A trusted adviser

Chancellor Martin’s former students describe a mentor who was focused and insightful, as well as warm and thoughtful.

Common Reading Program discussion
Chancellor Andrew D. Martin (left) served as the facilitator for this first-year student Common Reading Program discussion of Nadine Strossen’s book “Hate.” (Photo: Joe Angeles/Washington University)

Even as a faculty member, Martin kept a schedule. “It was one of the most intimidating and gratifying office hours I’ve ever had,” recalls Scotty Jacobs, BA ’16. “He had an administrative assistant! Like a CEO! But he’d spend an hour talking about a paper with a sophomore.” You couldn’t just wander by and catch Martin idle with his door open; you had to make an appointment. But once you did, he listened with laser-beam focus, answered every question clearly, and offered the kind of insight that made his grad students’ catchphrase in any crisis, “Call Andrew.” They knew he’d help, and he’d do so with clarity and a minimum of fuss.

“A friend called him — she was in a tricky situation in regard to tenure — and he gave her a whole plan of attack in 15 minutes,” recalls Michael Nelson, MA ’11, PhD ’14, an advisee who’s now associate professor of political science at Penn State. “He once described himself to me as one of the least discursive people I’d ever meet. He’s not somebody who rehearses arguments just for the sake of hearing himself talk. He’s good at asking exactly the right question, and he’s incisive.”

Ariel Dobkin, AB ’12, who worked part-time for Martin at the Center for Empirical Research in the Law and now works as a lawyer in D.C., says she once listed “a bunch of random skills, and what came back was, ‘It sounds like you’d enjoy transactional work and dealing with companies with a lot of moving parts.’ Exactly! I’d never thought of it.”

His opinions are thoughtful but not rigid, she adds. “He doesn’t see in black and white — he sees the gray areas — but he’s able to come out of the gray and make a decision. And I could always trust his advice. His feedback style is just telling the truth.”

Nelson agrees, but adds, “He’s also incredibly warm, and I think that juxtaposition is really important. It lets him deliver bad news decisively, but in a way that comes across well.”

Another trait that dropped his advisees’ jaws was his ability, despite myriad pulls on his time, to give each of them his undivided attention. “I know there were probably millions of things swimming around in his head,” Nelson says. “Maybe he just projected that sense of totally undivided attention, but even to be able to project that is amazing. Now, I feel so guilty every time my own PhD students come in and I catch my mind wandering.”

Martin says that undivided attention is genuine, and it’s possible because he has “systems.” He grins. “It sounds like the Deep State. But it’s rigorous to-do lists, project management, note-taking, prepping in advance of every meeting, reading everything everybody gives me. When I come out of a meeting, everything I need to do gets loaded into that system, which frees me from having to always carry those things around in my head. There’s stuff goin’ on, but the system’s in place.

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