Ohio Today: For Alumni and Friends of Ohio University

Bob Arnold
College of Arts and Sciences

Bob Arnold

'Driven by intellectual curiosity'

Hometown: Dayton, Ohio
College: undergraduate, Honors Tutorial College; graduate, Arts and Sciences
Major: combined BA/MA in political science

What does it mean for you to be recognized as a graduate to watch?

I am deeply honored to have been nominated. ... I have received a great deal of institutional support while at Ohio University, and I would like to make the most of my post-OU life to make those who helped my development during the past four years proud. The graduate to watch nomination is significant to me insofar as it provides further motivation to make the most of my time after college and to live up to the potential others see in me.

Is there a faculty member who inspired you? 

I couldn't have accomplished as much as I have over the last four years without such a nurturing, supportive environment, both intellectually and socially. (Associate Professor) Julie White in the political science department has been my biggest inspiration during my college career. She has been my adviser during the past four years, and I have (studied with) her for several tutorials and classes.

Perhaps the most obvious way she has inspired me has been through the shape my curriculum has taken. Dr. White has recommended numerous courses that have been some of the best I have taken at OU; she has also helped set up several equally worthwhile tutorials. Beyond this, however, Dr. White has also helped shape my intellectual development at a more fundamental level. She is extremely open-minded in the classroom, hearing all students' viewpoints and ideas. At the same time, she is also able to get students to think through the full implications of their arguments. These two traits allow Dr. White to fully convey the ongoing conversations and debates in political science in an extremely engaging manner.

What other experiences have helped you learn, grow and discover your personal promise? 

During my sophomore and junior years, I interned at the university's Voinovich School, with the data analysis, survey and health team. This was a great opportunity, as it allowed me to apply some of the classroom skills I had attained in an applied setting. Beyond this, the Voinovich School allowed me to gain a better appreciation of the surrounding region, and I was even able to see how some of the research I helped conduct was put to use.

I was further able to observe the impact social science research may have on society at large during an internship this past summer at the Joint Economic Committee. I was initially drawn to political science for strictly intellectual reasons, but my internship experiences in both Athens and Washington allowed me to reflect on the extent to which the discipline may make a positive impact on society.

What were the main reasons you chose Ohio University?

The main reason I came to OU was the Honors Tutorial College. I felt the college gave me the opportunity to study political science in far greater depth than I could have at most universities. It has completely exceeded my expectations, as I have not only been able to rigorously study the subject, but also ... helped conduct research as an undergraduate. Finally, I will be graduating with both a BA and MA in four years; this too was one of the main appeals of the program.

Finish these sentences:
I am most proud of … the fact that I will be leaving Ohio University having achieved a great deal of both academic and social success. 

Someday I hope to be … a professor of political science. Ideally I would be able to read and speak both positive and normative work in the field, rather than be constrained to a single subfield.

Describe what you have accomplished. What was your drive and motivation?

My biggest accomplishment was being named a 2008 Marshall Scholar. This will fund two years of study at the London School of Economics and Political Science. I am extremely honored to have been named a Scholar, and I could not have done it without the particular help of Professors White, Mosher (political science), Vedder (economics) and Winter (economics), as well as Ann Brown and the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards. I was especially motivated by the fact that the Marshall Scholarship will allow me to study one of my main areas of interest, philosophy of social science, at an institution with a department renowned in that field.

Describe the process of applying for and receiving notice of winning the Marshall.

Dr. White, (Honors Tutorial College) Dean Ann Fidler, Ann Brown and other poli sci professors helped me apply for the scholarship. I wasn't sure I wanted to do it, but with their help, it did make me think I could apply for it. Only 40 are selected, and it's all the more crushing if you aren't fortunate enough to receive it. After I made the first cutoff for the finalists, it was then I began to realize, "Hey, I might be studying in England for two years." It certainly made my future a lot clearer.


It was a worthwhile experience just writing the application because it helped me to be more prepared for stuff I'm going to have to do down the line. But actually winning it … I have 50 percent anxiety and 50 percent excitement. I'm not really well-traveled, and I don't know how prepared I am. Relatives on both sides of my family gave me four London guidebooks for Christmas (laughs).

How do you see yourself?  How do you see yourself in your future?

I currently see myself as a person who is interested in all of the social sciences and wants to avoid becoming too tied to a single viewpoint about how the world works. This does not mean I do not have my own opinions, but rather, I would like to evaluate research without preemptively dismissing it based on the subject or department its authors may belong to. I hope the completion of my thesis and my time in London help enhance my understanding of methodological pluralism.

What keeps you focused on your goal?

I have mainly been driven by intellectual curiosity. I have always enjoyed thinking about how the world actually works and subsequently looking at the empirical evidence. Topics such as the causes and consequences of economic growth and way countries transition to democracy have been particularly fascinating to me during my time at Ohio University. At the base of questions such as these is a concern for how to improve human welfare. I am realistic enough to know that reaching a satisfactory answer to such complex topics is unlikely to be easy; I also realize that even if one does find evidence for a "best" policy, subsequent implementation is not automatic.

I do believe a greater understanding of social, political and economic processes at the very least has the potential to improve the conditions of a given society; this potential and my general interest in social science research have sustained my focus during my college career.

Why become a professor instead of, say, president?

Because of the expediency/accuracy tradeoff. I'm not interested in going just for the politics. My curiosity about how the world works has driven me away from being a politician. A politician will know the right course of action but only do what maximizes their road, what gains the most votes in the long run. ... At JEC this summer, a Nobel Prize economist was testifying. He was presenting research, but Congress seemed more than willing to twist and bend it to fit their bents. It was not a truly honest appraisal of what his presentation was about.

What will you do after London?

After London, I will go through the domestic grad school process, and come back here. If I want to work here, it's easier to earn a PhD here, not overseas. I could be compelled to stay, but I don't know how funding works. It's so far in the future, I haven't totally thought about it. I would like Yale; I relate to their department. I like the faculty they have, their manner of teaching grad students and the quality of research they conduct. I could stay in London. One of OU's previous winners fell in love with someone and got her PhD there. I tease my mom about the possibility of that. ... She's having problems (with) me being gone for two years. My sister is a junior in high school, and I keep making the sell for her to come here to OU. She says, "I'm turning into you," but she likes a bigger city.

When do you leave?

I leave Sept. 14. All the scholars fly out to D.C. We have a couple of days together, then we will all fly out together. All the winners are going to different universities in the U.K. They are not all located at one school. ... I'm excited to meet other people. I've been reading the profiles of other scholars. It will be a great experience. We are going to try to have Thanksgiving while everyone is there. We are a common group right off the bat.

Interview by Jenaye Antonuccio, BA '95. Photo by Matt Eich, BA '08.

Posted 05-16-08


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