Spotlight on Humanities and Social Sciences Alumni: Brian Conlon
Name: Brian Conlon
Education (UR and additional): B.A. History, University of Rochester and Comparative Literature magna cum laude; Harvard Law School J.D. cum laude.
Current city/state of residence: Rochester, NY
Community activities: Softball, volleyball, jazz saxophone.
When and how did you choose your major?
I chose my history major basically before I ever got to UR as history was always my best and favorite subject in high school. As for Comparative Literature, I took Dostoevsky with Prof. Givens my first semester because I read Crime and Punishment and really enjoyed it in high school. That class ended up being my favorite class of all time and made me want to take more Russian literature classes. I then (maybe sophomore year) researched the majors and decided on Comparative Literature over Russian Studies because I would rather read literature in translation than learn the Russian language.
What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?
My activities at U of R were basically limited to three discrete categories: (1) Campus jobs; (2) Music; and (3) Intramural Sports. I worked at the athletic center, in Wilson Commons and in the History Department. Continuing to work as a student helped me realize the true value of my education as well as give me a greater connection to the campus community. I performed in Wind Symphony, a saxophone quartet, a jazz group, a free jazz group, an Indie Rock group and took lessons at Eastman. This gave me a creative outlet and means of escape and collaboration with my fellow students. Intramural sports were simply fun.
Who were your mentors while you were on campus? Have you continued those relationships?
Professor Givens and Professor Jarvis. I took just about every Russian literature class Professor Givens offered and Professor Jarvis was my advisor for my honors thesis. Both of them wrote me recommendations that I am sure helped me get into law school and Professor Givens reviewed and gave me detailed and thoughtful suggestions on an independent research paper I wrote for law school on Dostoevsky.
What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?
I would say writing is the most important thing I learned, a close second being researching. Both History and Comparative Literature majors involve a good amount of scholarly writing. You have to be able to find that perfect quote in the myriad of historical sources or eight hundred page novels to support your assertions, or else your arguments ring hollow. This is much of what legal writing is about, although the sources are generally duller.
How do you balance your work and professional life?
Personally, I think just having perspective is the key to a balanced life. As long as you can step back and honestly assess what is and what is not important to you, you can balance your life any way you see fit. There are people who truly think that work and achieving some personal or public interest goal is the most important thing, and for those people a balanced life might involve working 70 hours a week and that’s fine if they know that’s what’s important to them. There are others, perhaps a majority, who think personal happiness or raising a family is the most important thing and see a career as a means to maximizing that, so they work to that end and know where to draw the line. Just know what’s important to you and don’t get swept away with the crowd.
What advice do you have for current students?
Follow what you like doing and do more of it. I truly believe the key to being successful academically is to take classes you enjoy. The wide-open curriculum at U of R gives every student an opportunity to find their passion and pursue it. Take this opportunity. When I went to UR there were too many bright people who started on the pre-med path only to become miserable, stress themselves out and choose another major. An undergrad education is an end onto itself and not just a means. You will do better in classes you enjoy and having a strong undergraduate record will let you do what you want after you graduate.