College of Charleston had a profound impact on my understanding and appreciation for history in general and Middle Eastern studies in particular. I am a South Carolina native and have always been fascinated in history and foreign affairs, ever since a family trip to the Middle East when I was a teenager. So it wasn’t a surprise when I decided to major in History. I arrived at College of Charleston enthusiastic about my studies, inspired by childhood trips to faraway lands.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred during my first semester at the College of Charleston. I subsequently enrolled in as many courses relating to Islam and the Middle East as possible, hoping to better understand this complex and dynamic region. CofC’s academic experience provided a strong foundation for my appreciation and understanding of the history, politics and culture of the region, and piqued my curiosity. At the time, I was not entirely sure about my career direction, but I knew I liked research, writing and interacting in diverse settings. I enjoy challenges and over time excelled in articulating complex and critical issues relating to the Middle East.
I understood that if I was serious about pursuing these issues in a meaningful way, I would need to gain greater depth and analysis of the subject matter. My undergraduate experience, in and out of the classroom, served as a natural bridge to continue my academic studies abroad by pursuing a Master’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University and a PhD in Middle Eastern Studies at King’s College, London.
As Director of the Regional Studies Program at Daniel Morgan Academy, a new, independent national security graduate school in Washington, DC, I teach courses on the Middle East. I work with experienced scholar-practitioner faculty that emphasize a pragmatic subject matter approach to enhance student knowledge, skills, competencies, and learning outcomes. I love my job because it is challenging, exciting and rewarding. DMA’s unique 7:1 teacher-to-student ratio offers excellent opportunities to incorporate simulations, group projects and other innovative teaching techniques to satisfy student learning outcomes and assessment.
DMA’s Regional Studies Program provides students with an in-depth understanding of the practical application of these contemporary national and transnational issues. It examines trends and issues in the regional context as well as how the U.S. meets the challenges in each region. In Undergraduate programs, students typically recall facts and basic concepts, and explain and describe ideas. At the Graduate level, emphasis is placed on critical thinking and analytical skills. In the Regional Studies Program, DMA students analyze emerging regional challenges and opportunities to advance U.S. interests; assess and evaluate the growing threat of unconventional conflicts; and summarize the ideologies and goals of non-state actors. Students will be able to apply U.S. strategies and policies toward regional issues as they deal with the functional application of Intelligence, National Security and Information Operations.
Securing your dream job as a professor is not impossible; but it is not easy, either. I spent years applying to dozens of academic positions without receiving a response. However, patience, persistence, professional experience, and a little luck may help you achieve your dream.
The following suggestions may be useful for Cougars with a history degree interested in teaching and working in national security issues.
- Spend time in a foreign country
It is one thing to read about a foreign country or region. It is quite another thing to actually visit the places you study. Immersion in the history, politics, language and culture of a foreign country provides invaluable insights in the attitudes and interests of other societies. Travel abroad does not have to be an expensive undertaking. Travel opportunities through study abroad programs and internships exist. Take advantage of these once in a lifetime opportunities if they suit your interests.
- Become proficient in a foreign language
The power of learning a foreign language gives you instant access to information. If you can read and comprehend foreign news/media, you automatically gain leverage over your peers competing in similar fields. Foreign language fluency means that when conducting research, you do not have to rely on a third party translator – someone with their own inherent set of biases that could be reflected in how they translate. You alone are responsible for your research, analysis and conclusions. As an analyst or historian, this is crucial because language access will open new doors by allowing you to analyze primary source material.
- Join academic and foreign policy clubs and societies.
The old cliché, “It’s not what you know, but who you know” contains certain truths. Participating in clubs and societies relevant to your area of interest offers excellent networking opportunities for aspiring analysts and scholars. Academic societies offer options for junior scholars to showcase their research, and you never know who might be listening in the audience. Five years ago, I delivered a paper at a Middle East conference in Washington, DC. Apparently, someone in the crowd was interested in what I had to say, and that individual helped me land my current job.
- Gain experience through internships
The public and private sector offers internships for students and recent graduates interested in history, foreign affairs and national security. These experiences provide hands-on learning opportunities about industry expectations, requirements, lifestyle and culture. The contacts may help develop your curiosity and passion or open your eyes to new opportunities you did not know existed. Internships are competitive, so consulting with CofC’s Career Center can assist in resume and cover letter preparation. If you take internships seriously, your performance could help lead toward a permanent position.
Dr. Michael Sharnoff is an Associate Professor and Director of the Regional Studies Program at Daniel Morgan Academy. He is the author of the forthcoming book Nasser’s Peace: Egypt’s Response to the 1967 War with Israel (Transaction Publishers, February 2017).