For this year’s Spring Seasonal Series, entitled Post-Princeton Life: The Experiences of PCUR Alumni, each correspondent has selected a PCUR alum to interview about what they have been up to. We hope that these interviews will provide helpful insight into the many different paths Princeton students take after graduation. Here, Rafi shares his interview.
I met Melissa, the former PCUR Chief Correspondent, in my first precept at Princeton—Professor Duneier’s SOC 101 – “Introduction to Sociology” in the fall of 2016. It was an intimate and difficult precept where we discussed race, gender, and class—conversations that were quite new to me at the time. Many of our discussions from that precept have stayed with me and guided my current academic work. The following semester, Melissa sent me an email telling me to apply to write for PCUR… and the rest is history. This past week, I caught up with Melissa over email to hear more about her time since graduation and her reflections on post-grad life.
This semester, in our spring series, PCURs will interview a graduate student from their home department who either is currently a graduate student at Princeton, or attended Princeton as an undergraduate. In Graduate Student Reflections: Life in Academia, interviews with graduate students shed light on the variety of paths one can take to get to graduate school and beyond, and the many insights gained along the way from research projects and mentors. Here, Rafi shares his interview.
Jonathon Catlin is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of History, focusing on intellectual responses to the Holocaust. Before beginning at Princeton, he earned his B.A. from the University of Chicago in Jewish Studies and Fundamentals: Issues and Texts and his M.A. in philosophy from KU Leuven in Belgium. A few days ago, I sat down with him in Chancellor Green café to hear about his research journey and some of what he’s learned along the way.
How did you arrive at your current research topic?
I was a junior in high school and, for whatever reason, I decided to take a course called “The Holocaust in History, Literature, and Film” at Harvard Summer School. Why I chose it I don’t know, but the rest is history. Holocaust representation and its intersections with philosophy, religion, literature, film — all in a sort of historical context — is essentially what I’ve been working on for about eight years now, bouncing around multiple disciplines.
My dissertation is hopefully going to be on the concept of catastrophe in modern European thought – a project I’ve been working on since my first year of undergrad. I guess the newest thing for me about coming to Princeton is that I’m in a history department now, which is just totally different than the interdisciplinary humanities focus that I was used to.
Like many people my age, I am an uncertified, yet impressively efficient sleuth. Give me a name and some time, and I should be able to pull up at least two sources of information on any given person.
We know the process well: start with Google, aim for Facebook, and click on everything in between: Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, news media, public tax records, etc. – not to mention the terrifying wonders of Tigerbook.
At Princeton, ‘finding your way’ can seem as daunting as escaping the Labyrinth. Even when things are going well, I find myself asking thinks like: What are the best courses to take next semester? What should I do next summer? What should I do with my life?
Questions like these don’t have easy answers, and as best as I can tell, we shouldn’t expect to wake up one day with everything figured out. But chipping away at these questions is important, and I’ve found it much easier to do so with some guidance. Where do we get guidance, though?
Enter the mentor. The mentor is your wiser half, your sensei—the person who guides you through this mysterious world with sage advice and unflagging support.