Rethinking the Political Science Major – MPSA Roundtable (audio)

Image - A classroom without students

This roundtable Rethinking the Political Science Major (audio), chaired by John T. Ishiyama of  University of North Texas and featuring J. Cherie Strachan of Central Michigan University, Whitney Lauraine Court of College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, and Amber Dickinson of Oklahoma State University, examines trends within the discipline rethinking the structure and function of the undergraduate political science major in the context of shrinking enrollments within the major, changing student demographics, and evolving workforce demands.

Topics include:

  • Discussion about ways the major can revitalize itself in the face of changing times, growing undergraduate participation by female, minority, and non-traditional students, and declining political ambitions among female and minority students uncomfortable with the combative climate of modern-day politics.
  • Ideas about how the discipline can restructure itself and engage in strategic planning to meet the needs of diverse student populations and encourage political participation by underrepresented groups.
  • Conversation about ways that the major could better prepare students with in-demand skills required by employers and re-brand itself to emphasize workforce relevance and encourage increased interest from undergraduate students.

Listen in!

MPSA Members can log in to access a variety of recordings from highlighted MPSA conference presentations.  

 

 

Show Me the Money: Securing Research Funding

By Charmaine N. Willis of University of Albany

Word map with various currencies scattered around edges
One of the most important parts of conducting any research project, regardless of its methodology, is securing research funding. The recent MPSA conference offered several roundtables dedicated to research funding; in this blog, I cover the roundtable co-sponsored by the Midwest Women’s Caucus, the Gender and Politics section, and the Professional Development section. The panelists offered several useful pieces of advice when considering where and how to apply for research grants that are applicable for researchers at any stage, including graduate students.

Explaining Your Research

A key theme that the panelists touched upon was the importance of being able to explicitly and succinctly summarize one’s research. While this is a piece of advice that many of us have heard before, the roundtable provided some specific suggestions on how to do it. Firstly, a grant application should provide the bottom line up front (BLUF). Grant reviewers must review hundreds or thousands of pages-long grant applications for funding. Therefore, it is important for applicants to succinctly present key information about their projects such as what the project is, what it will do, and why it is important in the first part of the application. Relatedly, a researcher should also think about a keyword or key phrase that summarizes their research. For example, my dissertation examines the causes of variation in anti-US military protest mobilization in Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea. Keywords and key phrases would include “mobilization” and “anti-US military protests”. Identifying the keywords allows a researcher to tease out the core of their research project, and in doing so, may make it easier to communicate their research to funders who may not be familiar with the broader research area.

Contextualizing Your Research

A related roundtable theme was the importance of contextualizing one’s research. Researchers need to be mindful of the fact that funding sources vary widely, and, in many instances, may come from outside one’s discipline. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that funders may not be familiar with disciplinary jargon or literature and researchers should write their applications accordingly. Even for those funders who are familiar with the discipline or the research area, grant applicants need to spell out the significance of their projects. Questions to consider include:

  • How does this project fit and contribute to the broader disciplinary literature?
  • How does this project aid or advance the sciences?
  • How does this project help people?

The ability to highlight the importance of one’s research to the discipline and society at large may mean the difference between receiving funding or not.

The panelists also emphasized the importance of understanding funders’ priorities.

  • What are the goals of the funding organization?
  • What projects have received funding in the past?

Researchers should use these cues to emphasize the aspects of their project that align with organizational priorities to improve their chances of getting funded.

Research Collaboration

Finally, panelists emphasized the importance of collaboration in securing research funding. First, researchers in search of funding should consider public sector partners who may be interested in their research and accordingly, may be willing to provide some research funding. Public sector partners may include municipal, state, or national governments or public non-governmental organizations. Second, researchers may want to consider collaborating on a research project. Collaborative proposals, especially cross-disciplinary or cross-university projects, tends to be more likely to be funded. Additionally, adding contributors from different disciplines or institutions may open up the types of grants for which researchers can apply. While it may be difficult to identify potential collaborators, the panelists suggested that graduate students and early researchers contact their advisors or other faculty mentors for recommendations.

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


Fieldwork: Ethical Considerations, Funding, and Data Collection Methods

By Charmaine N. Willis of University of Albany

Photo by Ryan Tauss on Unsplash

The recent MPSA conference offered many valuable roundtables related to professional development for a variety of populations including graduate students. I had the opportunity to attend the roundtable about how to do fieldwork, an important one for any researcher needing to travel to a particular place to collect data, whether in one’s home country or abroad. The roundtable offered several useful insights for graduate students, many of which I have found helpful during my own fieldwork.

Ethical Considerations

First and foremost, researchers needing to collect data from the field must consider the impact of their research on their subjects. Of course, this need applies more to researchers conducting interviews, focus groups, surveys, participant observation, or using other ethnographic techniques than archival work. Many vital questions in social science involve vulnerable populations, which can include marginalized communities, survivors of sexual assault, former members of a terrorist organization, and many others. It is the researchers’ responsibility to consider the ways in which their research may impact the lives and safety of their subjects. Considerations might entail keeping the subject’s identity anonymous in the publication of the research or even where an interview takes place.

A consequential question raised during the roundtable was what to do if an interviewee reveals something unexpected that might be damning to a public figure. Should a researcher publicize everything reported to them by their interviewees? While it might be tempting to drop a proverbial bombshell and provide a surprising insight, the panelists cautioned against rushing to judgement about such revelations. One should carefully consider the ramifications of making that revelation public. It may or may not be true; the researcher should try to verify the claim through other sources. Even if the claim is true, the researcher should consider the implications for their interviewee. Will it put the interviewee’s safety at risk? Will it otherwise harm the interviewee (i.e. reputational costs, employment impacts)?

The Logistics of Fieldwork

The panelists on the roundtable also brought up several logistical considerations important for researchers going to the field to consider, from funding to how to get the data. Most of the panelists did their fieldwork over the course of several trips (the majority did research abroad). Many began their projects with a preliminary trip of a few weeks and then returned to their site; most of the panel stayed in their research site consecutively no more than a year, often less.

An audience member also asked about one of the most imperative parts of doing fieldwork: getting it funded. As one panelist noted, it is difficult to get funding for fieldwork, depending on the type of research one is doing and the institution with which one is affiliated. Fortunately, there were a few roundtables in the #MPSA19 program dedicated solely to research funding, one of which I will cover in a future blog. One tip that a panelist mentioned was one that I have heard from many experienced researchers; for researchers staying at their research site for a semester or more, it is sometimes possible to draw an income by teaching at a host university. Those doing research outside of their home countries often seek institutional affiliations for a variety of reasons, including access to resources such as libraries or teaching opportunities. Researchers not affiliated with a local university or college can also contact nearby institutions about teaching opportunities.

The roundtable also included various points about collecting the data itself. The panelists cautioned against “parachuting” into a research site. Researchers (should) go to the field not to quickly gather data and leave (“parachuting”) but to go to the field to get a better sense of the area and the culture. Understanding the research site, of course, should begin long before one actually arrives. At the same time, understanding the research site through secondary sources cannot substitute for firsthand experience. In my experience, immersing yourself in the culture, sometimes called “soaking and poking”, is as important to the research as the data collection is itself. Understanding the context is essential for understanding the data one collects: how do the insights from the interview fit into the big picture? Furthermore, gaining knowledge about the area through experience may make interviewees more likely to open up; it shows a respect for their home country and community.

Preparation prior to each interview is integral to data collection as well. The panelists emphasized “doing one’s homework” to get the most out of each interview. Are there questions for which a certain person can give better insights than others? Not only can preparation maximize the utility of the interview, but adequate preparation also signals to the interviewee that the researcher is serious and knowledgeable about the topic of interest, which may make them more comfortable to share information.

The format of the data collection may also influence how open interviewees are. One panelist mentioned that their experiences with focus groups yielded some insights that a one-on-one interview may not have. The researcher interviewed military personnel, a group from which it may be difficult to garner unfeigned answers, and found in a few instances that when one person was candid, the rest of the group also opened up.

The roundtable on fieldwork was one of my favorite sessions at #MPSA19, offering insights from researchers who have valuable firsthand experience in conducting fieldwork from which graduate students and researchers at all levels can benefit. I hope that similar roundtables continue to be offered at future MPSA conferences.

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

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

By Charmaine N. Willis of University of Albany, SUNY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.