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Eric Min receives UCLA Distinguished Teaching AwardBecause he came to academia with little knowledge about how it actually worked, Min makes it point to share the knowledge he has acquired with students. (Photo: Peggy McInerny/ UCLA.)

Eric Min receives UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award

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Min,who has taught at UCLA for six years, is deeply appreciated by students for his meticulously prepared lectures, infectious enthusiasm and ability to put readings in context.

UCLA International Institute, April 8, 2024 Eric Min, UCLA assistant professor of political science and global studies faculty member, began tutoring fellow students at the age of 13.

“I didn’t know exactly what being a professor meant at the time, but I was standing in front of five or six students, trying to teach them mathematical concepts, and something sort of clicked,” says the friendly, sociable scholar.

Although he didn’t follow a straight line to academia, Min has realized his early career aspiration. He earned his Ph.D. in political science at Stanford in 2017 and joined UCLA in 2018 with a joint appointment to the department of political science and the UCLA International Institute.

Six short years later, he has received a UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award, having been nominated by faculty in both global studies and political science. Min is one of nine awardees honored for their superlative teaching by the UCLA Aademic Senate and the UCLA Center for Teaching and Learning in 2024.

A quantitative scholar who focuses on war and diplomacy, elite decision making and international security and conflict, Min will publish his first book in early 2025: “Words of War: Negotiation as a Tool of Conflict” (Cornell).

Teaching a mix of undergraduate and graduate courses

Min regularly teaches five courses at UCLA: the core course “Governance and Conflict” and the senior seminar “War and Diplomacy” for the global studies program; and “World Politics” and the graduate seminars “International Relations Core I” and “Strategic Interaction” for the political science department.

Although undergraduate lecture courses involve a more high-energy “performance” component (e.g., telling jokes, engaging students about their lives, talking about popular culture), Min aims to create an open, inviting environment where students can ask questions and participate in discussions for both undergraduate and graduate students.

The care he puts into teaching is clearly recognized by his undergraduates, who regularly give him stellar evaluations. “Professor Min always explained every concept in extreme detail and very thoroughly with multiple examples. He also made it clear that we were always welcome to ask him questions when we did not understand a concept he was explaining,” said one.

“His excitement is contagious, and he doesn’t shy away from difficult topics. He ensures his explanations and examples are relevant, and I remember having a few good laughs over some of the examples,” said another.

Min enjoys teaching introductory courses because he is able to witness how much young students learn in a short period. It’s also fulfilling to see students take an introductory course as a general education requirement and then develop a genuine interest in the subject. “I get really happy when I hear [that kind of student feedback], as it means people have come to appreciate a topic they didn’t care about previously.”

Passing on the legacy of talented teachers and mentors

Min has encountered many wonderful teachers in his life, but two in particular stand out. A high school speech and debate coach, Chris Riffer, was a highly engaging speaker and also very approachable. “It was not just the material he was teaching, but how he talked and tried to connect with us. I learned how important that was as a teacher.”

Another stellar teacher in graduate school, Ken Schultz (William Bennett Munro Professor of Political Science at Stanford), eventually became Min’s mentor and a member of his dissertation committee.

“Just by chance, he taught one of my first core graduate seminars in international relations and I was blown away by how effective a teacher he was,” said Min.

Not only did Schultz encourage the first-year graduate students to ask questions about anything they didn’t understand, he created a coherent structure and clear expectations for his seminars.

“Ken would say, ‘Here’s the topic of the week. Here’s the history behind why I think these pieces are important, and here’s some key things in each of them that I want to highlight — that’s part of why I assigned them to you. But what do you think about what we just read? It’s totally OK if you hate a piece, let’s just talk about why.’

“I learned so much in that first seminar because of what he told us about the field, and then having discussions where he took our ideas seriously,” said Min.

Min emulates that approach in his own graduate seminars, using readings both to educate students about the history of the field and the ideas that the readings address — something his students clearly value.

As one said, “I really appreciated that Eric always provided a literature road map for the week’s subject, explaining what the key articles were that shaped the field and the theory before we arrived at the assigned readings. In this way, I felt like I was learning about the field as a whole, rather than just diving into recent critical literature.”

Min takes mentorship equally seriously, supporting undergraduate and graduate students in choosing research topics, reviewing draft papers, helping them become better researchers and, in the case of undergraduates, helping them think through graduate school options.

“Ken Schultz helped me set the standard for myself at a teacher. I’ve realized since that what he was doing was really hard. Preparing for seminars in that way takes a lot of time, being able to advise students the way he did takes time, but I think it has made me a better teacher and mentor.”

For the past five years, Min has also led or co-led job placement for the political science department. In that capacity, he provides doctoral candidates recommendations on the academic job search, as well as tips on how to survive it!

“It’s all about the long game of keeping up your mental, emotional and physical health,” he reflected. “I think it’s important to tell people that they should take care of themselves and allow themselves to have a hobby.”

The long road from research to publishing

Because he came to academia with little knowledge about how it actually worked, Min makes it point to share the knowledge he has acquired with students. In his graduate seminars, for example, he devotes 15 minutes of each class to explaining the process of getting an article published in a peer-reviewed journal (with the steps summarized in a convenient timeline).

“I try to do a lot of demystifying academia because most graduate students are thinking about pursuing an academic career, and it would have been really nice if someone had given me a bit of a head start by sharing this information,” he remarked.

“I remember when I was in graduate school and picking my dissertation topic, people said to me, ‘You should pick something that you’re ready to spend a decade of your life on.’ I didn’t fully process what that meant. I thought that must be a worst-case scenario!” laughed Min.

In his case, the time factor is complicated by the enormous work required to create comprehensive databases of documentation that can be analyzed via machine learning. Working with colleagues, he has created several such databases related to international relations, war and conflict.

Min is currently working with co-authors on articles that look at the role of race in war, racial tropes in foreign policy bureaucracies and the emergence of bureaucracy in foreign policy, respectively. And as he readies his first book for publication, one thing is certain: He will share what he learns about the process with his students.