This week, we're spotlighting Jimmy, one of our wonderful test preparation and admissions coaches!
Jimmy Biblarz is a doctoral student in Sociology & Social Policy at Harvard University. Originally from Los Angeles, Jimmy is a 2014 magna cum laude graduate of Harvard College (Social Studies and English) and the resident LGBTQ tutor in Eliot House. His research is funded by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and the Inequality and Wealth Concentration Scholarship. Jimmy is interested in links between equity-focused public policies, features of neighborhoods and schools, and children’s chances of upward intergenerational mobility. His current project traces the rise and fall of racial integration as the ideological focus of social policy, and the subsequent emergence of competing ideologies. More generally, he is interested in stratification and inequality including discrimination processes, urban poverty, race, immigration, social networks, and continuity and change in values and attitudes.
Let's get started with the basics, Ashwin. Where are you from?
I grew up in sunny Los Angeles, and still sometimes wonder how I’ve managed to stay on the east coast for seven years! I went to a humanities magnet high school where I got interested in inequality and education policy. The school drew students from all over the city, so I was exposed to the types of inequalities that exist in our education system. Those were were formative in helping launch my current interests. I grew up in West LA and West Adams (just a couple miles from the beach), but now my parents are resident faculty at USC, so we live in a house on campus. I’m a resident tutor at Harvard, so we joke in the family that I just shuffle from dorm to dorm.
What did you decide to study, and why?
As a long-time Court TV junkie, I had long wanted to go to law school, either working in criminal defense or civil rights litigation. My coursework in college, in Social Studies, really cemented my interests in constitutional law and social theory. My senior year, I took a phenomenal class called “Culture and Social Structure in the Study of Race and Urban Poverty,” with Professor William Julius Wilson. This class exposed me to the depths of stratification in the United States, and the various theories that explain how it developed, why it persists, and its consequences. This class made me feel like I had a lot more to learn about the world, and coupled with how much I loved writing my senior thesis (I wrote about school resegregation in Jefferson County, KY), I decided to pursue a PhD as well.
What are you up to now? How did you decide to pursue this?
Right now, I am in the second year of my PhD program. I’m working on two main projects. The first is a qualitative text analysis project that analyzes how the courts have defined equal opportunity from 1890-now, looking at changes in what the state must do to guarantee equal opportunity for all, and how that has changed over time. The second is an interpretive project looking at how legal and social scientific conceptions and measures of segregation differ.
What do you imagine your life will look like in 5-10 years?
I hope to be a professor, likely at a law school, who also does public policy/criminal defense work on the side, either through clinical work or as pro bono work. I also hope to get back to California!
What’s a lesson you’ve learned from teaching?
From teaching, I’ve learned just how many learning styles there are out there, and how important it is to tailor lessons to specific learning styles. For instance, visual learners appreciate being able to draw things out, and work out problems, even on things like the LSAT, with diagrams and mental maps. Some learn best aurally, and improve their writing most when they read their essays out loud to themselves and others. Some struggle seriously with motivation, and I work hard to find particular concepts or themes that they can connect with, even if they are seeking tutoring out because they despise a subject. I find it important to learn about what works for each student (in terms of lesson planning, communication styles, priorities), and to never assume two students will react well to the same things, even if you are tutoring them in the same subject.
Given the choice of anyone in the world, living or dead, which 3 people would you invite to your dinner party? What do you imagine you'd talk about?
Thurgood Marshall, the Supreme Court Justice who also litigated the Brown v. Board decision; Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization that promotes criminal justice reform; and Gina Raimondo, the Governor of Rhode Island who has a PhD in sociology.
I am very concerned with social justice and realizing social progress. I am also focused on conducting rigorous academic research. I’d hope to talk with these three about the best strategies for making change. How much can the political system accomplish, versus working outside the system? What role can and should academic research play in public policy? What strategies are there to change hearts and minds about charged issues like inequality, opportunity, and justice? Each of these three people brings a different perspective - one from the legal world, one who has spent his career outside the system as a social reformer, and one in elected office.
Describe your perfect weekend morning.
I'm a morning person, so I'd probably wake up around 8 and ready for a couple of hours. I really like long form journalism, so I'd probably read a couple of articles on Longreads.org. I'm a sucker for the New York Times Sunday Routine blog as well. I'd go to the gym around 10:30 - I'm trying to learn more about weight lifting, which has been really rewarding the last six months. I'd then go to breakfast with a couple of good friends and probably order something on a biscuit (my senior thesis really cemented my southern culinary sensibilities). Ideally, if I don't have a lot of work to do, I'd go see a new movie with some friends or family, and talk about it over a walk afterward. Maybe a late afternoon swim would be included too!
What are 3 non-generic things that you’re grateful for?
1. HBO Go's Archive; 2. Being funded to read, write, and think during graduate school; 3. Being surrounded by people who care about learning and believe that the liberal arts are valuable; 4. Carnitas
What’s the best gift you’ve ever received or given?
When a dear friend finished her PhD, we took her on a day of activities. We started at a great brunch spot, followed by a tour of restaurants where we had called ahead and ordered all of her favorite food and drinks. We picked up various friends along the way. The day culminated in a big party in my apartment, where a friend from Australia surprised her. She studies Ethiopian history, so we had a cake shaped like Africa with her name in Amharic (the Ethiopian language) written on it. It was so wonderful to plan this day with our core group of friends to help someone feel celebrated and loved in the wake of a major accomplishment.
What does your daily information consumption diet look like?
I start with the New York Times and usually read all of the articles on the homepage (or at least skim). I also love the Washington Post 202 and the Politico Huddle, and usually read those in full. That's about it for my news consumption, other than what I read on Longreads.org. I usually spend an hour before bed reading interesting long-form articles on that site. One thing I love about the article curators is that they select on variety. I've read articles ranging from the Syrian refugee crisis to the world's largest pumpkin growing competition.
What would you consider an amazing feat from your field (or any field)?
Matt Desmond recently published a book called Evicted, for which he was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant and a Pulitzer Prize. I was lucky enough to have him as a professor for contemporary social theory. Matt's work does what great qualitative research does - it identified a phenomenon few knew was happening, proved its existence in a systematic way, and brought to light new theories about the causes and consequences of a major social phenomena (her, eviction of low-income Americans). I think his book is deeply inspirational, for it is both academically rigorous and helpful for social policy-making.
Are you interested in working with Jimmy on the LSAT, GRE, SAT, or ACT? He's a Cambridge standardized test preparation tutor and admissions coach, but is also available online!
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