Faculty + Staff

UCLA political scientist passed up career as a viola player

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Lynn Vavreck
Aaron Salcido/Zócalo

UCLA political scientist Lynn Vavreck writes regularly for the Upshot blog on The New York Times website.

UCLA political scientist Lynn Vavreck  took a turn in Zócalo Public Square's green room to answer some frothy questions before taking part in a Zócalo/UCLA panel discussion, "Does the expansion of presidential power threaten the Constitution?"  at the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles. 

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Riding my horse, Alberto, in Ventura County.

What device do you do most of your reading on?

If I’m reading for work, I read on paper, whether that’s a physical book or a paper I print out. I have to have a ruler and a pencil so I can annotate. If I’m wanting to read something for pleasure, sometimes I’ll do an audiobook, or read on my iPad.

What are you reading for pleasure right now?

"Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign," by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes. But I just finished Michael Lewis’ "The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds." Everybody who has a best friend should read that book. And "Hillbilly Elegy," which I just finished and was very moved by.

Did you have any nicknames as a kid?

None that I want to share!

If you could play any musical instrument, which would you choose?

I can play the piano, viola, guitar, trumpet, and I sing. I played the viola in my college symphony. I really wanted to go to a music conservatory for vocal performance, and my father made a bargain with me that I could go, but I had to go for the viola, because every orchestra needs viola players. I knew I wasn’t a world-class viola player, so I passed.

Was there a teacher or professor who really influenced you?

My chemistry teacher, Bill Reinhard, at Midpark High School, Middleburg Heights, Ohio, who really spent a lot of time talking to me and gave me a lot of confidence to continue to pursue the things I was interested in. And I had a college professor, John Geer, who definitely changed my life, who told me, “Don’t go to law school!” I went for a day and kept hearing his voice in the back of my head, and decided to leave and go back to political science.

Which profession would you practice in your next life?

I'd be some kind of clinical therapist. I like listening to people tell stories, and I like helping people think about why they’re feeling what they’re feeling. Either that or an emergency medical technician: I like to try and keep my cool under pressure.

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