Jonathan Wong, Sangeeta Ahluwalia, Hardika Dayalani, and Robert Bozick of the RAND Corporation.

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Ink Tank: At RAND, Tattoos Sometimes Reflect the Research

Photos by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

January 10, 2020

Semper Fi

Like many Marines, policy researcher Jonathan Wong got a tattoo right out of basic training. The bar code on his forearm that says 0311USMC (311 was his unit's job code) memorialized his sense of pride in being a Marine but also his “smallness in the vast scheme of things.” As a researcher, the tattoo has taken on new meaning. “One of the reasons I was interested in working at RAND was because I wanted to continue to help examine all the problems the Marines face,” he said. “It's a reminder that the work that I do will impact people in positions like I used to be in.”

Jonathan Wong's tattoo of a bar code with USMC, photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

Conversation Stopper—and Starter

Death might seem like odd cocktail conversation. But when people ask policy researcher Sangeeta Ahluwalia about her phoenix tattoo—symbolizing life, death, and rebirth—she jumps at the chance to chat about her research into end-of-life care. “As many times as there's that pregnant pause, there's just as many times when someone will relate their story,” Ahluwalia said. It's a conversation worth having because society's approach to death and fear of death make end-of-life care especially challenging, she said. “That's something that could be avoided if we thought about it differently.”

Sangeeta Ahluwalia's tattoo of a phoenix, photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

A Moving Target

“Where are you from?” is a tricky question for Hardika Dayalani, a doctoral candidate at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. “What is really being asked is 'Where do you belong?'” she says. The list of airport codes down her spine “represents all the cities that I feel a sense of belonging for and all the cities I feel homesick for.” While the tattoo preceded her research, “my work has the same inspiration.” She began studying migration-related issues after working at a nonprofit that helped refugees. “Migrants carry their home with them on their backs,” she said. “Home is where the heart is, but you carry your home with you.”

Hardika Dayalani's tattoo of airport codes, photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

A Love of Labor

The vintage Soviet postage stamp shows a steel worker and the Russian word for “labor.” To demographer Robert Bozick, his stamp tattoo represents both his background and his research. A native of industrial Youngstown, Ohio, Bozick grew up among blue-collar laborers and is the first in his family to attend college. It's why his research focuses on changing demographics and changing needs of the labor force. “I wanted something that could visually remind me of my roots and why I started doing what I was doing regardless of where my career took me.”

Robert Bozick's tattoo of a vintage Soviet postage stamp shows a steel worker and the Russian word for labor, photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

— Melissa Bauman