headshot of Kelly Zvobgo

Major: International Relations (IR) and French
Profession: Founder of the International Justice Lab at the College of William and Mary
Hometown: Claremont, California

What are you doing now?

I am a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in political science and international relations at the University of Southern California. I am also a pre-doctoral fellow at William & Mary (W&M), where I will be joining the Government Department as an assistant professor in fall 2021. I recently founded the International Justice Lab at W&M – a research hub for students and faculty from across the US working on human rights, transitional justice and international law and courts.

How did you get there?

My international relations thesis! I know it sounds super cheesy, but I wasn’t at all planning on a career in academia. My plan was to train in and, later practice, international criminal law. But I developed an interest in transitional justice – a broad set of tools states can implement to reckon with historical political violence – while studying abroad at Sciences Po (L’Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris) and later wrote my senior thesis on one of those tools, truth commissions. Truth commissions remain at the core of my current research and an article-length version of my thesis was recently published in the Journal of Human Rights.

How did Pomona prepare you?

Pomona prepared me in so many ways for my job now. First, my professors always made me feel like my voice and my ideas mattered, and that I had something unique to contribute. That gave me the confidence to become a scholar in my own right. Second, my advisors, in both IR and French, made invaluable investments in my professional development and success – helping me work through my research ideas, recommending me for different study and research opportunities abroad, nominating me for awards, writing letters to support my Ph.D. program applications, networking me into the profession – the list goes on. Critically, they taught me that research and teaching go hand in hand, and that professors can really influence someone’s trajectory. I look forward to doing the same for my students. Third, my Pomona family taught me, time and again, that everything falls into place when you put people first. That’s been grounding and centering for me.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

2024, huh? Well, I hope to be close to publishing my first book, based on my dissertation. Fingers crossed! I also expect to be teaching courses on human rights, NGOs and transnational politics, and global governance, and continuing to run the International Justice Lab.

Any advice for prospective or current students?

  • Study a foreign language while in college and study abroad, ideally for a year. Intercultural understanding and engagement are so important in our world today. And, think about all of the wonderful people you will meet, monuments you will see, and food you will eat!
  • Be flexible! I had everything planned out and still everything changed at the eleventh hour. And I am so glad it did!
  • Know yourself and your values and don’t compromise on them. Be you, boldly and unapologetically.