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.

The Big Lessons of Political Advertising in 2018

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Screen shot of Beto O’Rourke’s Facebook ad, 2018.
Facebook

Erika Franklin Fowler, Wesleyan University; Michael Franz, Bowdoin College, and Travis N. Ridout, Washington State University

The 2018 midterm elections are in the books, the winners have been declared and the 30-second attack ads are – finally – over.

As co-directors of the Wesleyan Media Project, which has tracked and analyzed campaign advertising since 2010, we spend a lot of time assessing trends in the volume and content of political advertising.

Because we have television data that span a number of elections, we can provide detailed information on how prominent TV ads are overall or in any given location, how many different types of sponsors are active and how the content of advertising compares to prior election cycles.

Of course, television is not the only medium through which campaigns attempt to reach voters. But online advertising, which represents the biggest growth market, has been much harder to track.

Prior to May of 2018, for instance, social media giants like Google and Facebook did not release any information at all on political advertising, so tracking online advertising began in earnest only this cycle.

Florida Democratic congressional candidate Mary Barzee Flores focused on health care in this ad.

Although Americans frequently complain about campaign advertising, it remains an important way through which candidates for office can communicate their ideas directly to citizens, especially those who would not necessarily seek out the information themselves.

What role did political advertising play in the 2018 midterm elections? Here are our top observations:

1. Digital advertising grew in 2018.

Data on digital ads in prior cycles are not readily available, but we know from campaigns and practitioners that the dollars spent in online advertising are growing quickly. Facebook reports that just under US$400 million was spent on its platform for political ads, ranging from U.S. Senate races to county sheriff, between May of 2018 and Election Day.

Google reports about $70 million in spending on ads in races for the U.S. Senate and House on its ad network during a comparable time period.

Some candidates prioritized digital advertising over traditional television ads. For example, Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke spent at least $8 million on Facebook and another $2 million on Google. That was about 34 percent of the $29.4 million total that his campaign spent on advertising, if we include the $19.4 million spent on broadcast television in 2018.

To be sure, O’Rourke was an outlier. We found in October that about 10 percent of spending by Senate candidates on advertising was on digital ads between May 31 and Oct. 15, 2018.

Still – in a fragmenting media environment where people receive information from a variety of different sources and spend substantial time on social media and online – you might assume that campaigns’ heavy focus on digital advertising would displace television advertising.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

2. TV is still important to congressional and statewide campaigns.

This is demonstrated by the record number of television ads in 2018. Data from our project show that the number of ads aired in races for governor, U.S. Senate and U.S. House increased by 58 percent from 2014 to 2018, from 2.5 million to almost 4 million ad airings.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/AfpN7/4/

The biggest increase was in U.S. House races, where ad airings rose from under 600,000 in 2014 to over 1.2 million in 2018. The large number of competitive races in 2018, especially in the U.S. House, may account for much of the increase.

3. The election was about health care.

Even in a fragmented media era with a hyper-polarized electorate, advertising in 2018 shows that it is still possible to find agreement across campaigns on the importance of particular issues.

In this cycle, that issue was clearly health care.

More than a third of the record-breaking number of ads aired in federal and gubernatorial races mentioned health care, and the attention to health care as an issue only grew throughout the cycle, with 41.4 percent of all airings in the post-Labor Day period mentioning the issue. In total, 1.4 million airings mentioned health care and 979,249 of those aired between Sept. 4 and Election Day. Health care was by far the most mentioned issue.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/0lLFv/1/

The dominance of health care was driven by the laser focus on the issue on the Democratic side. A little more than half of pro-Democratic ads in federal races during the post-Labor Day period mentioned the topic. By contrast, the second largest issue was taxes, at 14.7 percent of airings.

Although pro-Republican airings in federal races talked more about taxes during this window – 35.3 percent – than any other issue, health care ran a close second, appearing in nearly a third of pro-Republican airings.

Pro-Democratic gubernatorial airings also talked more about health care – 45.5 percent – than any other single issue. Education and taxes ranked second and third, respectively.

Pro-Republican gubernatorial airings were the only ones that did not include health care in the top two topics, but the issue did rank fifth in percentage of airings in the post-Labor Day period. It was behind taxes, education, jobs and public safety issues.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/qPc48/1/

4. Outside groups continue to be active.

Outside groups paid for 22 percent of ads aired in U.S. House races in 2018, an increase over the 15 percent of group airings in 2016. And those outside groups paid for a little more than one-third of all ads aired in U.S. Senate races, a slight decrease from 2016.

In partnership with the Center for Responsive Politics, we categorize these groups into three classifications: full-disclosure groups, meaning they disclose contributor lists to the Federal Election Commission; nondisclosing dark money groups that are most often 501(c)4 nonprofits; and partial-disclosure groups that identify donors but also accept contributions from dark money sources.

In past cycles, we found that dark money was more prevalent among Republican groups than pro-Democratic ones. This cycle, the pattern flipped.

One in four, or 25 percent, of ads aired by groups on behalf of Democratic House candidates in the election year was from a dark money group. Only about 12 percent of pro-Republican ads aired by groups in House races was from a dark money sponsor.

In Senate races, dark money sponsors for Democrats and Republicans were about equal in share, roughly one in every three outside group ads on either side of the aisle.

Nowhere to hide

All told, 2018 was a “do everything” election, where many campaigns invested heavily in traditional TV ads and online advertising facilitated by social media.

We have long suspected that TV ads would decline as digital ascended. That may yet happen, but in 2018 voters were truly bombarded by ads on their TV screens.

Political ads may have stopped for the moment, but the reprieve will be brief.

Our data show that election off-years, as 2019 is, will still feature substantial amounts of campaign advertising, often reminding voters about accomplishments in office or setting up attacks on vulnerable incumbents.

Until those start, enjoy the brief break.The Conversation

Erika Franklin Fowler, Associate Professor of Government, Wesleyan University; Michael Franz, Professor of Government, Bowdoin College, and Travis N. Ridout, Professor of Government and Public Policy, Washington State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

MPSA Member Profile: Rebecca Dew

Dr. Rebecca Dew is an Independent Researcher based in Florida, where she can be reached at Academia.edu or her personal website, or followed on Twitter @beccadew. Additionally, Dew is a recent participant in the Wikipedia Fellows program. Here we ask her a few questions about her experiences:

MPSA-MemberProfile-RebeccaDew

What was your role as a Wikipedia Fellow?
Volunteering as a Wikipedia Fellow meant communicating with a dozen odd scholars and professionals in academia over the Zoom platform and perhaps even the international date line, and this in combination with whatever academic or professional concerns we also held at the time. I worked on articles concerning activism, authority, and a sprinkling of other topics of interest and relevance to me and my research objectives. I also had the opportunity to provide feedback on the work of others and even co-author a Wikipedia article with another cohort fellow.

What surprised you most about your experience working with Wikipedia?
I would say the level of participation and contribution from other editors and authors was a large part of what made participating in the Wikipedia project both surprising and helpful. One’s attitude when approaching a solo-authored or co-authored paper for a peer-reviewed journal is, as a rule, “this is my work” or “our work” and it is well-documented, referenced, and it is going to stay that way. The attitude one must take in approaching a Wikipedia article is something more like “this is what we now know” and the part I play is limited, interactive, and modifiable. Writers and editors on Wikipedia are doing what they can to contribute what they know, then step back and watch as others contribute what they know. The feel is different, and so is the process. It is rewarding, but it is rewarding in a rather different way—an unfinished, adaptive sort of way. I have written more about this in a blog post about my experience.

Perhaps the most exciting or challenging quality of striving and at times struggling to be a dedicated intellectual in the twenty-first century is similar to what it’s like serving as a Wikipedia editor, careening through the digital and virtual options we have for gelatinizing and sharing our findings, our hypotheses, and our minds. Like almost everything else these days, our options appear to be virtually limitless, or at the very least, virtual. But like overwhelmingly everyone these days, one cannot be a happy or fulfilled academic without taking every one of these innovative options with a healthy grain of realism, skepticism, and salty and good-humored good sense. I have found that with working with Wikipedia and with other Wikipedians, the most important thing to remember is the significant part that the person who is doing the writing plays in making the ever-unfinished product, the Wikipedia articles that we read. Wikipedia is as accurate and effective as the people who write it and read it allow their contributions and interpretations to be. Wikipedia provides a blend of the features of knowledge and accessibility; I consider it a happy privilege to be someone who can in some way contribute to both.

What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently working on several projects. The most pressing of these would be two monographs, one on the political thought of Hannah Arendt in relation to Karl Jaspers, and the other on activism and its representation in relation to the history of political thought. Other projects include critiques of Habermas, Heidegger, and Marx, and a flattering assessment of the work of Michael Oakeshott. There is a co-authored paper that I am working on with a friend of mine in Australia. I also like keeping my hand in Wikipedia, and I enjoy teaching. There are a few other books and articles churning over in my mind; I find that’s the way with many ideas. I’d rather live thinking of much than think of thinking less.

Words of wisdom for first-time MPSA conference attendees about visiting Chicago? While in Chicago, do what the Chicagoans do. I cannot emphasize enough the priority of enjoying where you are while you are there—especially when you go to all of the trouble of flying to be there. I stayed downtown to explore the venue and as much of its surrounding features as possible. Among my favorite experiences beyond the conference itself were visiting the Cloud Gate, the various art displays, and Jay Pritzker Pavilion at and around Millennium Park, walking near the Chicago Riverwalk, crossing DuSable Bridge and spotting Trump Tower close to sunset at the river’s edge. I also enjoyed sampling a variety of the city’s local foods and the many options of eating around the corner of the conference. I do recommend eating at the conference venue itself, with its varieties of classic, international, and vegan fare, and bumping into all sorts of academic guests. In my visit to Vanderbilt University earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to meet with several faculty and discuss my work on Hannah Arendt there. But it was not until MPSA 2018 that I had the opportunity to meet with Assistant Professor Allison Anoll and discuss the correlation of her work on prisons, race, and participatory norms to mine on the carceral state, violence, and what can be considered carceral spillover. I also had some fantastic opportunities to swap research ideas and stories with other established and early career researchers from Baylor, Stanford, and even the University of Chicago. During the conference, I stayed with a fellow researcher based at the University of Chicago who, in fact, flew into the conference on the same flight as I did. Getting to know some locals can make all of the difference in what can otherwise feel like a new and unfamiliar world.

Speaking of opportunities around travel. Where is the best place you’ve traveled to and why?
I find this question difficult to answer. I am tempted to respond with Hawai’i; I lived there for four years, and I have always thought that the best way to get to know someplace and get a feel for its culture is to live there. Perhaps that is one reason why I followed my own advice and moved to Brisbane, Australia, where I completed my PhD at the University of Queensland, a superior research university where I really had one of the best academic and professional experiences to be imagined. In terms of traveling to exotic locations, Fiji or New Zealand’s Bay of Islands would rate highly, although I have not spent enough time at either to state which I would prefer best.

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

MPSA Roundtable – Using Experiments in Political Science

Genetic engineering and digital technology concept.

This MPSA roundtable session on “Using Experiments in Political Science”, chaired by Rick K. Wilson of Rice University features Alexa Bankert of the University of Georgia, Oliver James of the University of Exeter, Costas Panagopoulos of Northeastern University, and David Nickerson of Temple University.

The panel members discuss the use of experiments in political science and the implications of experimental research for both the study and practice of politics.

Highlights from the discussion include the benefits and potential drawbacks of building a cutting-edge lab on a university campus to conduct experimental research, as well as opportunities to do experiments with big data, doing research while working with political campaigns, field experiences of a political scientist working with public organizations on policy experiments, and strategies for publishing experimental research in major academic journals.

Each panelist describes risks and benefits related to their particular field of expertise related to experiments and provides tips and advice for conducting and publishing research experiments.

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Listen to the panel on Soundcloud.

MPSA Members can log in to access a variety of recordings from highlighted MPSA conference presentations. Additional podcasts from select MPSA conference roundtables are also available.

The Only Thing We Have to Fear

By Michael A. Smith of Emporia State University

The Only Thing We Have to Fear

Senator and Vice-President Hubert Humphrey‘s nickname was The Happy Warrior. He worked tirelessly on behalf of causes he championed, and usually seemed joyful when doing so, even though he lived through and served during one of the most divisive periods in modern American history, taking his fair share of abuse in the process.

Perhaps political science can teach us all how to be happy warriors. No realistic observer of today’s politics in the United States, or worldwide, can seriously say “don’t worry, be happy,” as in the song from the 1980s. Democracy and diversity are under a great deal of stress at home and abroad. However, political science remains a useful tool to help stay centered.

Political science is an analytical tool that enables readers to sift through this nonsense, identifying what is important and tossing out the rest. - Michael A. Smith

About two years ago, I wrote a blog post here arguing that like meditation, political science could be an important tool for relaxation. In brief, my point was that there is a lot of hue and cry about politics on social media and elsewhere. Political science is an analytical tool that enables readers to sift through this nonsense, identifying what is important and tossing out the rest. Real-world politics is often a great deal less dramatic than all the carrying on that we see on the social media, cable TV, and perhaps even the family reunion.

Since I wrote, circumstances have overtaken me. Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016, surprising a lot of observers, forcing us to re-examine our assumptions, and leading to a new era in American politics. Or, is it an aberration? Time will tell. At any rate, my message two years ago needs a re-do. Democracy is in danger in the United States and around the world, with the “strong man” style of leadership becoming increasingly popular, while pluralistic democracy is in peril. What to do?

It is important for citizens to be informed, vote, and take thoughtful, conscientious action, both political and non-political. However there are still a lot of things that many of us do which are a waste of time. Even some political scientists do this, and we should know better. What follow are a number of suggestions to use political science, be happier, and use time more effectively. That includes time spent being active in politics.

Lesson #1: Stop Ranting on Social Media

Nothing characterizes the dysfunctional politics of our age better than social media rants. Give yourself a break. Get off social media, or just use it to keep up with old friends. Do not rely on it for news — it is unreliable, fact-checking is time-consuming, and there is nothing you need to know that cannot be found out from a more traditional news outlet. More importantly, social media rants are ineffective, and here’s why. Long before Facebook, research revealed that people tend to group together with the like-minded. All the way back in 1940, the famous Erie County studies revealed this, while also noting that some people like to rant about politics because they gain “psychic rewards” from doing so. This is really the only benefit, and it can quickly turn into negative energy.

Most of your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat friends probably have similar views to yours. When you rant on social media, all you do is give them something to “like.” The few social media friends you still have that disagree with your politics are extremely unlikely to change their minds. They may unfriend you, they may rant back, or they may ignore you, but they will not shift their opinions. Just let it be.

Lesson #2: A Vote is a Vote

On the eve of the ultra-close 2000 Presidential election, my satirical horoscope in The Onion was as follows, “your carefully considered, policy-based vote will be canceled out by a hairdresser who likes the other guy’s ties.”

So true, although somewhat unfair to hair care professionals, whose votes are presumably no more and no less carefully-considered than those working in other professions. It is important to be a frequent voter, and even consider taking other political action, such as volunteering or giving money to an interest group, candidate, or party that advocates for something about which you are passionate. This time is well-spent, and can help change election outcomes and give a feeling of doing civic duty. However, once you have voted, you have voted. Intense feelings about the election do not increase your vote.

A case in point is the difference between supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, and those backing Secretary Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination. Bernie had the energy — his supporters appeared more passionate than Hillary’s, which gave him an advantage in caucus states. However, Bernie supporters also made the classic mistake of conflating intensity with number of votes. The outcome of the 2016 Democratic primaries and caucuses was not close. Clinton captured 55% of the popular vote, to 43% for Sanders, all before a single superdelegate cast a convention ballot. This is not to dismiss Sanders or his supporters — in another blog post, I challenged them to start a political movement like the conservative Young Americans for Freedom in the 1960s and 70s, but on the liberal side this time. Sanders’ supporters have a lot to contribute. My point is not to dismiss them, but to point out while they had passion, Hillary had the numbers. Unfortunately, because her supporters were less enthusiastic and outspoken, many Sanders supporters interpreted that to mean that Clinton only gained the Democratic nomination due to superdelegates, which is incorrect. She won more votes — over 3 and a half million more — from her often low-key supporters than Sanders did from his.

A vote counts the same, no matter the voter’s intensity. It is especially important not to forget those low-turnout elections like local races, party primaries, and the midterm elections happening right now, when your vote really does count for more, because it is one of a smaller number. Get informed, get involved, and vote. Then, get on with life. A vote will still count the same whether the voter obsesses about it or not. You voted. You did your civic duty. Time to get on with life.

Lesson #3: Strategize

It is a truism of effective campaigning, and effective lobbying, to identify those who are undecided and target the message to them. In the case of voters, there are really two groups of undecideds: those who have not yet decided whether or not they are going to vote, and those who have not yet decided for whom they are going to vote. Appeals directed at anyone else are a waste of time. When a candidate is campaigning, she is either getting out the vote, or persuading voters. Period. There is nothing else to do. Patting supporters on the back is smug and self-righteous. Ranting at your opponent is a waste of time, unless doing so motivates your base or persuades undecideds, which it often does not.

Take political action, but take smart political action. That starts with identifying what you want to get done, and then identifying those who are undecided or inactive, and either persuading them, getting them to be active, or both. Neither preaching to the choir nor ranting and raving is time well spent. Take a nap or go for a walk instead.

Lobbying is the same way, as is legislative leadership. It begins by identifying the strong supporters, the strong opponents, and the undecideds. Then comes the time for political action: smart political action. There is no other kind. If it is not precisely targeted, then don’t bother.

Lesson #4: Look at the Big Picture

President Donald Trump won the state of Kansas, where I teach, by a comfortable 20 points. However, this does not mean Kansans endorse the more disturbing aspects of his unusual political campaign, and now his presidency. I consult for a poll called Kansas Speaks, run by the Docking Institute at Fort Hays State University. Our pre-election, 2016 data was very clear. In this heavily Republican state, Kansans did not like Donald Trump, rating him very low on two particular categories: trustworthiness, and understanding people like me. How did he win here? Simple. Besides not having the Republican label, Hillary Clinton was also rated even lower by the voters on these same categories. Many political scientists, such as me, seriously underestimated Hillary Clinton‘s personal unpopularity with voters. However, this does not mean that the American people gave Donald Trump a sweeping endorsement of his more-disturbing campaign promises. It is important to look at the big picture. The midterm elections going on right now will tell another important part of the story: one which is ever-evolving.

Lesson #5: FDR was Right

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Indeed.

Political and social scientists are quick to point out that much of our time spent in fear is wasted time. Human beings have evolved in such a way as to become particularly concerned with so-called “focusing events” in which a lot of destruction happens in a single space, particularly a one which can be shot on video. The recent massacre at a  Pittsburgh synagogue is a case in point. It was a horrible tragedy, in which 11 people, including a Holocaust survivor, lost their lives to murder. The coming together of the people of Pittsburgh and across the nation has been heartwarming, and it should continue. This coming Saturday has been declared a special day, in which non-Jews are encouraged to attend synagogue to learn about the Jewish faith and show solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters. What a great cause!

As a matter of fact, this is exactly the right thing to do; go to service. Religious services, and other public activities, are still relatively safe. The horror in Pittsburgh and other mass shootings are heartbreaking. It is good to honor the victims and call for interfaith understanding and healing. On the other hand, one thing not to do is live in fear.

As social scientists remind us, the probability of an American being killed in a domestic or international terrorist attack is very low. How low? Lower than the probability of being killed by one’s own clothes. It is much lower than the probability of a shorter life due to heart disease, undetected cancer, or untreated diabetes: the real killers. In fact, the situation is so extreme, the one social scientist estimated that more Americans died after the September 11 attacks than during the attacks themselves because, due to fear, they drove instead of flying (auto travel is much more dangerous than flying.) Now, get back on that plane.

FDR nailed it. Do not be afraid. And, get a colonoscopy. Eat healthy, exercise, and get plenty of sleep and outdoor time. Wear safety equipment when operating motor vehicles, including seatbelts, helmets, and life vests, depending on the vehicle. If you have suicidal ideations, get help immediately. On the other hand, the probability is really quite low that you will die in a commercial airline crash (small aircraft are another matter), a terrorist attack, or any other focusing event. But, be careful with those clothes!

Fear is what domestic and foreign terrorists want. Don’t let them win. Take care of yourself, and that includes not spending time on irrational fears or pointless political rants.

My blog post from a few years ago was a bit Pollyanna-ish. Things have, indeed,             deteriorated in the United States and elsewhere, since I posted. There are things to worry about. However, many people who are upset about these developments are still spending their time very unproductively. Venting to kindred spirits or ranting at political opponents will not win hearts and minds. Certain targeted comments and directed political activity, such as being a reasonably well-informed frequent voter are well worth doing. Taking it to the next level with intentional political activity, such as spending Election Day walking door-to-door for a Get Out The Vote campaign, or giving money to a favorite political cause, are also good.

The bottom line is, political science can still find a way to a better life, by showing how much of our psychic energy is being wasted on unproductive political rants and irrational fears. This is no time to say “don’t worry, be happy.” It is a time for thoughtful, carefully-focused political action, focused on where it will do the most good, and casting out those activities which cause a great deal of pain and are highly unproductive. There is still time for relaxation and meditation, and political science can still help you live a better life.

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.