentions are announced in May.

We connected with Cankat via Zoom to talk about his essay, being separated from family during the pandemic (his family is in Turkey), and, of course, lemon poppy seed pound cake.  Here is an excerpt of our conversation.

It’s not typical for research staff to be interested in participating in the Princeton Writes Staff Essay contest. What inspired you to write and submit your essay?

I have taken essay writing classes before and really enjoyed it, and it was a somewhat difficult time dealing with the pandemic, and then there was the prompt of the competition. I thought it could be an interesting way to figure out how I felt about what was happening in the world around me, so, why not take a stab at it?

How did the actual process of writing affect you and the way you experience your relationship with your family?

Sometimes writing something is a revelatory process, but I had already been thinking about some of the things that I wrote. It goes to the feeling of really missing my parents, which I was feeling a lot at the time, and it felt like a healthy way to process that.

At the end of the day, these were very difficult times, and it's very difficult to be apart. But it's also possible to reflect and think about how there can be more of a space for closeness in other ways, even if it means that you can't be physically close.

Did you have any concerns about writing something “personal”?

When I wrote it, I was in a headspace of, “I'm just going to write this, and I'll send it in, and nothing's going to happen; no one's ever going to read it. It’s never going to be published anywhere, so I’m not going to worry about it!”

Then you won!

What have you learned, if anything, about this whole process that you feel is going to help you in whatever you end up doing in the future?

When I was writing it, I was just being honest and not thinking about the fact that other people may read it. Part of the reason that it ended up feeling like the complete expression of some sort of emotional state or idea was because I was just being honest or frank about my emotions.

One thing I learned is that people can recognize when you're being authentic, and I learned the value of that. With ECON research as well, people can tell when someone is genuinely passionate and interested in something, and I think that will then translate into good research.

Thank you for sharing this aspect of your life “outside the Section!” When we are back on campus, would you be willing to bake for us? Maybe a lemon poppy seed pound cake?

[Laughing] Sure, I would love to!

Borek- Turkish baked filled pastry made with this flaky dough- pieces on a white platter

Börek, a Turkish baked filled pastry that exhausted a team of Kaan and his friends to make. His mother makes this single-handedly without breaking a sweat!