John Chrobak is a Research Program Assistant for the Illiberalism Studies Program. He has an M.A. in International Affairs from the Elliott School of International Affairs with a specialization in U.S. Foreign Policy and Eurasian Politics. His work has focused particularly on regional politics and security in Eurasia as well as the use of social media to manipulate and spread information for political influence. More recently, his work has focused on democracy resilience. He has previously worked at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) and at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab (DFRLab). He holds a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy from McGill University.
What is your current position? What have you learned since you began?
I am currently a Research Program Assistant at the Illiberalism Studies Program. It is a relatively new initiative at the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies (IERES) that focuses on illiberal politics. We study challenges to and backlash against liberal democracy particularly from far-right movements and populist movements. I have more of a personal interest in Eurasia (particularly Russia and Central and Eastern Europe), but the program covers a variety of regions. This particular work is a bit of a pivot for me since I was initially much more interested in security issues, but I’ve come to really enjoy working on what is often highly-focused comparative politics, parliamentary politics, or just the study of niche groups. This has come with its own learning curve, but I love it.
What professional resources would you recommend for students interested in your field, and why?
I would be remiss if I did not take the opportunity to plug the Illiberalism Studies Program website. In addition to releasing a monthly newsletter with a selection of novel literature from the field, we also have a plethora of resources on our website including a list of other initiatives that do similar work. To highlight just a few in particular, I would point to Fatigue and Poprebel – Populism in Central and Eastern Europe (two research projects looking at the rise of populism in Central and Eastern Europe), DEMOS (a research project studying populism and its impact on democracy), VOX-Pol (a research network studying violent online extremism), The Cluster of Excellence “Contestations of the Liberal Script (SCRIPTS)” (a research consortium looking at the challenge to the liberal model), and the Populism in Action Project (despite the fact the project ended in April of this year, it is still worth looking at the valuable outputs from the project!). I would also suggest following Kai Arzheimer’s blog and giving his Radical Right Research Robot account a follow on Twitter.
What was the most valuable thing you learned during your time at the Elliott School?
While at the Elliott School and interning in DC, I learned to quickly adjust my writing style for an audience with a strong preference for brevity. Through writing multiple policy memos and taking the Formal Briefing professional skills course, I was really forced to adjust and learn how to deliver information in a clear and concise way. I’m still not particularly good at it, but it’s a work in progress.
What part of your career do you find most challenging and how do you stay motivated?
I find it really challenging at times to be proactive in staying up to date on new literature in the field. While I absolutely love learning new things and am quite privileged to be able to work in an environment with that kind of access to new publications, sometimes, after reading and dealing with a myriad of papers and articles all day, it is really tempting to shut off one’s mind and remain passive of new developments. Getting breaks from work is really important and essential to being able to stay productive long-term, but I really want to make a better effort of staying current. I find discussions, often casual, with colleagues a good motivator in this endeavor. I work with a lot of really smart people and I find myself often pushing myself to follow up later on threads that come up in our conversations and dig deeper, or seeking to emulate their level of knowledge in their respective fields in my own domain.
What is your favorite memory from your time at the Elliott School?
My favorite memory would probably come from some of the many events hosted by the Elliott School. The recent Silk Road Festival or the annual PONARS Eurasia policy conferences are good examples of that, but I’d probably have to pick the 2019 Central Asian Studies Society (CESS) Conference. I was a volunteer for it and it was really exhilarating to see the Elliott School so alive with activity! A few talks stuck with me including one by Dilmurat Mahmut on Uyghur immigrant identity in Quebec. On the last day of the conference, some of us went for drinks after in the convertible of one of the volunteers and drove around the mall. Seeing the monuments lit up at night in the open air after an exhausting four days was a really fun experience.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you want to travel and why?
There are two trips I would take. The first would be to travel from coast to coast across Canada. I grew up in Montreal but never traveled much outside of the St. Lawrence corridor. It would be fun to go from Vancouver to the Maritimes with a quick visit to France on the islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon. Canada is absolutely gorgeous and I wish I could see more of it. A second trip would be to see Central Asia: Nur-Sultan, Almaty, Bishkek, Osh, Issyk Kul, Tashkent, Samarkand, and the Aral Sea among other destinations. Having worked closely with people from the region or who have visited it themselves, I’ve been really enamored at the idea of visiting one day. This second trip (or a version of it) might actually happen.
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The #ElliottProud profile series is managed by the Elliott School Office of Graduate Admissions and highlights graduate program alumni to answer common questions posed by prospective, incoming, and current students. For more information on this series or to submit questions, e-mail the Office of Graduate Admissions at email@example.com.
The views expressed by students profiled do not necessarily represent those of organizations they work for, are affiliated with, or the Elliott School of International Affairs.