New at Pitt: My Work and LIfe in Pittsburgh

By: Stephen Chaudoin

My transition to the University of Pittsburgh has been rewarding both professionally and personally.  I completed my PhD in Politics at Princeton University in the spring of 2012 and moved to Pittsburgh in August of 2012.

For many “newly-minted” PhD’s, this can be a difficult time period, since it entails adjusting to a new location geographically, a new cohort of colleagues, and a new set of administrative responsibilities.  This is to say nothing of two of the largest obligations for new faculty members: teaching and publishing.  All of these transitions were made easier by the sincere efforts of the existing faculty members and administrators, something for which I am extremely grateful.

The faculty and administration went out of their way to make my transition to becoming a teacher easier, even before I had set foot on campus.  In the spring of 2012, I received an email from the Chair of the Department, Steve Finkel, asking what courses I would like to teach in the upcoming academic year.  Cynically, I thought to myself, “This is only a perfunctory email.  I will be arriving at Pitt as the lowest ranking faculty member, so I will be assigned to teach whatever is left over once the more senior faculty members have made their choices.”  I was completely wrong.  Not only did the department allow me a tremendous amount of flexibility in choosing to teach courses that I felt most passionate about, my colleagues further supported me when it came time to choose courses beyond my first year.  In a meeting to plan course offerings for future academic years, my fellow International Relations faculty (Professors Gochman, Hays, Savun, and Donno) paid particular attention to making sure that I didn’t have any semesters with overly demanding teaching and preparation requirements.  Several times, they suggested that I teach a particular course during a particular semester, even though that was a course or time slot that they themselves would have preferred.  This year, I have taught undergrad courses on my two favorite subjects, international organizations and strategic interactions among nations, and I am excited about my courses for the next two years as well.

My colleagues have also been constructive and supporting with regards to conducting research and publishing papers this past year.  In the early spring of 2013, I received news that one of the top international relations journals was considering one of my dissertation papers for publication, conditional on some revisions being made to the manuscript.  For those unfamiliar with the publication process in political science, this is great news- since there is a good chance the journal will ultimately publish your paper.  But it can also be nerve-wracking, since the journal’s editors can also deem your revisions insufficient and ultimately reject your paper.  I will always remember and appreciate the helpful advice of colleagues, even those outside of my subfield, like George Krause and Chris Bonneau, on how to navigate this revision process.  Ultimately, the journal’s editors were pleased with my revisions, and the paper should be forthcoming in the near future.

The department has also furthered my growth as a member of the scholarly community.  The department recently provided generous funding for me to attend a prestigious conference in Mannheim, Germany.  While there, I presented another paper from my dissertation and received valuable feedback.  Since then, that paper has been fully accepted for publication at one of the top international relations journals.  Back at home in Posvar, there are frequent talks delivered by notable guest speakers and promising up-and-comers from other universities, which provides a great opportunity to network with other scholars.  Often, the best interactions take place outside of the lecture hall, over meals or meetings with the guest speakers.  The faculty members involved in planning these meetings have been fantastic about making sure I have every opportunity to meet and interact with our guests.

Outside of my academic roles, the transition to Pittsburgh has been new and exciting in some ways and comforting and familiar in others.  Having spent the last five years in small-town Princeton, New Jersey, moving to an actual city (with sports teams, and restaurants, and museums, and theaters, and neighborhoods!) has been a blast.  In Princeton, there was not a single decent Chinese restaurant.  Now, living in Greenfield, adjacent to Squirrel Hill, I can scorch my mouth on authentic Szechuan food whenever I want.  Pittsburgh has also felt familiar in that it reminds me of my hometown of Atlanta, GA.  Both cities are active and vibrant, without the intimidating or hostile feeling of some big cities.  Both cities have much to offer, without being overly expensive or pretentious.  Pittsburgh citizens often show the same hospitality that people from the South appreciate.  I will refrain from making any comparisons about the weather, but I’m adapting to that, too.  I am a huge Atlanta Braves fan, so I have also been getting used to friends and neighbors who don’t think that “Sid Slid” in the 1991 NLCS was one of the greatest moments ever.  Hopefully, I will be able to repair any burned baseball bridges, when Pitt joins the ACC and I can join Pitt fans in rooting against a common enemy: Georgia Tech.  All told, I have had a fortunate and productive year!  With the arrival of three new, excellent junior faculty members in the fall, I am excited to begin “paying forward” some of the goodwill shown to me!