Getting to Know Me: A Brief Bio

The weatherman last night called for three to six inches of snow, a minor inconvenience. I was surprised when I got up this morning to find my car buried under a foot of snow, which is unusual for this coastal city. Thankfully I had nowhere I had to be today, so I promptly turned around, walked back inside, and put the tea on. Since I’m not doing any work today, I thought I might take this opportunity to introduce myself to many of you. I always wonder about the bloggers whose posts I read almost religiously. What do they do? What are their hobbies? Kids? Careers? Etc. So just in case one of you wants to know a little more about me, here goes.

After high school I joined the US Navy as a Cryptologic Technician (Administrative), which meant I mostly focused on security clearances and physically safeguarding classified information. My Navy career is rather unremarkable. I worked my way up from E-1 to E-4, passing the E-5 exam days before my separation date, but never getting frocked. My End of Service award was a Flag Letter of Commendation. I only had five medals, having never been deployed due to my job, my highest award being a Good Conduct Award. I “jumped ship,” so to speak, after then-Senator Jim Webb started talking about designing a new GI Bill.

Immediately after the Navy I went to work for PETA in the literature department, handling about 30-50,000 literature requests a week. But the job lacked any challenge, and I was beginning to regret not immediately going back to school. Thankfully, I got fired for using PETA computers for personal gain during my lunch breaks, so I was left with few options.

I enrolled into a political science undergraduate program, using the Montgomery GI Bill. During this time I also worked in a delicatessen to pay my tuition. Halfway through the program the Post-9/11 GI Bill came out, and I abandoned the old bill for the one that would allow me to focus solely on schoolwork. I graduated cum laude and immediately went into a graduate program in international politics.

During my MA program I traveled extensively, living for a while in Lebanon during the beginning of the Arab Spring in neighboring Syria. I conducted research at the American University of Beirut but quickly abandoned that research because it seemed the whole Arab World was on fire, and I wanted to understand the changes that were rapidly occurring. At the heart of the fires sat human beings who had willfully set themselves ablaze as an accusation against the state.

I came back to the US to finish my thesis, which I titled “Human Torches: The Genesis of Self-Immolation in the Sociopolitical Context.” I made a 20 minute video detailing my findings, if you’re interested. Shortly after finishing and defending my thesis I was awarded my degree, but not before a stern warning from my thesis advisor. “You’re not meant for a nine-to-five,” she said. “You belong in research.”

So I thought about it for six months, during which time I mainly volunteered and delivered pizzas for a living. There was no reason to rush into a career I might have to leave in six months if I decided to pursue my PhD. At the end of the six months, and about a week before the application deadline, I contacted my advisor, who happened to run the program, and she was happy to have me back.

That brings us up to the present. Depending on who you ask, I’m two years into my work, hopefully a year left of being a student and becoming a candidate. I’m about to begin some really cool research funded by NATO and the US military in (possibly) the only Modeling and Simulations research center in the US that can handle the amount of data necessary to make accurate predictions about wars. I look forward to seeing what kinds of algorithms we’re going to be using. I’d imagine they’ll look strange.

After I get my degree? I hope to go back to Beirut. I fell in love with the city. And the music.

About Rayan Zehn

I'm a political and social activist.
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