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.

The Big Lessons of Political Advertising in 2018

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

File 20181130 194932 49gcvn.png?ixlib=rb 1.1
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.