Third year graduate student in Philosophy Zach Rentz is a change agent. He can be found making changes once a month when leading the Graduate Students Association meetings as the GSA President. If you haven’t talked to him yet, you probably should, because he’s been working to make your life better as a grad student and wants to hear what you have to say.
I wanted to interview Zach Rentz for a while because he has been working to change things at UCSB in all the ways it needs to be changed. He wants to increase funding for grads, provide affordable housing for them, and create a community spirit.
Zach sees the world a little differently than you and I. Maybe he sees things differently because he grew up on the East Coast, outside of Philadelphia. Or maybe he sees things differently because he was influenced by the writings of Moses Maimonides and has a degree in Philosophy from Dartmouth. Or maybe he see things differently because he knows how to effectively challenge and question things after earning a law degree at Duke and working to help people on the Duke Law Innocence Project. Or maybe that’s just the way Zach is: a guy who likes to make the world better around him. I don’t know. You’ll have to decide for yourself.
I met with Zach on a cool but sunny afternoon at the GSA lounge. We sat outside on the patio and talked about everything from why he came back to school, to what he is trying to accomplish with the GSA, and to how he is a fan of the band Phish.
You already had a law career. Why did you come back to school?
I practiced law for four years in Philadelphia, working at two different firms. I was a corporate and securities lawyer focused on mergers and acquisitions, stock and debt offerings, and private equity fund formation. I also did pro bono work with respect to both animal law and civil forfeiture actions. But I wasn’t getting the intellectual stimulation I was looking for from legal work, and I decided to return to my passion: philosophy.
What are you researching for your degree?
I’m researching David Hume, and in particular, his work on time and infinity. I’m also interested in philosophical issues pertaining to the reform of America’s drug and sentencing laws. Lastly, I am interested in the metaphysics of Jewish Mysticism, and in particular, the thought of the Chabad masters.
Why did you get involved in the GSA and what do you hope to achieve?
I got involved with GSA because I saw lots of ways that the UCSB grad student experience could be improved and made richer and I wanted to do my part. My number one goal this year has been to alleviate the great financial burden faced by UCSB’s grad students, when it comes to things like housing, healthcare, and general support. Additionally, I am working to increase the amount of social offerings put forth by GSA to help strengthen the graduate student community and provide the grads with more opportunities to socialize and engage intellectually.
I see you and the GSA are doing a lot of new things this year. Can you give me a preview of what we can look forward to?
We’ve been working on housing for one. We have an incredible graduate school here but it’s very expensive to live in Santa Barbara and one idea we’ve come up with is to move the grad student community from San Clemente to Santa Ynez. This is a long-term proposition, but if it makes sense, it could dramatically decrease the rent paid by graduate students in University housing.
We also want to provide more social venues for grad students. There are not a lot of central locations on or off campus for grad students to get together and to talk or exchange ideas. Thanks to the Alumni Association, we are starting “Moshertime” this quarter. Once a month, and hopefully moving towards a weekly gathering, graduate students will have the opportunity to get together socially on the roof deck of the Mosher Alumni House.
We are also working on increasing professional development and networking opportunities for grad students. We want to promote networking between graduate students and alumni in their chosen fields, whether academic or non-academic. We also want to give grad students the opportunity to mentor UCSB undergraduates by connecting them with undergrads that are interested in pursuing academic research or graduate school
That’s a lot you’re working on. What do you do to relax?
I like to read philosophy, religion, and history and to hang out with my friends. I really enjoy being part of the Santa Barbara community and I try to take advantage of all that it has to offer. I also love to go to the Santa Barbara Bowl to see live music. It’s one of the most beautiful venues I have ever seen.
What is the one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
Probably, that I followed the band Phish around after my senior year of college. I’ve seen them 48 times now.
You’ve been a grad student three years, what piece of advice would you give to incoming students?
You should treat grad school like it’s a job. Act professionally and treat your weekdays like a standard workday where you are at your desk by 8 or 9 AM and put in eight hours of work. You should also spend time with faculty and other grad students. Some grad students tend to isolate themselves in their office or lab, and they miss out on the intellectual discourse that is a very important part of graduate school. I’d also suggest setting aside time to determine your goals for each year of your program. Figure out when you want to apply for certain funding opportunities, what you need to do to advance to candidacy, and begin putting together materials related to the job market.
What is the one thing you hope to be doing 5 or 10 years out of graduate school?
I want to be a faculty member in a philosophy department. I love my research and I love teaching. I cannot imagine a more fulfilling career than having the opportunity to professionally pursue my passion.