Swarthmore is proud to have two students selected as Rhodes Scholars this year–Rebecca Brubaker ’06 for the United States and Andrew Sniderman ’07 for Canada. Including these two, Swarthmore has had a total of twenty-eight Rhodes Scholars selected, five since 2000.
According to Fellowships and Prizes Advisor Melissa Mandos, “Our last Rhodes Scholar was Tafadzwa Muguwe from Zimbabwe in 2005. He completed his degree at Oxford last year, and I believe he is currently studying medicine at Harvard.”
We caught up with Sniderman over e-mail; we’ll publish an interview with Brubaker later in the week.
DG: When did you first think about applying for the Rhodes? Why were you interested?
AS: I first thought about it during my first senior year (I was on the Soviet-style “five year plan”). I was drawn to it because it emphasized rounded applicants and it would give me a chance to re-connect with my ancestral roots in England (two of my grandparents left England after WWII).
As a Canadian, it was also just about the only external funding source available for graduate school (which is scary, because in England graduate school is expensive and funding sources are relatively few).
DG: Tell me a little bit about the process of applying. What was the hardest part?
AS: They require a personal statement and seven (seven!) letters of reference. It is really a team effort. That is what is so tough about this process: it demands a huge amount of energy from so many people but the chances of success are so low.
In November my provincial committee gave me a 10 day notice before the final round of interviews (Quebec gets two scholarships). It’s a two day affair. First you have to try to be charming at a two-hour cocktail party and then you have to endure a 30 minute grilling from a 7-person panel. Then you wait for a call.
The interview is a scary thing. They research each applicant well and ask pointed questions. I had questions in English in French. Last year I felt like they were pelting me with fastballs. For whatever reason, though, this year it felt like I was playing T-ball. I was lucky with questions that played into my strengths and somehow I managed to take control of the interview. Practice makes perfect, I guess. Oh, and I didn’t feel like vomiting this year on the day of the interview. That was a plus.
The hardest part was deciding to re-apply after I got refused last fall (I was a finalist last year too). Even though committees rarely give applicants a second interview, I eventually decided I could make a significantly better application this year and I had nothing to lose. With me, if I’m not reaching I’m not living.
DG: What have you been doing since graduating?
AS: I spent my summer after graduation fleeing from any book that mentioned the words “philosophy” or “political theory” (courtesy of the exhilarating and exhausting Honors crunch).
Since September I’ve been working in Canadian Parliament in a fellowship program that allows me to work for an opposition party for half a year and then the governing party for the rest of the year. I’m working for the Quebec separatist party now (Bloc QuÃ©bÃ©cois) and will be working for the Conservative Party starting in February.
I also have a second fellowship and my working group is trying to convince the Canadian government to issue a “Green Bond”–a modern-day War Bond that would fund sustainable energy infrastructure projects. Busy times, good times.
DG: What do you plan on studying at Oxford, and why?
AS: I’m trying to figure out whether I want to study in the philosophy department or the politics department. That said, they have a new center, the Changing Character of War Programme, that will let me pursue the research on private military companies I started with Professor James Kurth. Cool stuff.
DG: Anything else I’ve forgotten to ask?
AS: I want to thank James Kurth, Hans Oberdiek, Cynthia Halpern, Maurice Eldridge, and Ben Berger for their continual support. I stand on the shoulders of Swarthmore’s giants.