November 9, 2021

MentorTalks: Finding Your Niche & Scholarship Success

“Education was my only ladder out,” said Monica Marks, a first-generation college graduate and exchange alumna of the Fulbright, Critical Language Scholarship (CLS), Boren Fellowship, and Rhodes Scholarship. “I also had a strong desire to travel, but no money to travel with.” 

Monica, who now teaches Middle Eastern politics at New York University (NYU) Abu Dhabi, joined MentorTalks on Wednesday, November 17 to discuss how she successfully applied for all four scholarships, her journey from rural Appalachia to the Middle East, Europe, and Africa, and the lessons she’s learned along the way. 

Monica’s interest in the world can be traced back to her childhood, when she would get lost in books, and her father teaching her how to adapt to new situations and be open-minded. 

Her first exchange experience, the Boren Scholarship in Tanzania, was perhaps the most transformative. “Most of my learning was not done in the classroom,” she said. Instead, her situational learning was just as important – learning how to be uncomfortable in a new place was a lesson that she would carry with her in her time in Turkey, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, and beyond.

In this episode, Monica also shares advice on finding one’s niche. For those seeking meaning in a career, she recommends aligning what you’re good at, what you’re passionate about, and what makes you angry. This “golden triangle,” as she calls it, can help you discover where your skill set lies and how to build an effective narrative around it. 

This narrative can then help you to lean into yourself, and she advises those who are applying for a scholarship to do just this. Equally important as a resume or CV, she believes, are the stories and experiences that make us who we are. Stories like taking a bus across Turkey and back or traveling across Syria alone -- or finding ways to immerse yourself virtually in a culture, if travel is not an option -- are experiences that bring you to life as a three-dimensional person. 

Learn more tips from Monica and how exchanges can open doors in this episode of MentorTalks on Facebook.

Dr. Monica Marks – Biography

Monica Marks is a scholar of Islamist movements, gender, and politics in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), Her research focuses on broad topics across the region and beyond, but especially in regards to the tensions between pluralism and state power in the two countries where she's lived longest: Tunisia and Turkey. Prior to joining NYU Abu Dhabi, Dr. Marks was a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard University's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. She completed her PhD, an ethnographic study of post-2011 Tunisian politics based on over 1,200 in-country interviews, in 2018 at St Antony's College, Oxford.

A first-generation college student from rural Kentucky, Dr. Marks has studied in Tanzania, Tunisia, and Jordan; and, in Turkey as a Fulbright Scholar, before completing her Masters and PhD at Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar. During her graduate studies, Dr. Marks was based primarily in Tunisia (2011-2016) and Turkey (2016-2018), where she published academic work and more public-facing analysis for leading North American and European think tanks, along with publications like Foreign Policy, The Guardian, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, for which she also freelanced briefly as a journalist. 

Dr. Marks is passionate about mentoring students, facilitating creative fieldwork in and beyond the MENA region, and bringing academic research into greater conversation with journalism, policy-related analysis, and public-facing conversation.

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