On the Tenure Track: Nicholas R. Micinski, Ph.D. '19 Is on His Way to the University of Maine
Alumnus Nicholas R. Micinski explains how he landed the job, turned his research into a book, and why he's committed to public education.
In August, Graduate Center alumnus Nicholas R. Micinski (Ph.D. ’19, Political Science) will start as the Libra Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at the University of Maine. He published his first book, UN Global Compacts: Governing Migrants and Refugees, based on research he conducted when he was a doctoral student. His second book, Delegating Responsibility: International Cooperation on Migration in the European Union, based on his dissertation, is due out next year.
His focus on international migration and global politics began in college at Michigan State University. He said that since then, “I've been thinking about migration and how both host communities and the international community and other actors influence how we treat migrants and refugees.”
After graduation, he worked at a refugee charity in London for three years. He refined his research in the Ph.D. Program in Political Science through his association with The Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies and with the mentorship of his adviser, Presidential Professor Thomas Weiss (Political Science, Liberal Studies). “I came to my Ph.D. thinking about how research can have an impact on real-world issues,” Micinski said. “And this is a great space to do that.”
He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Université Laval and a visiting researcher at the Center for the Study of Europe at Boston University. After many years on the job market, he found his tenure-track faculty position at the University of Maine, an experience that he said was not unique for many recent graduates.
He spoke to The Graduate Center about his new role at the University of Maine, persistence, publishing, and why mentorship is so meaningful.
The Graduate Center: It is such a hard time for aspiring academics. What do you think in particular helped you stand out?
Micinski: I don't think it was anything I did. I think it happened to be that there was a good fit with the department and the program that I was going to. I was quite persistent over the years. But that is what everyone on the job market is doing. It was a very stark job market and didn't feel like it was going to be a good year because of COVID. I really think I was quite lucky. And the university and department are a good fit for me.
GC: Did you look for non-academic positions as well?
Micinski: I always prioritized university jobs because I enjoyed teaching so much. I told myself each year that I would apply for postdocs and university jobs until around March 1st every year. And then if I didn't get a job, I would switch to start applying to policy jobs after March 1st. And every year around March 1st or 2nd, I would get a call. I somehow found something. I was always thinking next week I'm going to revise my CV for policy or start applying for different jobs. If you get one more year of a postdoc or one more year of adjuncting, that can keep you going.
The thing that helped me most was to feel like our work, our education, our research, our time, and our Ph.D. programs are valuable, even when we don't find permanent positions in academia. During the four years I was in the job market, I had to have a belief in the value of my work, even if there was no affirmation of it from the job market. That was difficult. And I know other people struggle with that as well.
GC: You published your first book based on research you did as a graduate student. Tell us about that.
Micinski: The Graduate Center was a really supportive environment for me because I worked very closely with many professors and learned about the publishing process from the very beginning. I have to sing the praises of my adviser Tom Weiss who was the director of the Ralph Bunche Institute for years. He included me on publishing projects, from helping to revise and do administrative work to helping edit several volumes with him to co-authoring.
My advice to other graduate students is to publish early. If you have a seminar paper that you think is good, then it should be a conference paper the next semester, and you should have a draft ready to be submitted to a journal the next semester. Be diligent because it takes years to publish. For me, that was the exciting part of learning what real academics do. We engage in our research and publish our findings, and to start that as a graduate student is really exciting.
I've tried to do the same thing and help my own students to learn about the research process. At Baruch College and at Boston University, we have had a couple of really cool projects that brought undergraduates into some of my research and I have several undergraduate co-authors on pieces that I hope will inspire them to become researchers.
GC: How else did your experience at the GC influence you?
Micinski: Intellectually, it's this amazing space to support you to deepen your thoughts and having that deep engagement with your mind and academic practice. The quality of instruction that the GC has in political science can’t be downplayed. We have an incredible department in international relations, comparative politics, political theory.
Being part of the GC also meant being in New York City, which I chose because the U.N. is based in New York, and I knew my research was always going to be related to the U.N. And so being able to go to U.N. meetings literally at my lunch time or set up an interview with someone after the General Assembly sessions. It meant that I was continuing to do my fieldwork throughout the seven years that I was at the GC. Rather than going on fieldwork trips, I was able to continue with policymakers throughout the entire time that I was at the GC and the Ralph Bunche Institute. A core part of my experience at the Ralph Bunche Institute was to learn from Tom Weiss how to engage with the U.N. in a practical way. And I applied what I learned to my dissertation project.
GC: What are your hopes for your new role in terms of writing, reaching audiences, training policymakers?
Micinski: It's going to be a really exciting role. The University of Maine has many strengths, including the School of Policy and International Affairs and the Climate Change Institute. I'm going to be working on several new projects about climate migration and thinking about how the U.N. climate negotiations will affect climate displacement. And I hope to engage my students in that work.
I'm excited about engaging a new community as well. The University of Maine is very similar to where I grew up in rural Michigan. So, my husband and I are excited to reconnect with that type of community.
Another thing that excites me about the University of Maine is that it is a public university. I've earned all of my degrees from public institutions. I went to Michigan State, got my master’s and Ph.D. at CUNY. It's part of my values as a student and as a scholar, and now as a professor, to bring quality research and teaching to public school students. CUNY was a formative place for me. CUNY proves that quality education for the working-class can transform lives and communities. Teaching at Baruch for three years was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.
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