Becoming a professor takes a lot of work and requires a long haul. Aside from all the schooling and degrees one must collect, the job market for professors is all too tight. Colleges and universities—and especially elite universities—have many talented applicants from which to choose when they hire new professors. So it is extremely impressive that Alan Zarychta, a 2016 graduate of the CU Political Science Ph.D. program, secured a job at the University of Chicago. University of Chicago is one of the top universities in the world, and it holds the added bonus of being near his hometown! Today, Zarychta is an Assistant Professor in Chicago’s Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice, and he conducts important research on public health in Central America. His biography illustrates how hard he has worked to receive such a prestigious position.
Zarychta grew up just outside of Chicago, a child of Polish immigrants who worked blue-collar jobs and encouraged him from a young age to go to college. He obliged, eventually attending and graduating from Northwestern University nearby, itself one of the world’s top institutions of higher learning. After graduating with bachelor’s degrees in social policy and in economics, Zarychta worked in Honduras for an organization that promoted public health. He enjoyed this work and found it to be meaningful, but he knew his ultimate goal was to become a college professor. In fact, while in Honduras Zarychta started thinking and acting like an enterprising graduate student by collecting data to analyze the impact of new laws on the quality of public health around the country.
While working in Honduras, Zarychta applied to CU, and CU was wise enough to accept him and offer him a highly selective fellowship. He enrolled and worked closely with CU Professor Krister Andersson, a leading expert on decentralization and environmental policy in the Global South. Along with Andersson, Zarychta won a large grant while at CU from the National Science Foundation to collect even more data about public health outcomes in Honduras. The result was an award-winning dissertation, entitled It Takes More than a Village: Governance and Public Services in Developing Countries. In his dissertation, Zarychta argued that localized political authority, which gives municipalities, health clinics, and NGOs greater influence over service delivery, tends to produce better health care than more centralized political authority. His work clearly has important implications for how governments in developing countries should adjust their health care systems to improve critical outcomes such as life expectancy and infant survival. This dissertation was so important and well-written that Zarychta won the 2017 Leonard D. White Award for Best Dissertation in the Field of Public Administration from the American Political Science Association.
Zarychta subsequently landed his prestigious position close to home. The Crown Family School was expanding its profile into global social welfare, adding to its historical strength in social issues in US cities. Zarychta’s profile was a perfect fit: “Had I written a job listing for myself, it would have been pretty close to the one written by the Crown Family School.” With good timing, a solid foundation of training, experience, and hard work, plus a bit of luck, Zarychta found himself returning to his home state of Illinois for a position with this historic school.
Zarychta has been plugging away at publishing the important findings from his dissertation as well as important findings he’s collected since graduation. Since arriving at Chicago, he has published twelve papers in scientific journals, which is extremely impressive given the amount of legwork and background effort that each paper requires. “The timeframe of these papers can be quite long,” says Zarychta. “Applying for grants, developing partnerships with governments outside of the US, designing data collection procedures, then collecting the data and analyzing it, then writing and re-writing. But this type of careful and reflective work suits my personality well.”
While Zarychta sees it as a blessing to be close to home in Chicago, there are things he misses about Boulder. When asked what he misses, he exclaimed, “Well, nearly everything! I was really fond of Colorado as a place. The American West, the Rockies, Denver, Boulder, all of it!” Fortunately, all of these attractions did not distract Zarychta from taking full advantage of CU’s political science Ph.D. program and from moving on to the start of a highly successful academic career.