Steven Stoltenberg

Foreign Affairs Analyst, U.S. Department of State (retired)

Steven Stoltenberg shared with us how his interest in Eastern Europe arose and evolved: from studying Poland’s Solidarity movement at U.C. Berkeley as a sociology graduate student to a career with the U.S. Department of State as a Foreign Affairs Analyst.

My interest in things Polish began in 1980, during the emergence of Poland’s Solidarity movement. After finishing my undergraduate degree at the University of Washington, I enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley’s sociology graduate studies program. From the outset I stated that my intention was to write a doctoral dissertation on the Solidarity movement. U.C. Berkeley provided the perfect environment for someone specializing in East European Studies. I was able to study Polish and receive financial assistance through the Foreign Language Area Studies fellowship program. The Mellon Foundation provided funding for me to attend a Polish language and culture summer session twice at Jagiellonian University in Krakow and once at the Catholic University in Lublin. U.C. Berkeley’s Slavic and East European Studies Center, which cooperated with a similar center at Stanford University, organized a continuous stream of seminars and hosted many of the leading scholars from the region. From 1987-88 I was the recipient of a Fulbright Doctoral Dissertation Abroad Fellowship which allowed me to conduct field research in Poland. From 1988-89 I extended my stay in Poland for another year with funding from my doctoral dissertation advisor, Professor Robert Bellah.   

I completed my dissertation, “The Evolution of Poland’s Solidarity Movement 1982-89,” in 1992. While conducting my academic job search I taught for three years as a “lecturer” (adjunct) at Berkeley. The job search was a sobering experience. During those three years of being on the market, there was only one position listed that even remotely fit my “areas of specialization.” The main difficulty was that the field of sociology prioritized the study of American society, while the study of Soviet bloc societies was considered to be an area for political scientists. The one sociology department job listing that mentioned Eastern Europe as an area specialization was filled by a historian. Also, I discovered that in a tight job market, publications could be a deciding factor, whereas teaching experience was hardly taken into consideration. This experience brought home to me the importance of thinking strategically about one’s academic choices from the choice of a place of study to the important period after completion of the dissertation. 

As luck would have it, I learned of a summer job at the State Department’s Foreign Language Institute (FSI) organizing and then teaching a two-week seminar on Central Europe. In 1995 I began working full time at FSI, heading three, sometimes four, area studies programs all focused on Central Europe. It was during my work at FSI that I learned of the existence of the Intelligence and Research Bureau (INR) at the State Department, essentially a think tank or research office located within the Department. When the Poland analyst position opened up I seized the opportunity and moved to INR in 2000. In 2002 I added the Baltic states to my portfolio and expanded my area of research to include regional energy and security issues. INR proved to be an ideal environment for someone with an academic background. My work was essentially research on current political, social and security issues related to my countries. I was expected to write regular analytical pieces which received rigorous scrutiny from editors before publication. Although INR’s products are classified and not for public distribution, they are accessible to over 30,000 recipients in government and national security organizations. INR analysts are also encouraged to liaise with experts outside government, and the Bureau hosts over 100 seminars each year on various topics where outside experts share their expertise with invited government officials. Analysts also have the opportunity for short-term “temporary duty” assignments in U.S. embassies and can receive funding for further language study. It is also possible to continue one’s academic interests and pursue publication in one’s own free time. 

As of 2020 I am now retired from the State Department but I have every intention of remaining an active participant in the field and I am happy to share my experience of employment outside of academia with interested graduate students.