Three Methods to Ready Your Research for Public Absorption

MPSA_Blog_PublicConsumptionRecently one of the biggest discussions within the field of political science has been on how to use our research for policy making purposes. The debate has focused on finding the best possible avenues to disseminate the research work in a manner that is suitable for public consumption but more critically for the consumption of policy makers.  

As political scientists, we undertake research that aims to answer crucial questions that impact our society. Whether it is figuring out how public opinion is crafted or how voting behavior impacts eventual policy making, most of the answers are debated within the domain of political science. And yet we have disconnect with the policy making world and the practical application of these concepts. As someone who has a background in public policy making, this discussion has fascinated me at a personal level and has driven my research interests. Having been involved on both sides (i.e. public policy and research) I have noticed a number of ways this divide can be potentially bridged.

I recently had the opportunity to try out approaches to bridge this divide as part of a Political Action Committee (PAC) retreat and fundraising events. As a political scientist who works on money in politics, I was invited to the event to provide my insights and lessons from research I have been conducting over the last few months. The audience was made up of political operatives and members of the general public who were interested in improving their political influence in an efficient manner. I will skip out on the details of what was discussed and presented in favor of sharing more global insights with my fellow political scientists about such interactions.

  1. Fortune Cookie Wisdom
    While we as researchers spend a lot of time understanding and explaining the intricacies of the problems at hand, the common public as well as policy makers are not interested that level of detail. What they are expecting are fortune cookie knowledge about complex and often multifaceted issues. Their appetite for nuance is low but they are interested in listening to what effectively amounts to the information regularly found in our concluding paragraphs and thesis statement. The focus is on why something happens and how it can be addressed. It is an oversimplification of the work we do but remember that it is what can be digested by the majority in small doses.

  2. Statistics and Facts
    Contrary to popular belief, the majority of the population and even the policy makers are short on data and facts. Often the discussion in the public domain is driven by special interests and rhetoric. What I found being the most potent contribution from academia is statistics and empirical evidence. Our strength as academics is the scientific method of inquiry and the ability to provide causation and correlation for talking points. For instance one of the discussions where this came in handy was a debate on how to improve minority participation in the political system. The minority in question has very low political participation but is highly educated with one of the highest average household incomes. One of the methods put forward as a solution was simply to get younger members of the community involved in politics by creating an internship program that could allow them first hand exposure to the political system. The logic being if the group is exposed to the system and have better information about it, they can design their policy interventions in a way that would actually work within the system.

  3. Accepting Simplicity
    The common public or even the policy makers are not interested in the details of our work. I know it is hard to cut down the research work we spend countless hours doing into bullet points but remember that is what is readily consumed. As academics we need to embrace that simplicity. One of the best ways to do this is by getting active on social media. A lot of academics are finally moving in that direction and that is a good things for our discipline. Social media is a great tool for us and simplified versions of our works can get a lot of traction if done right. Blogs, articles, columns or even simple tweets go a long way. Policy makers as well as the general public is hungry for expert opinions that is not simply rhetorical. That is our opening but we need to communicate in a language that will be understood.

Academia has a strong place in policy making and general narrative building. The insights I have provided from my interactions are by no means the only insights out there but they are a starting point.

This year, MPSA will have bloggers and vloggers covering the annual conference as one method to highlight our research. Additionally, MPSA encourages participants to use the hashtag #MPSA16 when live tweeting conference discussions and debates. As we move toward the MPSA conference, we have a great opportunity to highlight excellent cutting edge research by growing our collective social media presence.

About the author:  Adnan Rasool is a PhD student, a Graduate Research Assistant at Georgia State University, and a blogger for the 2016 MPSA conference in Chicago. His research work focuses on the Role of Bureaucracies in Democratization and Authoritarian Rule, Money in US Politics as well as how social issue cases impact trust of social interest groups in Federal Judiciary.  In his previous life he has been a Political Campaign Strategist, an award winning blogger on current affairs and a development sector expert.  You can also find Rasool on Twitter and blogging at The Gradventures.

 

Presenting At Conferences – A Grad Student’s Guide

Presenting at a conference is a daunting task for any academic. Be it a big name academic who has spent a career presenting at MPSA_Rasool_GradStudentPrepconferences around the world or a graduate student who is just starting out; conference anxiety still kicks in. To help presenters, especially grad students, I came up with a list of things to keep in mind while you prepare for your conference presentations. The list is compiled based on my personal experiences as well as those of professors and other graduate students within the field of Political Science.

  1. Practice
    As they say, practice makes perfect. For a conference presentation, especially for a graduate student, practicing what you are presenting is key. While it seems like a cliché, “practice makes perfect” is a popular saying for a reason. The trick here is to try different scenarios for practicing. Most departments offer colloquiums internally that allow students to test out their research ideas among their peers first before going to a conference. This gives the grad student a chance to try their presentation in its entirety in front of a room full of people. Additionally this allows for significant and honest feedback from your peers that does not break your confidence at this early stage. Every grad student’s conference presentation is a representation of the department, i.e., the quality of the department is heavily represented by the kind of graduate students and research they are putting out. So, it is better to have in-house practice before you head out.

    Pro Tip – Ask your peers to play out roles, i.e., ask some of them to be supportive while others to be extremely harsh about your research presentation. This way you will not be rattled if you run in to a harsh critique at the conference.

  2. Your Research Is NOT Perfect
    You are a graduate student, there is no way your research is the picture of perfection or even close. Understand that and you will have a much easier time dealing with criticism and ideas about your research from not just your peers but by conference audiences. Most of the time, we as graduate students worry too much about the perfection of our research before presenting it. This is also why a number of people hold off from presenting their research work because they feel it is not “perfect” enough. The thing is, it will never be perfect enough. It will be good and one of the best ways to make it better is to put it out for discussion and feedback within your field by presenting at a conference. Once it is out there, you can get feedback on it and then realize the potential it has.
  3. Be Crystal Clear
    One of the key issues all graduate students face while presenting at conferences is the assumption that the audience completely understands what they are talking about. That is not the case. In most instances, people listening to research presentation would have an understanding of the field but might not know the specifics of the topic you are focusing on. As a good presenter, you can address this by simplifying your research using an easy to follow sequence.

    Start with your THEORY. Be clear about exactly what you are saying, i.e., your research question and what the theory you are working with is. Secondly, present your HYPOTHESES clearly. Everyone in the room should know what you are testing through your work. Be clear on the independent variables and your dependent variable. Make separate slides if you need to do that. This helps people follow what you are saying and keep in mind the causal mechanism as you explain what you’re testing and the analytical data. Thirdly, explain in sequence your METHODOLOGY and the reason your methodology works well for your project. Your methodology is where a lot of feedback will be directed, so make sure it is clear and easy to understand. Lastly, present your CONCLUSION by summing up everything you have said. Before you jump to your conclusion, have a summary slide that sums up everything you have said, i.e., research question, theory, methodology, analytics. Present a conclusion in simplest of terms. Most graduate students have a tendency to use big words and complicated jargon to prove they know what they are talking about. Be different and use simple language to explain your conclusion. This way it will actually stick with people instead of being just another presentation by a graduate student trying to show off his or her vocabulary.

  4. Be Gracious, Do not Get Defensive
    As discussed earlier, your research is not perfect. The worst thing a graduate student, or for that matter any presenter, can do is to get defensive about their research work. Be gracious instead. Take the critique in stride and listen to what is being said. Ask people to be exact about their critique in a gracious manner so you can actually improve your research. The whole point of presenting at a conference is to fine tune your research work so that it may eventually go out for publishing. Plus if you are gracious about your acceptance of critique, your audience is more likely to get invested in the work you are doing and be happy to share their insights with you about it.

    Forums like MPSA are great for getting feedback on your research from your peers who are either involved in something similar or have been working on something that might be of help to you. Your attitude while taking criticism might also help you find likeminded researchers who could potentially work with you on a co-authored project. In short, be gracious, smile and acknowledge the feedback.

  5. A Certain Amount of Stress is Good
    A lot of articles will tell you not to stress. They will talk about tricks to manage your stress by imagining the room full of people as something else, etc. Reality is far from it. As a graduate student presenting at a forum like MPSA, there is a certain amount of pressure and stress. It is okay to have that stress. The key is to realize that everyone else who is there presenting alongside you for the next four days also is going through the same thing. We are all in this together. Acknowledge that and things become easier. Stress about getting your research in within the allotted time is good but freaking out about the critique is not. Worrying about the technology working out is good, but preparing a backup plan for that is even better. At the end of the day you need to know that you are not alone. All of us are academics and have been in the same situation at one time or another. So be stressed about the quality of your work but do not worry to the point it hurts the presentation of your work.

As the 2016 MPSA conference draws closer, I hope this list is helpful to all of you. See you all at MPSA 2016!

About the author:  Adnan Rasool is a PhD student, a Graduate Research Assistant at Georgia State University, and a blogger for the 2016 MPSA conference in Chicago. His research work focuses on the Role of Bureaucracies in Democratization and Authoritarian Rule, Money in US Politics as well as how social issue cases impact trust of social interest groups in Federal Judiciary.  In his previous life he has been a Political Campaign Strategist, an award winning blogger on current affairs and a development sector expert.  You can also find Rasool on Twitter and blogging at The Gradventures.