Previewing the 77th Annual MPSA Conference Program: A Selection of Professional Development Panels for Graduate Students

By Charmaine N. Willis of University of Albany, SUNY

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As panelists frantically completing their papers and presentations are acutely aware, the 77th Annual MPSA Conference is fast approaching. In addition to some excellent topical panels, this year’s conference offers a bevy of roundtables on professional development, ranging from pedagogy to research to the job market. In this post, I preview several roundtables and series that may especially be helpful for graduate students. I highlight the “Student” professional development series (with the exclusion of the “How to Thrive in Graduate School” series, to be covered by fellow MPSA blogger Colleen Wood). Additionally, I preview other professional development roundtables regarding research that may be helpful to graduate students. Please note that this list does not contain information about all of the professional development roundtables, so it may be worth perusing the professional development offerings in the online program on your own.

What to Expect at a Job Interview at a Teaching School
The student professional development panels kick off with a session of “What to Expect at a Job Interview at a Teaching School” on Friday, April 5, from 8 to 9:30 am. This session may be particularly relevant to advanced doctoral students who are getting ready to go onto or are already on the academic job market, although it could be useful for doctoral students early in their programs. As several authors note, the hiring process for “teaching schools” such as small liberal arts colleges (SLACs) is different from that of research-intensive institutions and job candidates must think about how to package themselves and their research accordingly. Therefore, this is an important panel for those interested in teaching-intensive positions. Another session is offered on Saturday afternoon from 4:45 to 6:15 pm with a different set of panelists. Note that these sessions are not sequential.

The Non-academic or Alt-ac Job Search
A single session of “The Non-academic or Alt-ac Job Search” panel is on Saturday, April 6, from 9:45 to 11:15 am. This session is particularly useful for graduate students interested in jobs outside of academia or those considering a wide range of jobs after grad school. Graduate students and other scholars are increasingly considering jobs outside of academia, often due to the well-documented perils of the academic job market or the challenges of working in academia. That said, the hunt for jobs outside of academia is different: how does one translate the skills learned in grad school to the “real world”? This panel will be invaluable to students in providing insights from those who have navigated the non-academic job market with a Ph.D.

Preparing for the Job Market – CV to Teaching Statements
For those interested in applying for academic jobs, the “Preparing for the Job Market – CV to Teaching Statements” panel is on Sunday, April 7 from 9:45 to 11:15 am. This session could be useful for graduate students at any level, though especially for students preparing to enter the academic job market. Both well-organized and well-executed CVs and teaching statements are important for success on the job market. However, they can be difficult to do well. As such, insights from the panelists on how to create solid job market documents will be invaluable to graduate students.

What to Do/Not Do at a Job Talk
The final panel in the student professional development series is “What to Do/Not Do at a Job Talk” on Sunday, April 7, from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm. Job talks are a crucial part of the academic job interview process. Potential future colleagues not only evaluate candidates’ research but also their presentation skills and ability to think on their feet. Unsurprisingly, there are several considerations in delivering a good job talk presentation. Graduate students interested in the academic job market should attend this panel and take advantage of the opportunity to learn through others’ experiences.

There are several other panels on professional development topics that may be useful for graduate students; I discuss one of them here.

The Research Professional Development Series
There are several panels in the research professional development series that will be useful for graduate students, especially doctoral students before and during their dissertation research. This series offers several useful sessions on data collection methods including: “How to do Fieldwork” (April 4, 9:45-11:15 am), “How to Use Text as Data” (April 5, 1:15-2:45 pm), and “How to Conduct Surveys” (April 6, 9:45-11:15 am). While many graduate students read about these data collection methods, they can be very different in practice as my recent fieldwork experience has taught me. Therefore, getting insights from researchers who have used these methods will be invaluable to students in conducting their own research. Additionally, there are a few panels about one of the most important parts of research: procuring funding. Unfortunately, both “Small Grants and Private Foundations” and “Grant Opportunities & Strategies” are offered at the same time on Saturday, April 6 (1:15 to 2:45 pm).

About the Author: Charmaine N. Willis is a PhD Student in the Department of Political Science at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the University at Albany, SUNY. Her research focuses on civil society and contentious politics. Her current project examines the role of framing in anti-US military contention in East Asia. You can also find Charmaine on Twitter and her website.

First-Generation Findings: Eight Strategies for Success at Academic Conferences

By James Steur of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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 As a first-generation college student and son of two hairdressers, I’ve spent most of my life far removed from the world of academia. I still remember flying into Denver for my first conference as an undergrad and feeling overwhelmed when I entered the hotel. I didn’t know what the word “discussant” meant, how to network, and the unspoken norms of presenting at a conference. This new world I had entered was a strange and frightening place, and I didn’t know how to make the most out of the conference. Now that I’ve attended multiple conferences, I’ve developed eight strategies to help myself get the most out of attending conferences.

Before the Conference

Tip 1: Decide How You’ll Spend Your Time Before the Conference
At my first conference, I was handed a booklet with a variety of presentations, and I picked panels on an ad-hoc basis. I strongly advise against this approach. If you wait until you’re at the conference to select panels, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and attend panels you will not be satisfied with. Now, I make an itinerary for how I’ll spend my time at the conference at least two weeks in advance. Thankfully, MPSA has a preliminary program that divides the sections by time, division, and event. This year, I have many colleagues attending MPSA, and I’m going to propose we get together for an hour before the conference to plan our schedules.

Tip 2: Attend Panels & Meetings that Excite You
Pick panels and meetings that make you feel excited so you’ll attend them. You’ll probably go to a panel that focuses on your main research interests at MPSA, but there are other meetings beyond panels. For example, MPSA has roundtable events that focus on work-life balance, how to do fieldwork, public scholarship, and a variety of other topics. There are also caucus events like the Latino/a Caucus, Minority Caucus Reception, and the Midwest Women’s Caucus. By picking events I’m excited about beforehand, I’m going to enjoy the conference more and get more out of it. It’s a month before the conference, and I’m already excited to attend the panels on emotions and politics.

Tip 3: Prepare (and Practice) Your Presentation in Advance
I’ve attended too many conferences where I spend most of my time working on my presentation in my hotel room. This isn’t ideal. You waste time you could spend going to a panel or exploring the city while you stress about your presentation. Try to finish your paper and presentation two weeks in advance of the conference. You may want to make some finishing touches to your presentation when you arrive, but that’s fundamentally different than making and preparing for the presentation the night before you present. Ideally, you should practice your presentation once or twice with your colleagues before the conference—you want to leave a good impression on everyone in the room.

Tip 4: Email Scholars You Want to Meet with at the Conference
Emails are a straightforward and powerful tool to connect with scholars. If you want to meet with a junior or senior faculty member who is attending MPSA, email them a month or a few weeks before the conference. If someone at your institution knows them, mention that in your email. If you don’t have an immediate connection, tell them you want to meet and talk about their research. Scholars love to talk about their research, and they rarely get asked to talk about it. Finally, don’t ask to meet with them for an hour. Fifteen or 20 minutes over coffee should be enough time.

During the Conference 

Tip 5: Recognize Famous Scholars Are Busy
At last year’s MPSA, I was walking around the Palmer House and saw a famous scholar whose work I’ve admired for years. I couldn’t believe my eyes and got excited. He took a few steps and someone began chatting with him. I waited a few minutes to introduce myself because I greatly admire his work and wanted to talk with him. To my amassment, he ended his conversation, took a few more steps, and somebody else rushed over to talk with him. I now realize that famous scholars get a lot of attention and are incredibly busy at conferences. Respect their schedules and how busy they are at conferences.

Tip 6: Network
Conferences are a useful way to build your professional research network. The simple way to develop your network is by attending panels and other meetings that are related to your interests. Ask interesting questions during the panel presentation and ask for that scholar’s email if you’re having a good conversation at a reception. Personally, I try to make at least three new connections at a conference and get their email addresses. If the person is comfortable with it, follow each other on Twitter or add each other on LinkedIn to stay connected.

Tip 7: Keep a Record of Who You Meet
After I’ve met a lot of people at a conference, it’s easy to lose touch. You send a follow-up email after the conference, a few months pass, and eventually a year has passed with no contact. My solution is keeping a record of everyone I meet at a conference. My spreadsheet includes everyone’s name, university, email, and research interests. This spreadsheet gives me a clear sense of my professional network, helps me remember names after I’ve met a lot of people at a conference, and reminds me to reach out.

Tip 8: Have Fun!
You’ve spent a fair amount of money on your membership, registration, lodging, and travel; remember to have some fun! If you have the time and funds, explore Chicago on your last evening in town. If funds are a little sparser, visit the Chicago Bean or go to the public library—you deserve to have some fun!

Hopefully, these tips can help you prepare to make the most of your conference experience at MPSA and develop your professional career—especially if you’re newer to the world of academia.

About the Author: James Steur is a PhD student in political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research interests include political psychology, political behavior, and the role of emotions in citizen decision-making. He is a first-generation student, passionate coffee drinker, and excited to be blogging at this year’s MPSA. You can find James on Twitter at @JamesSteur

 


MPSA is hosting two online orientation sessions to help make your first MPSA conference more enjoyable. During the online sessions on March 18 (4pm Eastern) and March 26 (11am Eastern) we will discuss ideas to help you prepare for traveling to, arriving at, and making the most of this year’s conference. Topics to include: navigating the Palmer House, highlighted receptions and events, and where to find assistance on-site. Be sure to submit your questions when you sign up for an online orientation session.

 

 

Work, Well-Being, and Social Connections: Advice from a Graduate Student on Finding the Correct Proportions

By Kevin DeLuca of Harvard University

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“If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” – Some wise person

For academics, I think the saying is backward: “If you, an academic, love what you do, you’ll work every day of your life.” The line between work and life in academia is often blurred, making the achievement of work-life balance elusive. For graduate students still in their first years of being “in academia,” it can be particularly hard to find a healthy, sustainable routine. Compound this with the anxiety and stress that comes with the typical grad program and voilà: the recipe for a well-being disaster.

Given the premium academia places on over-working, most graduate students feel they can’t spend much time on other important aspects of their lives. This is causing a mental health crisis among grad students; it’s time to make a healthy work-life balance in academia the norm.

Finding Balance
One definition of “balance” is: “a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.” In my view, the essential elements of “work-life balance” are:

  1. work, of course;
  2. well-being, including leisure, mental health, and physical health; and
  3. social connections, including relationships with family, friends, and social groups.

Each of these elements should be “in the correct proportions,” and a worthy goal is to develop each category every day. Notice that in order to achieve this balanced development, you must spend time doing things that are NOT directly beneficial to your career (*gasp*). Of course, finding your personal “correct” proportions is the hard part.

By virtue of being grad students, we all share common challenges in our pursuit of healthy and productive academic lives. The following advice is meant to provide a general set of tips to help grad students achieve a healthy work-life balance. These are based off my own personal experience dealing with the stresses of grad school – if you are struggling with mental health issues in your program, please contact a trained counselor for help, consult services that are available on your own campus, or access resources like the Academic Mental Health Collective or National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Less, More Efficient Work
Most grad students feel they must continuously be working in order to keep up with their work. There are two ways to combat this problem: 1) make the time you spend working more efficient, or 2) reduce your commitments.

One of the best ways to increase work efficiency is to focus on creating periods of “deep work” – work time that is completely free of distractions, especially social media and email. Aim for at least 90-120 minutes of distraction-free work per session (but don’t stop yourself if you’re on a roll!), then aim to have about 3 sessions per workday. Try not to force yourself to work more than that – this is crucial. You need time to relax and invest in other parts of your life. Four to six hours of work might not sound like a lot (especially if you think you work 60 hours a week), but most people can’t do more than 4-6 hours of intense work per day anyway, plus you’ll need time to do other work-related things (meetings, classes, emails), so this is actually an ambitious goal.

If you cannot keep up with all of your obligations with a healthy work schedule, you need to reduce your work obligations as soon as possible. It’s OK to do less. Make it a habit to say no to work you don’t really want to do. It’s tempting to overcommit due to social and professional pressures in academia, but these pressures are based on unrealistic expectations about what you “should” be doing. I find it’s better to focus on work quality, rather than quantity of academic obligations.

Successfully keeping your work from invading other elements of your life is the first step to establishing a healthy work-life balance. By focusing on making your work efficient and limiting your work obligations, you can decrease the total amount of time you spend working and increase the time available for other important aspects of your life.

Investing in Well-Being
“Well-being” is an all-encompassing term meant to include physical and mental health, along with any other things that make you a happy, balanced, healthy person. Taking care of your health, as well as spending time on non-work leisure activities, can improve your quality of life while also giving you the energy to be productive at work.

Rather than suggest specific activities, I want to suggest a more general philosophy of leisure time. My advice for improving well-being is similar to my advice on improving work efficiency: make your leisure more productive. By that, I mean spend your leisure time in a deliberate way and, most importantly, in a way that allows you to totally disengage from your work. I call this kind of leisure “deep leisure” – the much more fun variant of deep work. It’s about being fully engaged in a particular leisure activity with no (work) distractions.

Given that the typical schedule for grad students is often unstructured, it can be hard to fully stop working to enjoy leisure time. Imposing structure on your time – including scheduling leisure activities – can be highly beneficial to your well-being. You have to convince yourself that it’s OK to unplug from work for a while. I’ve had many conversations with other students where they remark that a lot of “leisure” time they spend is also spent with a lot of anxiety about other work they have to get done. This is not time spent leisurely! Allow yourself to enjoy time off, guilt-free, and schedule this time into your day just like you would homework or classes. Make time for a life beyond work.

Many grad students feel guilty about “wasting time” on leisure, but leisure is not a waste. In fact, it will likely improve your performance as a researcher, since you’ll be more energized, focused, and motivated to work after spending time relaxing. Even if all you care about is improving your career prospects (which you shouldn’t!), it’s a smart move to engage in deep leisure and not overwork yourself.

Social Connections and Positive Externalities
Social connections are not totally distinct from well-being, since many people’s mental and physical health depends on positive social interactions with friends and family. But they are different because not all social interactions are relaxing or leisurely, and because improving relationships with friends and family often involves tradeoffs between other work or well-being goals.

For example, taking time to call a family member is time not spent on homework. Spending an afternoon helping a friend means you can’t spend that afternoon in the office working. Going to lunch with people in your department means you’ll have less time to watch your favorite show later. Of course, many social interactions can also be considered “leisure” time – like going to a party or having dinner with a friend. But some social interactions are more leisurely than others, and it can be tempting to opt-out of many of them to get more work done.

The fact that many grad students feel pressure to keep themselves disconnected socially in order to be successful (I’m definitely guilty of this) reveals how unhealthy the social norms in academia can be. Instead of isolating yourself, try something different. Be the externality you want to see in the world. Check in on your peers from time to time. Thank people often. Give back to your department or community by volunteering. Do things to make your workplace welcoming and friendly for everyone, especially for those who may feel isolated.

Grad school is difficult by nature, but should never require you to isolate yourself or keep you from being a healthy person. It’s true, investing in your community, friends, and family takes away from time you could be working! But fostering better social connections will make you feel good about yourself, feel more like part of a community, and can give you that sense of accomplishment that is too often absent from our academic work,

The Correct Proportions
Finding the right proportions for these aspects of our lives can be hard. You won’t always get it right. The key is to strive for balance and to forgive yourself (and learn!) as you work through the process. I hope that these ideas can help you find your balance.

About the Author: Kevin DeLuca is a Political Economy and Government Ph.D. Candidate at Harvard University. His research interests include voter behavior and elections in the United States. He can be reached by emailing kevindeluca@g.harvard.edu or on Twitter at @cantstopkevin.

 


Democrats Want to Get Rid of the Electoral College. It is Not Going to Happen (and Maybe that’s Best).

By Michael A. Smith, Emporia State University

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With the 2020 campaign season having already begun (ugh), Democrats are revving up to do away with the Electoral College. For them, the case is a strong one. In the entire history of the United States, only five Presidential elections have seen the popular vote winner fail to become president. Yet two of those were in the 21st Century, and Democrats got the short end both times. Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 by about half of a million votes, yet George W. Bush became president after the notorious, 6-week Florida recount battle. Hillary Clinton boosted the margin to 3 million votes—but still lost the presidency. History geeks and trivia buffs will love this next part: although the Democratic Party is a very different coalition than it was in the past, it is still worth noting that they were the ones that won the popular vote and lost the presidency in all five of these elections (the others were 1824, 1876, and 1888)!

In general, Democrats have a huge “wasted vote” problem. Starting in 1992, the donkeys have bested the elephants for the popular vote in every presidential election but one (the lone exception was 2004, the first presidential race after the 9/11 attacks). That is no coincidence. In presidential elections, Democrats generally command a slight majority today. Problem is, this majority includes large concentrations of voters in big cities and their closer-in suburbs, many of which are found in noncompetitive, high population states like California and New York. In 2016, Clinton defeated Trump by more than three million votes in California (a nearly two-to-one margin there), meaning that state alone can account for her popular vote victory.

As Philip Bump points out in this Washington Post analysis, the wasted vote problem not only vexes Dems in the Electoral College, it also causes them to overestimate the impact of gerrymandering. It is true that gerrymandering can skew election results. It is also true that while both parties do it, it generally works against Democrats today because many larger “purple” states have Republican majorities in their state legislatures, while California, once ground zero for Democratic gerrymandering, now has citizens redistricting commissions, thanks to a 2008 ballot initiative successfully pumped up by then-Governor Schwarzenegger. Out of office since 2011, Ah-nold is now out to “terminate gerrymandering” (his phrase) in other states (but see here for an interesting side note on how California Democrats kept a hand in redistricting anyway).

At any rate, Democrats tend to exaggerate the harm done to their party by gerrymandering. While it is a problem, the wasted vote problem is larger. Thus, a movement is afoot to abolish the Electoral College and replace it with a national, popular vote for president. Just last week, the Colorado Legislature sent Governor Jared Polis a new bill to award that state’s electoral votes to the national popular vote winner. Polis announced his intention to sign. The hope is that this will catch on in other states, until they reach enough states to elect a president. Colorado is the 12th state to take this step, but none of these include heavily Republican “red states.” Nor will they—these states have little to gain by doing so.

Large populations of Americans being packed into a few states is not just a political challenge, it is also a demographic reality. Half of all Americans live in just the nine largest states. Why would the 41 smaller states—particularly the “red” (Republican-voting) ones–give up their leverage in the Electoral College? Granted, Colorado also ranks among those 41, but it is a former purple state that has been trending blue for years. By contrast, across the border here in deep-red Kansas, the idea has not even been discussed. Several small-population, red states like Kansas would have to be on board for the math to work, and they stand only to lose clout from the proposal. As it stands, Colorado voted for Clinton in 2016. Nothing would have changed, had these laws been in place there. Furthermore, the workaround may be unconstitutional, because it does not assign the state’s electoral votes to the electors pledged to the candidate who got the most votes in said state. Besides, the idea is a non-starter for the same reason the U.S. Constitution is not going to be amended for this—too many states have too much to lose from doing so.  An amendment would not get the required three-quarters of the states to ratify.

Democrats have two better options. The first is to do what I have advocated elsewhere: start winning back voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Iowa. Realistically, they may have to recapture these states one by one. Wisconsin is already coming back to blue. Speaking of Go Blue, Michigan also looks very promising. Pennsylvania is winnable, too. Just those three states, plus the ones she did win, would have put Hillary Clinton in the White House with 278 electoral votes (270 are required to win). This is good news for Democrats, since things have not turned around as much in Ohio and Iowa. They also need to hang onto Minnesota. It was the only state to vote for its native, Walter Mondale in 1984, but the North Star nearly slipped away from them last time.

Democrats can also work on a second strategy: flipping several electorally-rich red or purple states which are trending their way. These include North Carolina, Georgia, and Arizona. Texas is a more-distant prize—but we could see it flip in a decade or two. As these growing Sunbelt states become more diverse, demographics work to Democrats’ advantage. Particularly under Trump, Republicans have become a party of older, white people—particularly men and married women—and not many others. That does not bode well for the GOP’s future, Trump notwithstanding.

Oh, and what about Florida? Neither party should count on that one. Nearly 20 years later, it is still a hot mess.

As for the “College,” its elimination would not be so great. Doing away with it would mean that smaller states would be virtually ignored. They would probably end any kind of face-to-face contact between candidates, or even their volunteers, on one hand, and voters on the other. The race would be on to collect votes in huge metropolitan areas like New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas-Ft. Worth, forcing candidates to raise even more money than they do now and fight it out over the airwaves by saturating these massively-expensive media markets. This would also give even more play to the “independent expenditures” left unchecked thanks to the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling. The case for keeping the Electoral College is not unlike that for retaining the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries—sure they are unrepresentative, but at least they force candidates to go somewhere and talk to voters in person, instead of just a full-time schedule of raising money and reading scripts to television cameras.

Like the House and the Senate, the Electoral College was part of a Constitutional compromise between representation by population, and representation by state. There is little doubt that slavery played a large role here—except for Virginia, Southern states tended to be smaller. They feared being overwhelmed by the growing North, then outvoted on the slavery question. Yet like so many things with truly awful pasts, the Electoral College now sticks around, not because of its history but because of the current set of institutions and interests that keep it in place. In other words, it is a classic lesson in political science. As a Democrat myself, I hope my party is paying attention.

Now, let’s all go watch Schoolhouse Rock.

About the Author: Michael A. Smith is a Professor of Political Science at Emporia State University where he teaches classes on state and local politics, campaigns and elections, political philosophy, legislative politics, and nonprofit management. Read more on the MPSA blog from Smith and follow him on Twitter.

 


MPSA Member Profile: Lisa Baldez

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Dr. Lisa Baldez is Professor of Government and Latin American, Latino and Caribbean Studies at Dartmouth College. She is the author of Why Women Protest: Women’s Movements in Chile (Cambridge University Press, 2002) and Defying Convention: US Resistance to the UN Treaty on Women’s Rights (Cambridge University Press, 2014). Defying Convention won the 2015 Victoria Schuck Award for best book on women and politics and 2015 best book on human rights, both from the American Political Science Association. She is one of the founding editors, with Karen Beckwith, of Politics & Gender, the official journal of the Women and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association. From 2015-2018, she served as the Cheheyl Professor and Director of the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL).

Dr. Baldez is the recipient of the Midwest Women’s Caucus for Political Science Outstanding Professional Achievement Award, to be presented at the 2019 MPSA Annual Conference during a panel on Friday, April 5 at 4:45pm.

Here we ask her a few questions about her experiences:

Q: Do you have a favorite writing resource or process to keep you motivated?
I love doing research but I sometimes find myself hewing too close to my sources and not taking enough risks to articulate my own perspective on what I’m finding. I once had my students read a draft of a book chapter I was working on; one of them (famously) said to me, “Professor Baldez, I just don’t hear your voice in this chapter.” So I rely on lots of tricks to get myself to articulate my ideas more forcefully. When I’m really on my game, I write at least 30 minutes every day, using guidelines I’ve learned from the National Council for Faculty Development and Diversity. When I’m struggling, I use the Pomodoro method where you set a timer, write for 25 minutes and then take a break, and then repeat that several times. It’s called the Pomodoro method because the guy who started it used a timer shaped like a tomato. These techniques help me get my ideas onto the page and a bad first draft is always better than no draft at all. I also find that I can express my ideas more easily when I speak them out loud—so I record myself when I give talks or lecture.

Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for first-time MPSA conference participants about the conference?
I have lots of words of wisdom for first-time MPSA goers: don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to people, stay in touch with people you meet, practice presenting your paper until you can deliver it in ten minutes. I didn’t actually do any of these things, however. What I actually did during my first couple of MPSAs reveals that many opportunities come through serendipity. One of the first panels I went to was super boring. I was sitting in the back row and about halfway through, the woman next to me and I both got up and left. We returned about 30 minutes later—each of us with a newly purchased pair of shoes in our lap. I’d never met this woman, but we were clearly destined to connect. We chatted after the panel, showed our new shoes to each other, and have been close friends ever since. At another Midwest I attended early in my career there was a long line to get breakfast at the hotel before the first panel. I ended up having to be seated at a table with someone I didn’t know. It turns out that the person was chairing a search committee for a position to which I had applied. What’s the take away message in these anecdotes? Be open to chance meetings and cultivate serendipity. Also, go to the poster sessions. It’s much easier to have conversations with people there and the people presenting posters are always so grateful for your attention.

Q: Is there anything you’d like the membership to know about your work with the Midwest Women’s Caucus?
My first academic job was at Washington University in St. Louis, where nearly everyone on the faculty attended the Midwest. My mentor at Wash U, Lee Epstein, nominated me for a leadership position in the Midwest Women’s Caucus. At first it felt a little daunting to take on that responsibility as a junior professor, but it helped me build a strong network of colleagues and introduced me to so many of “the greats” who then became mentors and friends—Dianne Pinderhughes and Paula McClain foremost among them. From there I went on to serve on the Midwest Council, where I got a broader perspective on how the discipline works. As a junior professor, I never questioned whether I belonged in political science, which at the time may have been somewhat unusual for a woman who does work on gender and politics. Thinking back on it now, my experiences with MPSA helped me to see myself at the center of the discipline. It’s customary to tell junior faculty to keep their heads down and just write until they get tenure—but getting involved with the Women’s Caucus early on made all the difference to me.


This post is part of a series of interviews with our members. Read more MPSA Member profiles.

The Art of Networking: How to Maximize Your Doctoral Experience

By Francesca Gottardi of the University of Cincinnati

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When thinking about a doctoral program, the first image that comes to mind is likely to be that of a geeky student sitting at a desk, buried in books. But life in academia is not only about the coursework, although fundamental. It is also about the relationships that you develop along the way. Here are some life hacks that I have already learned in my brief academic experience.

Be There
The very first step in order to be able to make good connections is to actually be there. Go to conferences and events, particularly those relevant to your field.  As banal as this might sound, oftentimes we are so overwhelmed with our daily routine that we tend to pass on those events that are not strictly necessary or mandatory, especially if attendance comes at a cost. But it is in the context of such events that one has the opportunity to meet academics, practitioners, and fellow students with similar interests,  so make the effort to attend as many events as you can. You never know who will be there and what wondrous connections you might make.

Make it Happen
Sometimes attending conferences comes with an expense, and if you are not a presenter, funding can pose a serious challenge. Good news, there are ways around it! One avenue is to volunteer. For example, as a first-year law student, I did not stand a chance in presenting at the prestigious American Society of International Law Annual Meeting. What’s more, student registration and membership were almost $200. So, I applied to be a volunteer for the conference, signaling which panels I was particularly interested in attending. Not only did I get access to the conference for free, but I also earned an annual membership. In addition, I had the opportunity to be at receptions and luncheons, and to interact with high-level scholars in my field of interest. It’s the little things.

Make Your First Impression Count: Go Prepared
When you go to an event, invest some time to do some research. This will give you the opportunity to know who to look for in the crowd. It will also give you grounds to have some ad hoc conversation points. Research the topic of the event, the host, the speakers/panelists, and—when possible—the participants. This sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but it will give you that edge to make a good impression on the interlocutor. In other words, you will know what is going on, and you will be in the position to pose good questions and leave a good impression.

Part of being prepared is also to have a business card at hand. In the digital era we live in, we might think business cards are things of the past. Turns out, they are not. They can provide a quick and effective opportunity to exchange contact information, and to give a glimpse of who you are. If you are an international student, it could be a good idea to have them printed in English on one side, and in your native language on the back. I keep the business cards that I collect in dedicated files, ordered by date and event. This makes it easy to retrieve them, and it also comes in handy in remembering the names and positions of people I am likely to meet again.

Listen carefully to the person you interact with and show involvement and interest. Be engaged in the conversation. Don’t make it all about yourself. Ask relevant questions and make it balanced. Be concise and to the point. Avoid personal questions and be mindful of interpersonal distance—especially if you notice that the counterpart backs up. If you are a foreigner, be aware of cultural differences. For example, as an Italian, I have to be particularly mindful of avoiding touching the counterpart or being too close. If I know the person I talk to, it feels natural to me to greet with two (or three) kisses on the cheek the European way—a big no-no in the US.

Follow Up
One of the main mistakes I see my colleagues doing is to not follow up. If you have a great opportunity to meet a professional, don’t let it go to waste! Once the event is over, contact the person and express your gratitude for their time and the pleasant conversation you had. Refer to particular details that will make the note personal, and that will jog the memory of the receiver. Don’t let them forget about you and give them an opportunity to know where to find you. I suggest following up within two days, not to let the memory of your meeting fade away. If you start an e-mail exchange, respond promptly. I usually also start following the person on  Twitter and ask for the LinkedIn connection—if you do, always add a note in the connection request.

Social Media
Social media can be a powerful tool for networking. If you feel a certain person, panel, or event was interesting, then tweet about it, publish it on LinkedIn, and spread the love! Don’t forget to make good use of tags and hashtags. This can have both the function to acknowledge merit when warranted and is also a way to make yourself known and reachable. Nonetheless, try to stay away from your phone during a meeting or conversation.

Business and Etiquette in the Field
As Communication Specialist Mary Starvaggi of Etiquette Advantage highlights, don’t forget to “make eye contact, smile and give a firm handshake.” She also suggests to “use some form of thanks, praise, and/or compliment in the first words you speak or write.”

Moreover, although looks are not everything, they matter. Be mindful of dressing appropriately for the event; a good suit it is worth the investment. On this note, if you are given a name tag, Ms. Starvaggi points out that it should be worn on the upper right side of your chest. The rationale is to make the name tag stand out when you extend your right arm for that first handshake. And for how inconsequential this might sound, when choosing a perfume, avoid strong fragrances. After all, it is all about standing out with class and making your colleagues feel comfortable.

As a piece of more general advice, try to see the other person not as a tool to achieve a potential benefit, but as a person you can learn from and have a mutual exchange with. No one wants to feel used, but most people will be happy to offer their help if they perceive a genuine interest and sincerity on your part.

About the Author: Francesca Gottardi is a J.D. Candidate and Ph.D. Student at the University of Cincinnati. Her research interests are EU law, international law, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, and the American legal system. She can be contacted by email at gottarfa@mail.uc.edu, found on LinkedIn, and followed on Twitter at @gottarfa.


Understand Department Culture, Perfect your Personal Statement, and Other Tips on Applying to Graduate School

MPSA Professional Development Roundtable Preview

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash

In advance of this year’s MPSA conference (April 4-7, 2019 in Chicago), we asked panelists from the upcoming “Tips on Applying to Graduate School” to share a few of their best tips. Responses varied based on personal experience, but all of those responding agree that it’s best to understand how you will potentially fit into the department’s culture before you perfect your personal statement. Read on for more tips:

Kevin Gerald Lorentz, Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science at Wayne State University: Do your research. Yes, you should consult program websites and other accouterments, but I highly recommend consulting directly with program faculty and, if possible, current students. Graduate directors and prospective faculty mentors are the best sources of information when it comes to choosing the best graduate school for you. For instance, a few times during my own search I discovered that my preferred faculty mentor was leaving the institution, was nearing retirement, and/or our research interests didn’t align. Other times, I was able to speak with current graduate students (at either graduate open houses, conferences, etc.) and get a “feel” for the program’s culture. These conversations ultimately helped make my graduate school search more efficient and fruitful.  

Paula Armendariz, Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities: Research, research, research… I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to “sell” yourself as someone who not only is a good fit for the department, but also someone who is going to bring something novel to it.

Joan Ricart-Huguet, Postdoctoral Associate and Lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Yale University: Reach out to professors by email whenever there is a good reason. A score in the top decile of the GRE is important in general and necessary for top 10 programs, your statement of purpose is central, good letters are a must, etc. But should you email professors in departments to which you are applying? My advice is to reach out by email (attaching a brief CV) to professors whenever there is a good reason, usually some overlap in research interests or a very good fit with the program more generally. Professors want the best graduate students to improve the program and to work with them on projects, so a sound email can help you. If you email a professor whose work has nothing to do with your statement of purpose, your email will probably be ignored unless you seem like an outstanding student or a good fit in that department for other reasons. The email may not hurt your chances to enter that Ph.D. program, but an unwarranted email will hardly help. A superior option is to ask your trusted professors to date (including your letter writers) to email professors they know or have worked with in departments where you want to gain admission. A strong email of support from a trusted colleague can carry more weight than yours and make a big difference. Make sure you ask the favor tactfully and politely to your professors since they have competing pressures on their time, they may not be inclined to write (yet) another extra email, and they may already be writing you a letter of recommendation.

Armendariz: Get someone who is or has served as Director of Graduate Studies to read and correct your personal statement. I learned that this is the “interview” that you will not get with departments and so I had to try to communicate why was I a good fit for the department(s).

Ricart-Huguet: Introspection before you apply. A Ph.D. is a serious time commitment (5+ years) and you are likely foregoing a more reasonable work schedule and a higher salary elsewhere (even top Ph.D. programs pay around $30k/year). So why enroll in a Ph.D. program given the high opportunity cost? There are at least two important reasons: (a) passion for an area of study and (b) instrumental reasons. (a) Ideally, you just love your field/subfield (or perhaps the social sciences more generally), learning, teaching, and conducting research. To many, this alone is central to their decision-making. The intellectual growth a Ph.D. program can afford is very valuable in itself and the delayed financial gratification can be compensated by immediate intellectual gratification. (b) Others may think more instrumentally. You need a Ph.D. to be an academic, but a Ph.D. in political science can open the door to careers in governments, think tanks, international organizations, non-profits, and even the private sector – especially if you are a quantitative social scientist. Hence, a Ph.D. can make sense even if you don’t see yourself as a professor down the road.

Lorentz: Start your preparation early. Personal statements, letters of recommendation, and the dreaded GRE all require several months of groundwork. As such, make sure that you leave yourself time to draft, revise, and re-draft (you get the idea!) your personal statement, soliciting feedback from trusted friends and mentors. For letters of recommendation, I suggest giving your recommenders a good one-to-two months to prepare their letters (and do give them copies of your CV, personal statements, and other application materials that may help their composing!). Finally, you should plan on taking the GRE early enough to leave ample opportunity to re-test if so desired. (Although, you may elect to not do this depending on how programs treat multiple GRE attempts.) Regardless, don’t plan on taking the GRE without at least six or more months of preparation. For myself, I needed the extra time just to brush up on knowledge and skills that were a little rusty, while also mentally preparing. You can be successful in your graduate school search, so long as you prepare!

About the Panelists: Kevin Lorentz is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science at Wayne State University, Paula Armendariz is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and Joan Ricart-Huguet is a Postdoctoral Associate and Lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Yale University. Their MPSA professional development roundtable “STUDENTS: Tips for Applying to Graduate School” will be held Fri, April 5, 2019 (1:15 to 2:45pm) at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago.

 

The views and opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Midwest Political Science Association, MPSA staff, and/or other site contributors.

Juggling Academic Time and Technology: Advice from a Millennial

By Garrett Pierman of Florida International University

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The digital age is in full swing, especially in academia. In class, our students, if they are allowed, are browsing, tweeting, liking, and sharing across the web. They are also, one can hope, occasionally taking notes. Maybe you’re doing much the same – a like here, a comment there to break up the research sessions or avoid awkward small talk in the elevator. At home, our phones are our constant companions as we compulsively check for email replies, student concerns, and notifications from the academic and public political worlds. Technology has enabled us to do more. More work with more information, citing more literature, and reflective of more data, more of the time. This looks, from a distance, wonderfully efficient: we’re reachable at a moment’s notice, our inboxes are tidy, and our instantaneous information spigots are always open. But is more, in terms of the use of technology, always better?

Demirbilek and Talan, in their 2017 study of student multitasking, empirically confirm the suspicions of most instructors (Demirbilek and Talan 2018, 117–29). Students who have the ability to text and use social media in class do so, and their grades suffer as a result of their distraction. This situation is a familiar one – it increasingly seems that our glassy-eyed students can only see the world through an Instagram filter.

We would be naïve to think that this same distractedness that is affecting our students passes us by. On the professorial side of the desk, every distracted moment must be paid back, often from the already spartan reserves of personal time. At family gatherings, in quiet moments of rare leisure, even at the dinner table, we find ourselves as acquaintances in our present moments as we pass from one byte of work to another on our phones. This distracted and alienated state, which increases stress, strains personal relationships, and tempts academics to devote even more time to the already demanding ivory tower, has gotten so out of hand that the French have passed a “right to disconnect law”, forbidding employers from expecting employees to reply to work emails outside of paid hours (“For French Law On Right To ‘Disconnect,’ Much Support — And A Few Doubts.” NPR. February 3, 2017). This attempt to demarcate the spaces of work and leisure is unlikely to pass here in the United States, especially in academia, but has some lessons to teach us.

Here are some of the practices my colleagues and I have developed over the years to more intentionally use technology to work better, have more free time, and increase our qualities of life:

  1. Consider a device ban in your classroom.
    Setting a device ban forces each student to be present in the classroom. While some of them will be skeptical until their grades improve, selling it as a deliberate break from life outside of the present moment, such as many of us do at dinners with friends, has convinced many of my students.
  2. Set email office hours and expectations.
    Set a time (or a few) during the day to check and respond to emails. Make these times known to students and colleagues so they know when to expect replies. At the extreme end, you can sign out of your academic email totally outside of these hours, forcing you to become more deliberate about checking and, as a bonus, less tempted to check during moments of downtime.
  3. Uni-task purposely.
    Teach when you teach, email when you email, and sleep when you sleep. Our brains do better when we focus on one thing at a time, even though we prefer variety over monotony. Thus, spend shorter periods doing a sequence of different things instead of all-day doing a less productive mix of emailing, engaging in the present moment, etc.
  4. Demarcate spaces.
    In addition to the signing off and uni-tasking, consider leaving your devices out of certain spaces entirely. For instance, if you find yourself staying up late checking your phone in bed rather than sleeping, consider putting the phone on the other side of the room. Not only will you be forced to actually sleep in your bed, but you will also have to physically get up to turn off any morning alarms, which makes snoozing less likely.
  5. Embrace your free time.
    Now that you’ve signed off and put your phone away, go do something else outside of work. Sleep. Read. Cook. Spend the energy you would have wasted multi-tasking on pondering instead of a distraction. Taking the time to be rested, engaged, and mentally well, as a mentor of mine likes to put it, is the part of your job you do before you get to school.

In reading this, you might get the idea that I’m a Luddite. If anything, I am the opposite: as a millennial and a scholar, I see the amazing productivity and progress that we can do with technology. But these accomplishments are less likely when we are screen-addicted zombies. To combat that tendency, I simply suggest here that we take a good, hard look at our daily practices with technologies and ask what we can do better. In order to stay productive, sometimes we need to turn off the phones, tune out the email, and drop out of the digital world, at least until tomorrow.


Note from the Author: As educators, we have to consider the environments we create in our classrooms. Our use of technology has to be beneficial and inclusive to make learning possible. Thus, we have a responsibility to take into account that none of these are one-size fits all solutions. While suggesting to some students to unplug during class may well help them, that is not always the case: many students use laptops and other devices to be able to fully participate in our classes. We should encourage them to do so. Any device policies we include should make room for good-faith use of these devices without the student having to disclose anything sensitive, such as disability status, to anyone including us. Instead, any advice I give here is meant to start a conversation about how we want to use technology: inclusive course design must also be part of that conversation (https://www.chronicle.com/article/Should-You-Allow-Laptops-in/245625/).

About the Author: Garrett Pierman is a PhD Student in the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs in the Department of Politics and International Relations at Florida International University. His research focuses on the ways in which technology affects democratic discourse. His work has appeared in the Journal of Strategic Security, the journal Class, Race, and Corporate power, as well as the Marx and Philosophy Review of Books.  

 

The views and opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Midwest Political Science Association, MPSA staff, and/or other site contributors.