Interview with Robert Schertzer

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How did you get interested in Political Science?

My family has always been interested in and discussed politics to some extent – both of my parents were public servants before they retired. Some form of public service is the family business, I suppose. But, I became more interested in politics early in high school, when my class had a large final assignment that was a daylong simulation of a federal-provincial meeting. I remember that my role was to be a member of the press, covering the issues and reporting on the outcomes. But, I was so interested in the debates that I started to participate and argue for my own views (definitely abandoning any modicum of journalistic integrity!). Later in high school I had an amazing politics teacher – Mr. Cotter – who really sparked my interest in Canadian politics. I distinctly remember that a core part of his course was participating in a citywide simulation of a federal-provincial conference, which I found fascinating (I suppose these two simulations are why I still study federalism!). This experience pushed me toward applying to political science for my undergraduate studies – initially enroute to a law degree. But, during my undergraduate studies I began to realize that I was less interested in practicing law, and more interested in studying how the law affects politics and public policy.

What are you working on right now?

I have a few projects on the go right now. I have a SSHRC grant to map the different ways that national political institutions (like parliaments, executives, bureaucracies and courts) represent ethno-national minority groups. The goal is to look beyond the electoral system to understand the causes and consequences of the different ways minority groups are represented in political institutions. I also have a Connaught Grant that is supporting my next book project, which examines the politics of national identity and diversity in Canada and a number of other countries (building on one my courses on the same topic). Finally, I am always working on something related to Canadian politics and federalism, which right now is a set of articles that are trying to unpack why the federal and provincial governments opt to collaborate to achieve their policy goals.

What do you bring to the undergraduate class room?

I always try to be enthusiastic about what I am teaching. When I am teaching about national identity and diversity issues, it is usually pretty easy to get everyone engaged because there are so many hot-button issues that people are ready to discuss. But, Canadian politics sometimes gets a bad rap, as people think it is boring. Nothing could be farther from the truth, in my opinion. There are so many fascinating issues that come up every day in Canadian politics. I try to highlight this to my students, and to foster in them the same passion that I have for the topic. Beyond this enthusiasm, I also try to highlight the more applied, or public policy-relevant, side of my courses. I worked in the federal public service for a number of years, and drawing on this practical public policy experience is helpful in explaining how things sometimes transpire inside the black box of the bureaucracy or political circles.  

What is one helpful tip you’d like to share with your students to help them succeed at UTSC?

Work on your writing. Talk to your professors about how to write. Use the services at the writing centre. Have friends read your essays. Do everything you can to improve your ability to communicate your ideas in written form. This isn’t just to improve your grades (though it will have that added benefit!) – it is one of the most important skills you can develop during your studies. Most students that take a political science degree will enter some sort of profession (law, public service, the third sector, the private sector) where writing will be a key part of your job. Developing the ability to clearly, concisely and convincingly communicate your ideas will do wonders for your career!