Professor Zimmerman was born in Washington DC and grew up in northern Virginia. He attended Swarthmore, where he majored in Political Science. He recalls his experience at Swarthmore as life changing.
Professor Zimmerman taught at the University of Michigan throughout his academic career while occasionally teaching at institutions such as Harvard University and European University in St. Petersburg, Russia. His primary research areas were Soviet and Russian foreign and domestic policy, Eastern Europe, and comparative elites. Professor Zimmerman taught undergraduate and graduate level courses in Soviet and Russian foreign and domestic policy and comparative foreign policy; an undergraduate seminar on politics in Leningrad and St. Petersburg; a graduate seminar in IR theory; and a course on comparative communism. Although Professor Zimmerman formally retired in 2007, he has twice taught seminars on Russian politics via video conferencing with a colleague, one last winter and the other during the fall three years ago.
During his tenure, Professor Zimmerman witnessed major changes concerning the discipline itself and the composition of the department. The major changes he recalls were “the behavioral revolution that has been followed by a new institutionalism and the diversification of the student body and the faculty.”
While Professor Zimmerman no longer formally advises students, he does have a few words of wisdom for both undergraduate and graduate students. He advises political science majors intending to matriculate to law school to take courses related to law in law school but as an undergraduate student, take courses introducing them to new methods and places they know very little about and courses on Shakespeare. For graduate students, his main advice would be “to finish your dissertation as quickly as possible, keeping in mind you will be acquiring new skills and new areas of expertise your entire professional career. Don't try to acquire all those skills in graduate school.”