Oleg Benesch

Oleg-Benesch-300x225[1]Oleg Benesch
Ph.D. 2011

1. Where are you currently working and what are you working on?

I’m now a lecturer [assistant professor] at the University of York in the UK, a position I took up in 2012 after a year as a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London. My main project since leaving UBC has been my recently completed book, Inventing the Way of the Samurai: Nationalism, Internationalism, and Bushido in Modern Japan, which is due out from Oxford University Press this September. I’m now dividing my research time between two very different projects, one on early modern Japanese history that takes me back to my roots at UBC, and one on modern China that is proving very new and exciting to me so far.

2. How was the move to a new city and how are you adjusting to a new life?

I had many chances to travel for conferences and research during my time at UBC, including an extended stay in Japan, so I’m used to being on the move. After leaving Vancouver, I spent a year on a postdoctoral fellowship in London, which was a great experience, but I find York to be more my speed. Being back in Europe means I am close to friends and relatives, so the transition has been very smooth. One drawback is being so far from friends and former colleagues in Vancouver, and I greatly appreciated the chance to visit UBC again for a conference last year. I was amazed by all the new developments on campus, and it was great to see so many friendly and familiar faces around the Asian Centre and Library.

3. What is the most exciting experience you had while studying in UBC Asian Studies?

I don’t know if I could identify any single experience, but rather a succession of exciting smaller exchanges and experiences in my everyday life at UBC. The frequent events at the Asian Centre, as well as countless formal and spontaneous discussions with staff members and other students were definitely the highlights of my time there, and there were also personal moments of excitement when discovering a new source or approach relevant to my own research. Even after leaving UBC, I’m still thrilled to hear about the activities of former colleagues and classmates, as well as the progress of former students who I taught as undergraduates.

4. Did your time at UBC prepare you for your current job?

The Department of Asian Studies did a magnificent job preparing us PhD students for our future careers. From the moment I arrived at UBC, Professor Ross King was always available to answer the many questions I had regarding both teaching and research. Professor Sharalyn Orbaugh put together some fantastic seminars and materials for career development, and very kindly read through various cover letters and application materials. Most of all, my supervisors, Professor Nam-lin Hur and Professor Peter Nosco, have been extremely generous with their advice and support both during and after the PhD, and gave me invaluable guidance regarding the academic job search. The opportunity to work as a Teaching Assistant for several years, as well as to teach two courses in my last term at UBC, provided very useful practical experience. All in all, UBC provided excellent training for my subsequent positions, and gave me strong support when entering a highly competitive job market.

5. Do you have any advice for students hoping to follow in your footsteps?

When I look back, I think one of the most valuable and unique things about UBC Asian Studies is the sense of community, and I would encourage anyone studying there to take full advantage of that by attending events in and around the department. These are a great way to meet faculty, staff, and students from areas beyond your own area of study. Many members of the UBC faculty are world leaders in their fields, and I was often surprised at the expertise we had so close by. Most of all, I would advise students to remember to have fun! Study and research often don’t go the way you plan or expect, and what I perceived as setbacks during my PhD were, in hindsight, actually beneficial experiences that led me to new opportunities I hadn’t considered. Being at UBC was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to engage fully in what interested me, and that is something I continue to appreciate.