Spotlight on Humanities Alumni: Michael Newmark
Occupation: Ph.D. Candidate, European History & Jewish Studies, and Liberal Party Canada Volunteer Operative
Education (UR and additional): BA (History), University of Rochester, 2005; Fulbright, Visiting Researcher, Jagiellonian University ; PhD, University of Toronto
Current city/state of residence: Toronto, Canada
Community activities: Polish Jewish Heritage Foundation of Canada, Winchevsky Cultural Center Toronto, JCC [Jewish Community Center] Kraków (http://www.jcckrakow.org/), Graduate History Society at the University of Toronto, Graduate Student Society at the UofT Centre for Jewish Studies
What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?
My two main activities as a student were with the UR Polish Club, and my part-time job at University Telecomm, now called University NS/IT. I ‘re-founded’ the UR Polish Club with another student, Sara Korol, and it became the center of my social life for over 3 years. Both the Club and my job helped me immensely to grow beyond the ‘exiled Brooklynite’ identity I had developed for myself, and expanded my view of the prospective social world, and taught me how to live, work, and befriend different kinds of people.
What resources did you use on campus that you recommend current students use?
The Study Abroad Office, the Fellowships Office, and the SkalnyCenter for Polish & Central European Studies were all extraordinarily helpful for achieving my goals and allowing me to become the person I wanted to be. The Rush Rhees Library, and their InterLibrary Loan program in particular, were incredibly useful and really cannot be taken for granted. Finally, the Take Five Scholarship program is an exemplary example of humanism in practice, and its’ importance cannot be understated.
Who were your mentors while you were on campus? Have you continued those relationships?
I was lucky to have some great mentors while at the UofR – Dr. Celia Applegate, Dr. Stewart Weaver, and Dr. Richard Kaeuper at the History Department, Jackie Levine and Sara Korol (a fellow student but also a mentor) at Study Abroad, and John Tomkinson, Liz Dombowski, Rose McGovern, and Mark Pierce (my bosses) at University Telecomm. I should also mention Dr. hab. Jan Lencznarowicz, Dr. hab. Krzysztof Zamorski, and Dr. Michał Galas from the Jagiellonian University, all visiting professors through the Skalny Center. I’m happy to say that I’m still in touch with most of the people on this list (Facebook has been great), and that I see them when I can.
What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?
I began a Fulbright Fellowship at the JagiellonianUniversity in Kraków, as a means of exploring a potential career in academia. Many undergraduate students in the humanities and social sciences choose a career in academia because they feel it’s “the natural course” after their studies, and I was no different; I was fortunate in that I had a chance to experience academic life without committing to it fully. I was happy I did not go for a PhD right after graduation, if only because it gave me time to experience the world and consider other possible career choices; the Fulbright fellowship in particular allowed me to meet a whole host of different kinds of people I would not have been able to meet otherwise. After the Fulbright ended, I biked the US with my parents, tried to find work in NYC, and then went to study and work in Kraków, Poland before heading to Toronto to start my PhD.
What do you do now and why did you choose this career?
I am in the 6th year of a joint PhD in European History and Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto. I specialize in Central European history from roughly 1750 – 1935, and I concentrate on conceptions of identity at the personal, societal, and political level. In my dissertation I am using the city of Kraków from 1815 – 1846 as a case study for how urban populations in East Central Europe defined themselves in terms of self-identity. I chose a career in European history, and East Central Europe in particular, because I feel that questions of identity are at the heart of many of the problems facing our world, especially in the face of nationalist, trans-nationalist, and globalizing forces. I want to be a professor, to quote Professor Kaeuper, “in order to remain a student, and to continue learning (while encouraging others to do so also), for the rest of my life”.
I have also begun to work in politics, most notably for my friend Matt Samulewski, a nominee for the federal Liberal Party Candidacy of Parkdale-High Park. I never thought I’d go into politics, but given that Matt is one of the few people I’d willingly follow through fire, I decided to give it a try. I’m learning quite a lot and meeting great people, and at the very least it’s nice to have something to fall back on, if academia doesn’t work out.
Where would you like to be in five years?
I could use this question to make a whole host of jokes about how difficult it is for PhD students to find jobs, couldn’t I? Seriously, and realistically, in five years I would like to be settled at a University teaching/researching post, having published my dissertation as a book and beginning a career teaching both undergraduate and graduate students in my areas of specialization.
What advice do you have for current students?
Always ask questions (even “stupid” ones), and be prepared to listen with an open heart and mind to what your peers and mentors have to say, even if you don’t like it; both have their unique value. Conversely, be welcome to answering all questions, even those that may challenge what you believe. Never be afraid of what you might hear, nor the reactions of others based on your questions. Do not be afraid of failure, be prepared to learn from your mistakes – but also value your successes, and strive for them. And don’t beat yourself up too badly when you’re sitting in the library at 2 am the night before the paper/project is due, and realized you procrastinated for far too long. Finally, resist any push you may have from family, friends, and colleagues who tell you that your education is solely for getting a job; it’s not. Your education is there to give you the tools and experiences to make you a better informed and well-rounded person. And given how much UofR is charging these days, make sure you squeeze every last drop of useful knowledge from their excellent faculty and the many amazing services they provide.
Also that Jackie Levine, the director of UR Study Abroad, is amazing, and if you see a flyer or poster advertising UR Study Abroad, you should go. Best thing you can ever do is study abroad. You’ll learn more in those 4 months any other similar period in your life.