Two University seniors, Jonah Herzog-Arbeitman ’19 and Myrial Holbrook ’19, as well as Ararat Gocmen, a 2017 Princeton alumnus, have been named 2019 Marshall Scholars.
The Marshall Scholarship pays for recipients to study for two years at the U.K. institution(s) of their choice.
Herzog-Arbeitman is concentrating in physics with certificates in applied and computational mathematics and creative writing. He will work toward a Master of Science in theoretical and mathematical physics at the University of Oxford and then move to the University of Nottingham to pursue a Master of Philosophy after his first year. On campus, Herzog-Arbeitman also participates in Quipfire, the University’s oldest improv comedy group.
Q&A with Jonah Herzog-Arbeitman ’19
The Daily Princetonian: What were some highlights of the application process for you?
Jonah Herzog-Arbeitman: I initially had not planned to apply for the Rhodes or the Marshall [fellowships]. I had gone in anticipating to apply to more science focused scholarships but [I] was convinced by [Director of Fellowship Advising] Dr. [Deirdre] Moloney that my poetry interests and improv interests would make me interesting for the more general fellowships. It was cool to see that people actually cared about these things. Now I’ve been thinking a lot about how to keep them going at Oxford and after my education.
DP: What were the best moments of the process?
JH-A: Highlights in the application process probably center around asking my advisors for letters of recommendation, in particular because I’d ask a lot of them, and I was always sort of tickled by how willing they were to do it. I had a great team behind me, both the professors and Office of Fellowships.
DP: Were there any difficult moments in the process?
JH-A: It’s like anything where you start from scratch. My first essay drafts were unfocused and not that good. My initial feedback confirmed my thoughts on that, and then I had to get my editing hat back on. They got much better. I think the line through this whole process is that the whole thing took a decent amount of work, and I got a lot of help, and I’m really glad that it all paid off.
DP: How did you incorporate improv into your interviews?
JH-A: I got a lot of feedback throughout the process that stage presence would help in the interviews, especially to calm your nerves. These [interviews] are 20 minute slots that matter a lot. And to be able to get up there and stay calm and roll with the punches, improvise as they say, would be very important.
Then, more intellectually, we thought about what core tenets of improv would be helpful in the interview process, because it’s not a stage, you can’t make things up. But there’s certainly tools in improv that let you pivot from questions that would not fit as well into the candidate’s story into ones that do better [fit with the story], moments to create laughter after maybe botched questions, to always salvage and make those spontaneous connections that improv of course thrives on. I’ve been working with Brian Herrera this semester, a professor at the Lewis Center, and we thought about this from a performance viewpoint and from a performance studies viewpoint.
DP: Can you tell me a little bit about why you’re interested in physics and poetry and what connection you see between them?
JH-A: I was interested in physics first and have been since I was five years old. I remember looking at a Wikipedia article about general relativity and just loving the math, loving the way the symbols look and thinking, I really want to understand this, and now it turns out you can. I’ve been doing physics fairly intensely for a long time at Princeton — not much before actually — and I just found it increasingly rewarding and beautiful.
It boils down to the fact that we can ask really simple questions and get out very detailed and fantastical answers, and I think poetry does something similar there but focused less on atoms and the universe and much more on how we feel and how we feel about each other. At least [with] the poetry that I tend to write, you can ask these very naive, almost desperate questions and come up with answers that sometimes surprise yourself. I think that’s what drew me to poetry after doing a lot of physics: You actually can learn more about the person doing the discipline than the discipline itself.
DP: What are you excited about?
JH-A: I’m most excited about my advisors. I thought long and hard about whether to apply to fellowships abroad instead of going to grad school and was swayed more by the people I could work with than anything else. I’m really excited about John March-Russell, a dark matter phenomenologist at Oxford University. His work is a natural and direct continuation of some of my earlier published work.
And then I’ll be working with Ed Copeland, who’s a cosmologist at Nottingham who I first heard of on the Numberphile Youtube video series in high school. I thought he seemed like a wonderful guy, and now I’m going to work with him for a year on some sort of dark matter theory.
Gocmen, a history major, also earned a certificate in European cultural studies. Since graduating, he has been working as an portfolio analyst at BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager. Gocmen plans to first earn an M.Sc. in economics at University College London (UCL), then pursue a master’s in history of political thought and intellectual history, jointly administered by UCL and Queen Mary University of London.
Q&A with Ararat Gocmen ’17
The Daily Princetonian: What did you study while you were at Princeton, and what have you been doing since you graduated?
Ararat Gocmen: I studied history as my formal undergraduate degree. I got a minor in European cultural studies, while also doing a heavy amount of studying economics and languages. But my focus was history — European history, specifically in the 20th century. Since then, I’ve been working at BlackRock in the portfolio analytics group, where we provide analytical support for various kinds of BlackRock clients.
DP: What motivated you to take the courses of study that you did, and what motivated you to apply for a Marshall Scholarship to further your education?
AG: I have always been motivated by a desire to contribute to discussions around politics, economics, and history that are happening among students, politicians, policymakers, and the general public. That was the way I approached my studies at Princeton. Whatever I studied, the idea was to learn things that impact society directly, in terms of ideas that are up in public discourse, and then contribute to that discourse. That was also my goal for the Marshall Scholarship — not having an economics degree and being able to pursue one as a graduate student will give me the skills and the voice I need to contribute to discussions around economics, not just the history of it. I will also be getting a degree in the history of political thought and intellectual history, part of which is learning about the history of ideas and ideology, and having specialized training in that area before pursuing a Ph.D. with a broad focus in 20th century political and economic history will be valuable to me in my goal of trying to contribute to and change the discourse in ways that will positively impact society.
DP: What are some highlights and best moments that you care to share from your Princeton experience?
AG: I would definitely say the highlights of my Princeton experience were the people I met, mostly through whatever kinds of organizations I was affiliated with or helped start up — Model UN, the Federal Reserve Challenge Team, the Princeton Armenian Society, or the Princeton Progressive magazine. I joined these organizations actively with, again, the long-term mentality of contributing to discourse in various forms, but also to meet people and make friends and build long-term relationships that I still maintain today. Outside of my studies, the best parts of Princeton were always the people.
DP: And what are some regrets you have from your Princeton experience — things you wish you could have done, or done more of, or not done?
AG: I don’t have regrets. I hope I don’t sound condescending, but I don’t. I’m glad I approached Princeton the way I did — I had some overkill moments with two really intense semesters and two not-so-intense semesters, but I’m glad I did it that way instead of a more “balanced” approach. You might say I had some high volatility experiences, but I’m happy with how it turned out.
DP: The press release had a quote from your personal statement that mentioned the importance of your Armenian-American identity. Could you expand on that a little?
AG: Well, I grew up in northern New Jersey, where there is a big Armenian-American community. People were from Turkey, Istanbul, Beirut, Aleppo, and such. Growing up there immersed me in the peculiarities of the Armenian experience. We have a history of a genocide that is still deep in our memories today; we know our family histories going back four or five generations because we have to, in order to explain things like how I ended up in Cliffside Park, N.J., or in Bergen County more generally. I had to understand a very unique history of family moves that are tied to a deeper history of the Armenian people.
I think that experience is definitely a part of what makes me so interested in history: being of and from a culture of people who have a very deep history and have to tell their family histories very precisely in order to understand where they’re from — a contested history where a non-marginal part of the world claims that your people’s identifying historical moment was not even a genocide — and having to engage with people in debate about the past, instead of engaging with the past as a series of facts. All of that gave me a historiographical understanding of the way the world works. You can’t avoid seeing history as a contested battleground, as a past that affects the present and your thoughts about the future, starting from a very young age. And I think that’s a major part of how I ended up wanting to become a history major — wanting to change and contribute to the discourse — because I saw as an Armenian how the discourse can be affected by competing visions and stories about what history was.
DP: And how would you say being Armenian-American impacted your time at Princeton?
AG: I went to an Armenian day school growing up, so I only knew Armenian-Americans in my life until I was fourteen years old. I experienced culture shock in high school, which was like, Oh wow, there’s an American life that I wasn’t familiar with before, because it was a very diverse high school, but everyone there still had at least one grandparent whose mother tongue was not English. I don’t think I met anyone in childhood whose grandparents all had English as a first language. And that, in turn, was another major shock when I came to Princeton: having to realize that there was an entire world of what you might call “true Americans,” or Americans whose identities are not deeply tied to another country or part of the world. Adjusting to that was definitely tough. It wasn’t necessarily not having an Armenian-American community — in fact, senior year, I formed an Armenian-American society after I met some other Armenian Americans — but generally being in a space inhabited by people whose families have been here for many generations, many of whom have even sent people to Princeton for many generations. That was a severe culture shock, because I was not familiar with that world at all. My background did not prepare me for the kind of diversity that I experienced at Princeton.
Holbrook, a comparative literature major, plans to pursue an M.Phil. in education at the University of Cambridge in her first year. She will then pursue an M.Litt. at the University of St. Andrews. On campus, Holbrook participates in Innovation science magazine and is a Writing Center fellow.
Q&A with Myrial Holbrook ’19
The Daily Princetonian: How did you first hear about the Marshall Scholarship, and what convinced you to apply?
Myrial Holbrook: I’ve always loved English literature, so I always thought I’d want to study in the U.K. That became clearer even more when I studied abroad with the English department in London my junior year. The museum culture really attracted me, not just the educational system — and obviously, for a comparative literature major, the literary landmarks are incredible.
The fellowships office was really instrumental in getting me to apply. I knew I wanted to study abroad, and they encouraged me to cast a wide net. I applied to a bunch of different scholarships: Gates, Rhodes, Ertegun. I even considered applying for a Fulbright Scholarship in Spain — I specialize in Spanish and English literature, and I really enjoyed spending a summer abroad there after my junior year.
I procrastinated a lot over the summer while I supposed to be drafting my applications. I was in Vienna with a global seminar, and then I went to London for thesis research. I was very much trying to balance those, and truth be told, it was very hard to put pen to paper. But for the Marshall, I felt the most at-home. It’s really centered around the U.K.-U.S. relationship, and I felt that ultimately I had a lot to say about that. I really liked the ability to interchange between the universities, the museums, and the cities, and the flexibility of being able to choose your own route. You can pick and choose different programs, and I decided to choose Cambridge for my first year and St. Andrews for the second.
DP: You mentioned that you had some initial difficulty choosing between the different scholarships. What were some of the other challenges?
MH: I think the hardest part was that I had all these swirling interests, which made it difficult to narrow it down my major in a focused way. In addition to English and Spanish, I speak Chinese and a little bit of German, and I’ve ventured into anthropology and creative writing.
The answer to my indecisiveness was Comparative Literature. You have a lot of flexibility to make your own course of study, and there’s so many different subfields.
Also, it was tough reaching out to potential advisors out of nowhere, but they were all super nice and approachable.
DP: What do you plan to do when you arrive in the U.K. next year?
MH: At Cambridge, there’s a program called, “Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature.” I’ve taken a kiddy-lit class, and I’ve dabbled in children’s lit in my independent work, and I thought it would be really fun to take a more targeted program for my first year before I start to think about a potential Ph.D.
The next year, I’m going to try to get a degree in creative writing. There’s a professor there who I’ve read a lot, and I’m going to work with her as my advisor. I like that I’ll be able to produce a deliverable project not only in an academic setting, but in a creative mode too.
I’m really excited about it, especially because some of the leading scholars in children’s literature are at these two universities. I didn’t realize it at the time, but we read one of my interviewer’s books in my class. Hopefully I’ll be working with her.
DP: Are you worried about anything in particular?
MH: I guess it’s a different learning environment. I only have one year in each place, unlike here, where I had four years to pick and choose among classes. There’s a lot that I want to do and explore within the university and outside of it, so one of my concerns is fitting it all in.
Also, it’s a quick turnaround from my thesis. I’m looking at the Spanish “picaresque” novel, which was a 16th-century genre that was the first orphan literature in all of fiction, and how it inspired Mark Twain. I want to do something different.
But at the same time, I’m still really excited. I’ve never been to Scotland before, so I’ve been watching a lot of Rick Steves videos so I can figure out all of the cool places I should visit.
DP: Is there anything else you want to add?
MH: I’m just really thrilled and excited, and honestly, it hasn’t really sunk in yet. You see all the former applicants and you’re super intimidated when you’re in the middle of applying, but I’m really happy that it worked out.