Master Class: A University of Maryland Professor On The Problem With Playing Small
A short 8 miles from Washington, DC sits the University of Maryland (UMD), a leading research university and home to over 30,000 students. For the greater Washington area, the college town has been a boon– credited for high ranking sports achievements, academic honors, and helping revamp the city of College Park.
UMD takes pride in its many accomplishments across different fields, but at the heart of the university are its students and faculty. With alumni like Muppets creator Jim Henson, Seinfeld creator Larry David, Under Armor CEO Kevin Plank, television personality Giuliana Rancic, journalist Connie Chung, and actor Michael Ealy, it makes sense that the faculty would comprise of hard-working, dedicated professors.
For our second installment of Master Class, we talk to Professor Michael Olmert of the University of Maryland English Department, about his life, career, and the advice he has for ambitious professionals.
Meet University of Maryland Professor Michael Olmert
Michael Olmert is a DC native, accomplished, and deeply-loved professor of 31 years. His teaching specialties are in Medieval Studies, 17th & 18th Century Literature, and Modern British Drama.
After receiving a B.A. in English from the University of Maryland, and a Master’s degree from Georgetown University, Olmert returned to his alma mater to earn his PhD.
“I didn’t initially get my PhD because I wanted to teach; I got it because I wanted the research skills and the enforced discipline,” explains Olmert.
After an extensive career as a freelance writer, Olmert returned to the University of Maryland as a professor but hasn’t given up on his writing career. To date, Professor Olmert has written over one hundred television documentaries, two feature films, seven plays, four books, and countless magazine and journal articles.
When we asked Professor Olmert what advice he has for young professionals, here's what he said:
“You have to be a good listener,” says Olmert. “It’s essential. The first couple of bosses I had were like professors to me and I learned a lot from them. But you have to listen and you have to ask good questions.”
For the first few years of your career, Olmert emphasizes the importance of quality mentors in your professional life.
“If you're not getting what you need, don’t be afraid to move on. You don’t want to be bored and you definitely don’t want to stop learning.”
Continuing his education has been a constant in Olmert’s life.
“If you want to be a writer, you need to read a lot,” he says. “You need to have favorite writers, and you need to make time for your writing.”
It’s the same for any profession you may want to get into. Olmert encourages his students to keep journals, read about what they’re passionate about and hone their craft.
Lastly, if you know what you want to do with your career, Professor Olmert says to go for it. Stay focused on your goals.
“You don’t have to be the smartest person out there,” he explains. “But you can be organized and you can be hard-working.
“If I could go back and give myself advice five years into my career, I’d tell myself to go big. I thought the world would reward me for doing all these small things. Like writing short columns and articles. But really I wish I had just sat down and written my first book earlier.”
Set the bar high, stay organized, and keep up the hustle, is the daily advice he gives his students.
Photography by Jordan Sanchez