As the MPSA 2016 conference wraps up, I wanted to share a few thoughts as a first time attendee. This has been a phenomenal experience for me and my colleagues (most of whom are also first time attendees) and has made me fall in love with this profession all over again.
Creative Research and Sophisticated Methods
In principle an academic conference is a place for academics to come together and present their ideas. MPSA in that regard has been a great platform for all kinds of research to get center stage and be evaluated by our peers. A lot of research takes up traditional issues and uses out of the box approaches to answer the larger questions. Take for instance the work presented by Wedeking and Lippert on Supreme Court Legitimacy; they are using a network analysis tool called Pathfinder to help create visual networks of legitimacy. That work could be easily applied to comparative politics when studying authoritarian regimes to understand their power base. This approach could also help with designing an improved network analysis. Then there is the work using student research pools to run experiments. While not all institutions have that, it is a growing trend and the work presented based on this model of inquiry is growing.
Point is, what MPSA does for us as scholars is to give access to cutting edge research but importantly the opportunity to discuss it with authors so we can learn from them and apply those strategies to our research questions.
Networking and Building Research Clusters
As a first time attendee, the chance to meet fellow first time attendees and listen to their research was great. More importantly finding people who have similar ideas and wish to expand their research questions was extremely helpful too. I sat through a number of presentations that were in my field of study and I got to witness the different approaches I had never even heard of before this conference. The fact that I got the chance to discuss them at length and learn from these people was amazing.
These interactions may or may not lead to future work together but what I now know is there are research clusters out there that I can tap in to and work with even if they are not directly in my field. For instance, my friends in judicial politics and Congressional politics do some really sophisticated methods work that can be applied to other disciplines with a few updates. What also surprised me was the growing trend of cross-disciplinary work that is being done at this stage. The fact that as political scientists we are tapping in sociology, economics and anthropology to give more nuance to our work is something that can make our work more relevant to the existing issues the world faces.
The Big Picture
The Empire Series lectures were the hidden gem for this year’s MPSA. The lecture by Dr. Gary Segura was an honest critique and reality check for our profession. He focused on how the discipline needs to move to basics and start answering the real world problems. Political Science, according to him, is suffering from “methdological fetishism” whereby we are obsessed with sophistication of our methods and are heavily quantative in our approach. According to him we need to be focusing on the “politics that matter”. He believes that the focus on methods is killing the focus on substance. His views echo what a lot of the general public has been saying about academia for a while i.e. we do not talk to them, we often talk at them. And while this may hold true in a lot of cases, what I witnessed at the MPSA conference this year has been a shift to answering the real world questions in a straightforward manner. Yes, methods are critical to providing scientific evidence to our claims and our hypothesis, but at the same time our questions have also gotten more realistic. For instance MPSA this year held a number of roundtables that focused on dealing with real issues we face as academics from classroom teaching to making our research more accessible to the public.
Dr. Segura’s words echoed Dr. Zoltan Hajnal who presented a thorough study on how certain political parties have a significant impact on the living conditions of the minorities in this country. With erudite mix methods, he presented a realistic picture that explains the current election cycle well and even explains why Hillary Clinton locks up the minority vote like no one else. His explanations and evidence is the direction our profession is moving towards slowly.
The 2016 MPSA conference has done what it was meant to do – it has put forward the state of our profession and that state is excellent. We are on the right path and the fact that so many academics are willing to work with their graduate students and teach them with a hands on approach is something our field can be proud of. As a first time attendee, I realized how lucky I was to have amazing faculty who actively wishes to work with students as co – authors to train them better and help build on our ideas.
About the author: Adnan Rasool is a PhD Candidate, a Graduate Research Assistant and Student Innovation Fellow 2016 – 2017 at Georgia State University. He is also a blogger for the 2016 MPSA conference in Chicago. His research work focuses on the Role of Bureaucracies in Democratization and Authoritarian Rule, Money in US Politics as well as how social issue cases impact trust of social interest groups in Federal Judiciary. You can also find Rasool on Twitter and blogging at The Gradventures