What is your current role?
Professor of History, George Washington University.
What are you working on now?
A “group portrait” of the Irish Famine immigrants in New York in the 1850s and '60s, and the lives they made for themselves in the United States.
What drew you to your field?
I love that immigration history is a never-ending saga that repeats itself again and again. The cast changes, but the story remains virtually unchanged.
What lessons from graduate school have you found useful in your professional life?
That having faith in yourself and your own abilities matters much more than what other people think.
What skill has unexpectedly helped you in your career?
My writing skills. There are many brilliant people in academia, but not many brilliant writers. For historians, a good story well told can be just as valuable as a pathbreaking idea.
What is your favorite memory from your graduate years?
The close friendships that I made and that are still strong nearly thirty years later.
What are your passions outside of your work?
I love tennis, both playing and watching my idol Roger Federer. I try to see him in person every year. I went to California for Spring Break for that very reason.
What is your advice for current GSAS students?
Students, especially in the humanities, find graduate school very stressful. They should try to focus on the great things about graduate study—reading, writing, thinking—because they will not have much time for those things later in life. Students also should not be afraid to ask for advice from faculty. Many students feel too intimidated to talk to faculty about anything other than coursework, but almost every faculty member I know loves mentoring students as well—and they wish students would ask for advice more often.
What is next for you, professionally or otherwise?
Writing another book, and pushing my students to be the best researchers and writers they can be.