A Political Science Alumnus Returns to the Graduate Center as a Professor
Michael Sharpe, who has been a professor at York College since 2008, recently joined the Political Science faculty.
Michael Sharpe (Ph.D. ’08, Political Science) was still working on his dissertation when he landed a tenure-track position at York College. As of this fall, he is also a professor of Political Science at the Graduate Center. His research focuses on the politics of international migration, including in Japan and the Netherlands; his first book, Postcolonial Citizens and Ethnic Migration: The Netherlands and Japan in the Age of Globalization, was based on his dissertation. Sharpe recently spoke to the Graduate Center about returning to his alma mater, his current book project, and his advice on securing a tenure-track job.
The Graduate Center: What is it like to be back at the Graduate Center as a professor?
Sharpe: It is a wonderful and mind-blowing experience to be on the other side of the desk at the Graduate Center where I learned so very much. I feel I owe the GC Political Science faculty and the GC a debt of gratitude for the transformative place my doctoral education has had in my life. I absolutely love what I do as an academic engaged in the production of knowledge and the “life of the mind,” and it’s a pleasure to have the camaraderie of seasoned scholars and, very importantly, the next generation of scholars.
Being a Graduate Center professor is an opportunity both to give back and continue to grow with graduate students and faculty in a challenging environment conducive to critical inquiry, learning, thought, and critique. As for the students, I feel I can relate to them as I remember my concerns and challenges — i.e., reading dense scholarly texts, family responsibilities, and employment — when I was a GC graduate student up until I defended and graduated in 2008.
GC: How did your experience the Graduate Center influence your career?
Sharpe: The Graduate Center showed me the power of a public doctoral education both in contributing to the expansion of knowledge and improving people’s lives. I remember the rigor of the coursework, but even more than that, the in-person, closed-book comprehensive exams and the excitement of writing my dissertation. This gave me the confidence and tools to say I am a political scientist, as I never studied harder for anything else in my life. One key person in my intellectual development is Professor Emeritus Irving Leonard Markovitz, whom I met as a master’s student at Columbia University, where he was a visiting scholar. Ever since following him to the GC, Professor Markovitz has been a beloved mentor and now a dear friend and colleague. In addition, I had many wonderful Political Science professors who helped me acquire the knowledge and skills both in and outside the classroom to be successful, and who encouraged me to pursue my interests in the politics of international migration and comparative immigration studies, then fairly novel in the field.
GC: What are you currently working on?
Sharpe: I am currently working on my second single-authored book, The Politics of Racism and Antiracism in Japan, under contract with Cambridge University Press in its Essentials Series on East Asian Politics and Society. Additionally, I have several ongoing research projects, including one on remigration policies or “Pay to Go Schemes” for immigrants and their descendants, and the meaning for liberal democracies. I have done research and data collection in the Netherlands and Japan and, most recently, last summer in Spain. Other projects include Japan as an “emerging migration state” as well as the Japanese government’s role in Japanese diaspora politics. Additionally, I have another project on questions of non-sovereignty, freedom of movement, and diaspora in the Dutch Caribbean and European Union. I am very intrigued by the intersections of the politics of immigration, and racism, and nationalism around the world.
GC: Is there any advice you’d give to someone hoping to pursue a similar path?
Sharpe: My advice to individuals who want to pursue something similar is to be open, creative, innovative, diligent, and persistent, and to listen to your mentors. If you have not begun to do so, seek out mentors with shared or similar interests, and submit abstracts of your work to present at conferences. An academic employer wants to see a track record of publication. One way to begin might be to publish small pieces in encyclopedias and work your way up to book chapters and journals. I have been able to gain insightful critique and build a wide network of colleagues through presenting at conferences, and these people have been valuable resources. Getting to know and identifying people to write recommendations for you are critical in your academic journey towards fellowships, tenure, and promotion.
Teaching and service are also important. At the very least, show evidence of having taught the bread-and-butter courses in your discipline because that is probably what you will be teaching as junior faculty. Experience teaching a course like “Research Methods” or in your specialty is an added plus. Service is also critical in making your institution more functional and responsive. In short, the closer you are to exemplifying the academic requirements of teaching, research and publication, and service, the more likely your potential academic employer thinks you will continue doing this for the balance of your career. Additionally, remain open to nonacademic jobs as well, in government, NGOs, think tanks, foundations, etc.
GC: What would you tell students who are hoping to turn a dissertation into a book?
Sharpe: This requires simplifying, getting rid of much of the jargon, as well as shortening many of the long sentences typical of dissertations to make it more readable and accessible to a broader audience. There are some very good books that advise how to do this, and I recommend consulting them. You will need a proposal and usually a sample chapter of the manuscript to approach publishers. If and when you are rejected, don’t be discouraged. A career in academia requires a thick skin, so be prepared to be rejected in various venues, e.g., peer reviewed book proposals, conferences, journal articles, fellowships, etc. Start from the top of your list of academic publishers and work your way down. If comments are given, be sure to consider adopting the relevant ones as they often improve the work. Attend writing workshops and present your work at appropriate venues to try to obtain more constructive critique to make the argument(s) clear, organization tight, and your work ever more concise, relevant, and persuasive.
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