Profile with Elizabeth Pearson

Elizabeth Pearson (Iowa & Somerville 2005) is pursuing a PhD in Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. Previously, she worked as a research associate on tax and budget issues at the Iowa Policy Project. She holds an MPhil in Development Studies from Oxford University and a BA in Political Philosophy from Whitman College.

Rhodes Project: Where did you grow up?

Elizabeth Pearson: I grew up in Iowa, in a town called Indianola. I was there until I left for college.

Rhodes Project: What was the last book you read for pleasure?

Elizabeth Pearson: I just finished reading two books by Justin Cronin called The Passage and The Twelve. They are post-apocalyptic vampire books that are 500 pages each. It’s definitely escapist, but the author went to the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, so I still have the excuse that it counts as good literature.

Rhodes Project: What was the first the first job you ever held?

Elizabeth Pearson: I worked at a local restaurant in town. I made ice cream sundaes and wiped down the tables. It was only for about a year. I was probably more stressed out than I should have been at a first job - I was always thinking that I would get the pizza orders wrong! After that I switched to running the concession stand for local softball games. That was more my speed. I could eat popcorn and read books while I was on the job.

Rhodes Project: If you weren’t at your current job, what would you be doing instead and why?

Elizabeth Pearson: I would still be in Iowa. I was doing policy research for a tax and budget organization before I came back to school. I just absolutely loved that job. It’s actually what motivated me to come back to grad school and get a PhD so that I could keep doing fiscal policy work. I think that if I had stayed in Iowa, I would have stuck to doing something related to state legislative policymaking.

Rhodes Project: What is the best part about being a student?

Elizabeth Pearson: The best part is definitely the intellectual freedom, which includes daily time to sit and think about whatever you want to think about. This is a freedom that is missed — and mourned — by all my friends with regular day jobs. Being able to pick up whatever book you think of at the moment or follow an idea down a path wherever it takes you is definitely both the scary part and the exciting part about graduate school. You wake up every day and that day is yours to read what you want and write about what you want. In the end, you have to come up with a product that will be interesting to a broader audience, but the sky’s the limit as far as your intellectual path every day.

Rhodes Project: What are you looking forward to right now?

Elizabeth Pearson: I’ve been looking forward to where postgraduate life will take me. For the first time in my career and in my life I am going to have the credentials that I really wanted to go after, and I am going to get to take those and do whatever strikes my fancy. That will mean a new city and moving with my husband to some place where both of our careers will actually get started. My husband is also getting his PhD right now and we’re going to finish our degrees at the same time. It’s going to be this great moment of conscious transition where we get to take the next step.

Rhodes Project: What motivates you?

Elizabeth Pearson: I am motivated by intellectual curiosity, and also by people I encountered while working in Iowa who were organizing and in coalitions around a host of progressive issues. I’ve always wanted to be able to contribute to a broader social justice conversation, and to be someone who has useful skills and tools to bring to political fights that I care about. A lot of our conversations around what we want to do in our society and what we want to provide for each other are about the money and resources that we want to pool in order to undertake those projects. A lot of my motivation comes from thinking about where I might be able to move the needle a little bit on things where I actually have some capacities.

Rhodes Project: What do you like to do to relax?

Elizabeth Pearson: We’re lucky enough to live in Berkeley, California. The Bay Area is gorgeous. A lot of my weekends are spent with a glass of wine sitting in the backyard, watching the cats run around and maybe grilling since it always seems to be 60 degrees here. I have started gardening and doing all of these great things that you can do when you live in this climate.

Rhodes Project: What has surprised you recently?

Elizabeth Pearson: One of the things that has been surprising, or at least new since last September, is learning what it is like to be married and to share your life with someone.  It’s great to talk with friends and compare notes on what it’s like to be newly married. I’ve been surprised by how much is new and different after having made a commitment legally and formally.

Rhodes Project: If you could go back in time, what would you tell your sixteen-year-old self?

Elizabeth Pearson: I would say there are a lot of good surprises along the way, and that it’s okay to not have it all figured out at once. It is good to be told that good stuff is coming along no matter whether or not you can predict it. I never would have thought I’d be interested in working on tax and budget issues, or that I would have moved back to Iowa after getting away to college and grad school. So, I might tell my past self that at some point she’ll be living in Iowa again and that it will be great.

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