Sasha Shapiro graduated from Dickinson in 2015 with majors in Russian and Philosophy. She spent the fall of her junior year on the Dickinson-in-Moscow program, and the spring semester in Copenhagen. After graduation she first moved home to Los Angeles, and then to Berlin for a year, where she studied German on an intensive German immersion program. In fall 2016, Sasha joined the PhD program in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Virginia, where she holds the prestigious Jefferson Fellowship.
As I start my second year in the PhD program in Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Virginia, I am both excited and overwhelmed by the amount of opportunities available to me. For those who are fascinated with Russian culture, literature, politics, business, and film, a PhD in Slavic is the most rewarding and exhilarating option available. I’ll admit, I wasn’t entirely convinced I was doing the most career-sensible thing as I started the 5-year program, but those fears were dispelled once I started taking advantage of everything the Slavic PhD program had to offer (and more).
The Russian department at Dickinson was instrumental in leading me to UVA. Professor DeBlasio was actually the one who suggested this program, and she (along with professors in other departments) were extremely helpful with the application process and preparing me for my first year. My experience abroad in Moscow was also essential to getting me to where I am today – it was in Moscow that I realized that I wanted to continue studying Russian culture after undergrad. Dickinson’s literature and language classes were also vigorous and prepared me for the high caliber expected by the professors at UVA. I also realized when talking to colleagues who had come from different colleges that many were not as lucky as I to perform in a Russian talent show, to live in the Russian House with other motivated and curious students, or to go to Russian film screenings every week. Some of my colleagues didn’t even have a Russian department at their undergrad, and had to learn Russian independently or by studying abroad.
However, amazing as the Russian department at Dickinson is, it is still limited by Dickinson’s small size and the budget issues that come with this small size. At a large research university, I have had the opportunity to apply for larger grants offered through the university (as well as grants offered through other universities or through governmental organizations), to plan my department’s own national Slavic conference, to invite famous speakers (last spring, we had Masha Gessen speak at our conference), and much more. I have also had the incredible opportunity to teach 1st and 2nd-year university students. It was terrifying at first, but Dickinson’s rigor and high expectations in grammar and language prepared me well for it. The Slavic department also offers career-related workshops that help prepare you for a career in the Slavic field, such as grant writing, editing term papers for conferences, etc.
Also, studying Russian at a large research university gives you plenty of opportunity for interdisciplinary research. At Dickinson, we may take this for granted since it is a liberal arts institution and we are constantly surrounded by those studying something different. At UVA, however, the interdisciplinary opportunities are endless, as well as the opportunity to learn from world-renowned scholars in other departments. UVA (and almost any research university that offers a PhD track in Slavic) has CREEES (Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies) which invites scholars, activists, writers, actors, and politicians to campus, and is constantly hosting interesting movie screenings, dinners, lectures and social events that involve Slavic studies. As a graduate student, I am surrounded by like-minded people who are just as interested in Russian as I am, and I am never bored!