MPSA Blog: Top 10 Posts from 2016

MPSA Blog: Top 10 Posts from 2016

Regardless of your research interests, your academic (or Alt-Ac) role, or your aspirations for the new year, there is something on this list of MPSA’s most popular blog posts from 2016 that is sure to pique your interest:

MPSA would especially like to thank regular contributors Newly Paul, Adnan Rasool, Michael A. Smith, and Harry Young for sharing their research, political perspectives, and pedagogical insights with us this calendar year. We look forward to highlighting even more NSF-Funded research, conference presentations, and MPSA member interviews in the coming months. If you’re interested in sharing your work with MPSA’s members and the discipline, we’d love to hear from you.

Best wishes for a safe and productive 2017!

On the Eve of the 2017 Conference Season

On the Eve of Conference Season 2017

As the Fall semester comes to a close, most academics in our field are readying for the upcoming hectic conference schedule starting with SPSA in New Orleans in January, ISA (February) in Baltimore, MPSA (April) in Chicago, and ending with WPSA (April) in Vancouver. Keeping this in mind, this post discusses some decisions and challenges most of us face during this season. I start with some of the challenges my colleagues and I are facing right now.

First, as much as conferences are awesome, they require a lot of attention and effort on the part of participants and presenters. Attending conferences is an amazing learning experience for all of us, but the work that goes in to it can be overwhelming at times. For instance, I am presenting two pieces of work at SPSA and then I am scheduled to present at MPSA in April as well. That means I am working on finalizing three full-length conference-worthy papers within a space of effectively 3 months. And it is not just me, most of my colleagues are in the same boat. We submitted abstracts of some awesome ideas and now we have to hammer out solid papers to be presented at each of these conferences.

This has led to some interesting conversations I have had with other political scientists regarding how many projects and papers can be worked on simultaneously without forgoing quality. I agree with the conventional wisdom that you can only do so many conferences a year and if you do not have something solid to put out, it is better to sit one out and go back next year with something worthy instead of showing up with a half-baked idea. I feel we have all sat through those presentations where the idea is just not there yet and the presentation just makes the presenter look bad even if it could eventually pan out to be something excellent. The point I am making is – it is totally okay to focus on a few pieces of work and present at one or two conferences rather than try to show up with a not-so-great paper to every conference. That is why most of my colleagues and I are seriously deciding on whether to focus on one or two papers instead of doing quantity. Quality beats quantity every time in academia and it is worthwhile to have that discussion with yourself and your co-author.

Second, it is a worthwhile idea to have internal presentations before heading out to conferences. My grad school has a policy that requires every one who seeks travel funding to do internal presentations of their work before they head out. This helps the presenters hone in on their flaws and prepare for questions related to their research. Additionally, it helps the presenters realize where they stand with their research and whether it is ready to a point where they need to be putting it in front of the world. This is critical as at times because many of us can get too close to our own work to see its true quality.

Instead it is a worthwhile idea to take a step back and let your peers and colleagues judge your work in a grad school setting than a conference setting. Internal presentations have helped me personally pinpoint critical issues I was dwelling with my own research. In particular, I was satisfied with a paper I have been working on for most of the year, but it turns out I was rushing past the theoretical contributions of the research. The internal reviews and presentations helped me realize the mistakes I was making as my professors stepped in to pinpoint the exact issue I had to address. What really helped during these internal presentations was that I presented in front of an audience from different subfields. The benchmark was if an Americanist or a Theory person can fully understand my presentation on comparative authoritarianism, then it has merits. Otherwise I need to simplify and narrow my presentation so that everyone hearing it understands my contribution.

Finally, conference presentations are great but often those papers never seem to materialize in to publications. That is totally okay. Sometimes the first go on a paper sounds amazing but once you spend more time fleshing it out you realize it will never be as good as you want it to be. Instead of being stuck on it, just shelf it for a bit and move on. Sooner rather than later, that work will help you with a future project or paper and will be useful in creating something you can put out there as a publication.

So as Fall semester ends and holidays begin, I hope everyone ends up with great work that we can share in the next year. I will hopefully see y’all at SPSA. If not there, then MPSA for sure! Happy holidays! Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukah! And a Happy New Year!

About the Author: Adnan Rasool is a PhD Candidate & Student Innovation Fellow 2016 – 2017 at Georgia State University. He is also the recipient of the Taiwan Fellowship for 2017 by Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ROC. Adnan is a blogger for the 2017 MPSA conference in Chicago. His research work focuses on role of bureaucracies in democratization and populist clientalistic appeal in new democracies. You can also find Rasool on Twitter and his website

(Un)Natural Disasters: Distributive Politics in Northeast Brazil

The following is part of a series of posts written by 2016 MPSA award recipients highlighting outstanding research presented at previous MPSA annual conferences.

(Un)Natural Disasters: Distributive Politics in Northeast Brazil
Photos from Cooperman’s fieldwork in Ceará, Brazil. Top left: A fleet of water trucks owned by a wealthy local family are parked outside their home. Bottom left: Local water sources, including this former pond, and even state reservoirs are dry after five years of drought. Right: A donkey carries water jugs from the neighborhood well to nearby homes.

Most international attention on Brazilian politics focuses on the president’s recent impeachment and high-level corruption scandals. However, my fieldwork has shown me that “all politics is local” is more apt. Many Brazilian citizens are especially concerned about the politics of two issues salient for their day-to-day lives: Water and drought.

I argue that natural disasters, especially those that are cyclical and occur over longer periods – such as droughts – can provide electoral and economic opportunities for local politicians. Since disasters are seen as ‘exogenous’ and ‘natural,’ it is much easier for politicians to justify emergency and targeted funding to certain populations over others.

Campaigns for the upcoming municipal elections (to be held October 2, 2016) have begun, and in Northeast Brazil, the country’s poorest region suffers through its fifth year of devastating drought. The phenomena of “water for votes” and “the drought industry” are likely to be in full swing this election season. The overlap of electoral budget cycles and natural disasters can have drastic consequences for the distribution of critical and scarce public resources.

My research evaluates the politicization of disaster relief, focusing on drought and access to water resources. Even within the drought-prone region of Northeast Brazil, I find puzzling variation in the distribution of drought relief across states and municipalities. Some appear to follow programmatic policy based on need, while others receive drought relief even during high rainfall periods. Interviews that I conducted with rural farmers in Northeast Brazil highlight the incredible dependence that poor, subsistence farmers have on local leaders and politicians for sending water trucks and distributing drought-related cash transfers.

This study asks: where and when is politically-targeted (vs. need-based) distribution of basic services most likely, and how do politicians benefit from providing targeted relief?

Research Design

I utilize two sources of exogeneity to isolate the effect of non-climatic factors on declarations of drought: the exogenous timing of rainfall and the fixed electoral cycle. Since rainfall shocks are orthogonal to election year timing or other political factors, I am able to identify the relationship between political drivers and drought relief. By controlling for climate and local agricultural conditions, I test political hypotheses using the remaining variation.

I use a generalized difference-in-difference model with municipal and year fixed effects to tease apart political and temporal factors through administrative data, which provide the opportunity to explore systematic patterns and variation across 991 municipalities from 1999-2012. I explore the mechanisms through interviews of rural farmers, community leaders, and local politicians in the drought-prone Brazilian state of Ceará.

Main Findings and Discussion

I find that relief is more likely during mayoral election years, in both drought and high rainfall conditions. Incumbent mayors who provide drought relief in an election year are more likely to be re-elected, and mayors from the PT party are more likely to receive drought relief. These results are robust to the inclusion of controls for precipitation, agriculture and cattle, and municipal and year fixed effects.

Interviews that I conducted during fieldwork in Northeast Brazil in 2014 and 2016 suggest that drought relief is a political tool, especially water trucks and crop insurance cash transfers that can be targeted by neighborhood and household. Farmers sometimes even “pray for drought,” since the drought relief funds actually increase household stability for the vulnerable population relative to non-drought years.

Many local citizens and researchers also describe the pervasive “drought industry” (indústria da seca). Local elites, who sell water from private sources on their land and also own the water trucks contracted by the government, can profit immensely during periods of drought.

Local politicians have perverse incentives to provide drought relief – with its electoral and economic rewards – instead of maintaining existing water resources and reducing local vulnerability to chronic climate shocks.

Further Research

My broader dissertation further explores the local political economy of water resources and drought.

I study the sub-municipal relationships that affect who gets water access, drought relief, and other essential services:

  • What explains variation in access to water and other public services?
  • What are the electoral and economic incentives to receive and distribute disaster relief vs. to create sustainable, resilient water systems?
  • What is the role of local collective action and community associations in improving citizens’ access to basic services?

I am currently conducting a pre-election household survey in rural Northeast Brazil of 500+ households across 9 municipalities to study micro-relationships between water access, drought relief, participation in civil society and community associations, and electoral politics. I will continue my fieldwork throughout 2017.

About the Author: Alicia Cooperman is a 4th year Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science at Columbia University. Her paper “(Un)Natural Disasters: Distributive Politics in Northeast Brazil” was awarded the Westview Press Award at the 2016 MPSA Conference for best paper delivered by a graduate student.


Bias and Women’s Under-Representation in Politics

Even if Hillary Clinton shatters the “highest” glass ceiling this November, for many years to come women are likely to remain under-represented in elected offices in the United States and throughout most of the world’s democracies. If bias on the part of party leaders or voters explains some of this variation, we can imagine three ways that such bias might operate.

The first type of bias against women would crop up if voters or party officials preferred male candidates to female candidates, even when the candidates are otherwise identical. (Or worse, if less-qualified men were preferred to more-qualified women.)

The second type of bias would arise when voters or party officials “read” a candidate’s characteristics in different ways depending on the candidate’s gender. For example, if voters were confronted an otherwise identical male and female candidates, each of whom had two children and reasoned: “well, he has good experience and, given his family commitments, he is likely to be a responsible leader” while at the same time thinking “she has good experience but, given her family commitments, she is likely to be over-taxed if she is elected”, then they display bias (perhaps unbeknownst to themselves) against women.

The third way that bias might operate is if traits that are historically and statistically more likely to be associated with male candidates are valued by party leaders or voters, while traits that are more likely to be associated with female candidates are de-valued. For example, if female office-seekers are more likely to have backgrounds in education, while male office-seekers are more likely to have backgrounds in business, and party leaders preferred candidates with business backgrounds, then their preferences were biased against female office-seekers from the get-go.

The third type of bias is the most subtle, and therefore the most difficult to observe and confront with public policy and hiring best practices. But our study shows that in some contexts, it may be the most pervasive form of bias that female candidates face. In order to understand how each of these types of bias work, we embedded conjoint experiments into surveys of three groups of people: public officials from the United States; national-level legislators from around the globe; and American voters.

Video: Experience, Discrimination, or Skill-sets?: Using Elite and Voter Conjoint Experiments to Understand Women’s Access to Political Power – Presented by Dawn Langan Teele at the annual MPSA conference in Chicago, April 2016.

Conjoint experiments ask survey respondents to determine the winner of an imaginary competition between hypothetical candidates using nothing but simplified resumes to guide their choice. In our study, each candidate’s resume contained information including gender, political experience, marital status, number of children, and previous occupation.

In order to determine which characteristics were worthy of examination, we looked at the background traits that are commonly associated with female politicians and those that are commonly associated with male politicians. For example, the work of Susan Carroll and Kira Sanbonmatsu shows that since 1980, teaching has been the single largest feeder career for women in state legislatures in the U.S., while careers in law were the most common for men. Women who enter politics are also likely to be older, have fewer children, and more likely to be unmarried than men who enter politics. These different patterns are what Carroll and Sanbonmatsu term the “gendered” pathways to political office.


To examine the role of each type of bias, we conducted three tests. First, we looked at whether, all else equal, male candidates were preferred to women. Remarkably, we do not find much evidence that women are discriminated against as women in this way. In nearly all of the surveys (and most sub-groups) women actually get a boost over men. This female preference is strongest for respondents who are themselves women, and it does not exist among Republican leaders and voters in the U.S., or independent voters, though neither group shows a type 1 male bias.

Second, by looking at interaction effects, we can see whether certain attributes become more important depending on the gender of the candidate. We find that men and women are evaluated similarly if they have high versus low levels of political experience, if they are unmarried, and they have particular previous occupations, however some respondents seem to penalize women more harshly for having children than men.

Finally, we examined whether gendered traits, like having fewer children, being un-married, or older, affect the evaluation of a candidate. Overall, we find that candidates fared worse when they have characteristics that are associated with women’s gendered pathways to political office. Older candidates and single candidates are less favored. Candidates with more children fare better than those with fewer—a pattern that damns disproportionately childless female candidates. In some surveys, respondents, and especially male respondents, passed over hypothetical candidates with backgrounds in teaching, choosing candidates with backgrounds in business or law.

In sum we don’t find much evidence of explicit bias against women, as women, and it seems that given the same characteristics, male and female candidates are evaluated similarly for most traits. However, the typical profile of female candidates—their age, marital status, family characteristics, and career backgrounds—are de-valued by leaders and voters, and thus may hinder their careers.

Hillary Clinton exhibits some although not all of the female pathway to politics. If she wins, in spite of having only one child and getting a relatively late start on her elective career, we can only hope that it might change the way voters evaluate candidates, erasing gender bias in the years to come. Until then, there is more work to be done understanding how gendered pathways influence political selection.

About the Authors: Dawn Teele is an Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department at University of Pennsylvania,  Joshua Kalla is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and Frances Rosenbluth is a Professor of Political Science at Yale University.

A Portrait of Politics: The Cultural Marketing of the Chicago Neighborhood of Pilsen

Photo by Scott Braam (Unsanctioned Street Art on 16th street in Pilsen, Chicago 2014)The following is part of a series of posts written by 2016 MPSA award recipients highlighting outstanding research presented at previous MPSA annual conferences.

Urban space is temporal, contextual and fluid. It is socially and culturally produced, often exhibiting shifting social and interpersonal political power dynamics. In certain contexts, the aesthetics of urban space via public art (murals) can challenge or reinforce entrenched normative spatial hierarchies. These localized urban aesthetics exhibit socioeconomic and political power dynamics that are uniquely relational to the physical and social world they are part of (Harvey, 2005; Lambert, 2013; Lefebvre, 1968). Contentious politics portrayed in the aesthetic of community created murals, can help to induce bottom up sociopolitical processes that alter or disrupt hegemonic political forces. Public art via muralism holds the power to push back against the hyper-individualistic nature of the neoliberal city, often providing a more communal experience for residents and visitors alike.

In Chicago’s Pilsen enclave the spatial dynamics of culture, commerce and political power are publically on display – representing disparate contextual eras and shifting community interests and lifestyles. Pilsen has a long history of community-born politically-symbolic murals that, depending on their origin, particular artist and temporal context, symbolically represent a myriad of interests ranging from the normative interests of the community to the hegemonic interests of the state. Considering the aforementioned, how have murals played a political role as both “promoters of” and “deterrents to” gentrification in Pilsen?

Pilsen has historically been a port of entry for working-class immigrants in Chicago. Beginning in the early 1960s, Pilsen was targeted for urban renewal projects designed to serve the accommodation, accumulation, and consumption desires of artists, students, and young professionals (Betancur, 2005). Over-time, Pilsen changed from a predominantly working-class community to a higher-income community, displacing many of its original residents and economically empowering entrepreneurial newcomers and real estate stakeholders (Betancur, 2005). This unequitable gentrification process has drastically affected the aesthetics of the neighborhood. My research attempts to not only track gentrification in Pilsen through the shifting themes and aesthetics of its murals, but also highlight the public policy disconnect between the community’s aldermanic leadership and the neighborhood’s long-time residents.

Pilsen’s earliest murals were prized and celebrated by the community, often portraying scenes from the Mexican revolution. Murals served as artistic vessels for self-recognition, politics, identity, Mexican cultural, and community pride. Murals were conceptualized and produced within the confines of Pilsen – by Pilsen’s cultural creators. Home grown murals acted as territorial borders that marked and claimed Chicago’s precious urban space for Pilsen’s Mexican residents. Today in Pilsen, murals born from top down processes led by aldermanic privilege and the neoliberal urban growth machine, are often seen as tools to promote and market the neighborhood, at a cost to the community.

The political culture of the Chicano Muralism Movement fostered political activism, self-help institution building, and neighborhood mobilization – themes central to the survival of the community. However, a new wave of muralism has developed – one that reflects the encroaching gentrifiers. New wave murals focus on procuring real estate investors and making college students swoon. Non-Mexican art and artists are commonly commissioned, in fact preferred. Murals, financially backed by the new political and economic steak holders of Pilsen, are designed to attract young hip professionals, with the lure of a culturally rich and gritty urban living experience (Betancur, 2005; Davila, 2004; Zukin, 2009; Lloyd, 2006).

The Art in Public Places (AIPP) initiative, created by Chicago’s 25th Ward Alderman Danny Solis has made inroads at successfully rebranding the neighborhood. As Pilsen became more observed by tourists and coveted by investors – as the name “Pilsen” became ingrained in the vernacular of young white hipsters, more pathways of capital accumulation and consumption were established, and rent in Pilsen skyrocketed. This process has displaced many long-time residents including cultural producers, while contributing to the rebranding of Pilsen from a Mexican enclave to a hipster haven.

Those with political power in Pilsen see murals as a conduit toward a wealthier and more financially-competitive neighborhood. Pilsen social justice activist Nicole Marroquin sees Pilsen’s elites as “using art strategically to gentrify” while dumbing down Pilsen’s rich history of Latino art by erasing the activist part of the Chicano Muralist Movement, in favor of “cute decorations” on walls (N. Marroquin, Personal interview, 2013).

Well-planned and initiated neighborhood art-based public policy ought to better integrate community and contain built in structural mechanisms that would supply funding for the upkeep and maintenance of the art. Art initiatives in culturally gifted communities like Pilsen ought to prioritize local artist’s work, therefore propping up a community’s cultural creators rather than out of town artists. Public walls used for murals need to be prepared correctly, curated properly, adequately funded, and maintained by local government via the city.

Gentrification in Pilsen can be viewed through the shifting aesthetics of the neighborhood’s murals. Under the neoliberal umbrella – in an era of federal urban fiscal abandonment – the culturally gifted Pilsen community and its long history of muralism was utilized as an aesthetic marketing tool for Alderman Solis and Pilsen’s business elites. This hijacking of Pilsen’s Mexican culture was framed as “beneficial” to all residents, but clearly the scales were tipped in the direction of the state and its global business partners.

MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearchAbout the Author: Scott Braam is a 4th year PhD student at the University of Illinois at Chicago and will soon take his comprehensive exams in Urban and American fields. His research “A Portrait of Politics: The Wholesale Marketing of the Chicago Neighborhood of Pilsen” was awarded the Best Paper Presented in a Poster Format at the 2016 MPSA Conference.


Betancur, J. J., & Deuben, L. (2005). Gentrification before Gentrification? The Plight of Pilsen in  Chicago. A Nathalie P. Voorhees Center for Neighborhood and Community Improvement White Paper.

Castillo, M. (2013, October 13). Chicano Muralist Movement’s Mario Castillo [Personal interview].

Dávila, A. M. (2004). Barrio Dreams: Puerto Ricans, Latinos, and the Neoliberal City. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Gonzalez, J., & Zimmerman, M. (2013, November 20). Chicano Muralist Movement’s Jose Gonzalez [Personal interview].

Harvey, D. (2001). Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography. New York: Routledge

Harvey, D. (2005). A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lefebvre, H. (1991). The Production of Space. Oxford, OX, UK: Blackwell.

Marroquin, N. (2013, July 25). Community activist Nicole Mannequin [Personal interview].

Pacheco, L. (2014, July 17). Lauren Pacheco head of the A.I.P.P [Personal interview].

Zukin, S. (2009). Changing Landscapes of Power: Opulence and the Urge for AuthenticityInternational Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 33(2).

Studying the Immediate Impact of Racially Traumatic Stressful Events

Following is one in a series of blog posts by MPSA members about their research that has received funding by either the National Science Foundation (NSF) or the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

Here, Principal Investigator, Byron D’Andra Orey of Jackson State University, summarizes his research on “The Impact of Racially Traumatic Stressful Events on African Americans’ Psychological, Physiological and Political Responses.” 

Examples of images used in the Orey’s physiological study.

The many shootings of unarmed African Americans over the last few years prompted me to begin writing a grant proposal in September 2014, one month after an African-American male, Michael Brown, was gunned down by a white male police officer, Darren Wilson, in Ferguson, Missouri. During the month of March 2015, four such deaths occurred in a span of only five days in Aurora, Colorado, Chamblee, Georgia, Los Angeles, California, and Madison, Wisconsin.

In May of 2015, I submitted the proposal to study the impact of what I have termed Racially Traumatic Stressful Events (RTSEs) on voters’ psychological, physiological and political responses which was awarded the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant. RTSEs are defined as race-related incidents that result in trauma and stress for some of those who are directly or indirectly exposed to such events. Such events can yield negative responses, even if individuals were not directly exposed to these events. For example, indirect exposure may occur when Facebook users are forced to watch events as immediately-streaming videos appear in newsfeeds.

In response to two of the most publicized cases, the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York, protesters responded violently by killing two police officers in New York and wounding two in Ferguson.

Arguably, such violence was at the hand of individuals who were enraged by RTSEs. These individuals had been pushed to their limits and responded as such. Additionally, after witnessing the uprising across the country (e.g., Black Lives Matter movement), this research became even more important, given the dearth of biopolitics studies that include sizeable numbers of African-American subjects to study their political attitudes and behavior.

Due to my location and proximity to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the Deep South, I had a unique opportunity to pursue research using a large N of African-American subjects. It should be noted that though not all HBCUs are made up exclusively of African Americans or people of color, they were borne of segregation and continue to maintain this designation.

The first experiment was initiated in September 2014, approximately one month following the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The data were collected from two convenience samples consisting of African-American undergraduates recruited from a Historically Black University, located in the South. A total of 115 subjects were recruited from online introductory level American Government courses and Introduction to Political Science courses to complete an online survey.

In this analysis, a pre- and post-test were conducted examining subjects’ attitudes one week prior to the grand jury’s decision and one week afterwards. The pre-test served as a control and did not include a stimulus as students were simply asked to complete an online survey. The post-test, on the other hand, included two stimuli that were randomly disseminated to two groups receiving pictures of a group of black police officers wearing riot gear and a group of white officers wearing the exact same gear. Based on these findings, blacks who were exposed to white police officers possessed more anger towards America when compared to the control; whereas, there was no significant difference between subjects who were exposed to black police officers and the control group. The findings here are somewhat predictable given the media coverage of white police officers killing blacks.

In the second analysis, items used to measure American Identity proved to be ineffective in achieving a statistically significant relationship between the stimuli and the control group. A second analysis was run by including only one of the items: “Being an American is important to the way that I think about myself as a person.” Based on these findings, subjects who were exposed to the stimulus with black police officers agreed to the statement that being American is important in the way they think about themselves more than the control group. One explanation here might be that blacks were more trustful of black police when compared to whites. For example, using anecdotal information, the media coverage included a black captain of the Missouri Highway Patrol who informed the public that he could empathize with the protesters because he too had a son. For a brief while, he was able to calm black protesters prior to the grand jury’s decision. This is consistent with evidence that shows community police officers are viewed as more trustworthy by the citizens who live in those communities.

In the physiological study, subjects were exposed to a random set of stimuli that consisted of happy images as well as images of police and protesters behaving violently. Three physiological measures have been used in this study: electrodermal activity (EDA), respiratory measures and electrocardiogram (ECG). At current, however, electrodermal measures have been used the most frequently because of time constraints. In other words, because we wanted to acquire preliminary results before moving forward with the actual study (which required paying the subjects), only one measure was employed and analyzed. I was able to analyze data using 15 subjects with results revealing that subjects who were exposed to both images of the police and protesters responded more when compared to the baseline than those who saw happy images.

Broader Impact and NSFs Rationale for Incorporating the Research

One of the most significant and rewarding outcomes I have experienced related to NSF-funded projects has been seeing the real world benefit of increasing the number of African-Americans in summer research and graduate programs.

Because of this grant, I was able to employ 10 part-time undergraduate and graduate students to assist with the research. Of those 10, five worked with me beyond the initial project. All five of those students received summer internships or fellowships. After receiving multiple offers, one graduate student working on this project has accepted an offer to attend one of the most noted biopolics programs at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Student researchers involved with the project have also been offered summer fellowships by the University of Chicago, Princeton, Michigan State University, and Duke University’s prestigious Bunche Institute. One student received an internship with the ACLU office in Jackson, Mississippi and a Business major working on the project has accepted an internship with a Beverly Hill’s marketing firm.

It should also be noted that following an NSF grant in 2008 which also focused on student research, students from Jackson State University have enrolled in PhD programs at the University of Michigan, the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Texas A&M, Purdue University, the University of Mississippi, the University of Texas, San Antonio, and Jackson State University. Students have participated in summer programs at Princeton, Harvard, Duke, the University of California, Irvine, Michigan State University, and the University of Chicago, while others have received multiple internships.

About the Author: Byron D’Andra Orey is a Professor of Political Science at Jackson State University. His research is in the area of race and politics, focusing heavily on racial attitudes and legislative behavior. 

Trendspotting Through the Gradventurist’s Lens

Now that it has been two weeks since MPSA 2016 ended, there are a few trends I observed during the conference that I feel need revisiting especially from a graduate student perspective. The conference weekend was hectic for everyone and there was a lot going on simultaneously, so it is useful to take a look back and absorb it slowly. The trends I am discussing in this post are positive and can be beneficial in the long run for all of us if we are able to take advantage of them the right way.

Co-Authored Work
Co-authored work is not a new phenomenon, but what I am specifically referring to is the trend of graduate students co-authoring with professors and mentors. This is an amazing trend that more graduate students should consider. The challenge is finding the right kind of mentor/professor to work with on a subject you feel passionately about.

For instance, I co-authored a paper with my professor in a field that is not my specialty purely because I wanted to work with them and the topic we came up with was fascinating to both of us. I am a Comparative/IR person while my co-author is an established public law and judicial politics professor. We started discussing topics that would be cool to study and ended up with a topic that explores how religious conservatives react to federal courts on socio-moral case decisions. We had never run experiments, so we both had a chance to work and learn how to set up experiments. I learned a whole new body of literature and approach to research with its roots in American Politics while my professor saw the potential of taking our study scope international.

I learned a lot more from this experience that I would have in a class with the same professor. The co-author relationship benefits the graduate students if your faculty co-author legitimately believes in dividing work. In my case, I wrote one half of the paper while my professor co-author wrote the other. We discussed it and then outlined the presentation together. This process gave me a whole new outlook that I would not have had any other way.

Point is, as a graduate student, go out there and find a professor or a mentor who will work with you to actually guide you through the process. Do not pigeonhole yourself to working within your own field, with the kind of job market we are all facing, it always helps to have expertise across fields.

Cross-Disciplinary Work
As I mentioned in my last point, it helps to work across the fields and specialties. We are all political scientists even though we study very different things. My colleagues in public law struggle with International Relations the exact way I struggle with public law. But together, we actually work really well in tandem. Also working together opens up our research options significantly.

For instance, one of my colleagues is a public law and American politics specialist who focuses on judicial politics. We have had multiple conversations where I tried to make the comparatist’s argument that whatever is studied in American politics is basically an extensive case study and can be easily applied to other countries. After multiple back and forth arguments, we ended up working on a paper together that essentially chalks out the trajectories and processes through which judiciaries across the world define and maintain judicial independence. Most of the literature that we utilized for theory building came from American politics, but most of our case analysis came from comparative and IR. We ended up with a decent paper at the end that raised some interesting arguments which are nowhere to be found in purely American or public law literature.

In simple terms, all I am saying is – mixing and matching your topics and expertise is a good thing. If you are a comparativist who studies East Asia, it might be worthwhile to work with a public opinion person as that can change the dynamics of your work. You both learn in the process, you expand your abilities and knowledge base while ending up with a paper that can potentially be published in regional studies journals as it is new and exciting.

There were other interesting trends like using a lot more data in studies of IR and a slow but steady uptick in good quality qualitative work in American politics. Based on what I witnessed at the MPSA 2016 conference, I am consciously expanding my work areas to include different fields that I find interesting. Remember when the adage that you should work on something that you find interesting? Turns out they really mean it and it does not have to be within your own field. We are academics and we do not need to pigeonhole our work to fit a specific box.


About the author: Adnan Rasool is a PhD Candidate, a Graduate Research Assistant and Student Innovation Fellow 2016 – 2017 at Georgia State University. He is also a blogger for the 2016 MPSA conference in Chicago. His research work focuses on the Role of Bureaucracies in Democratization and Authoritarian Rule, Money in US Politics as well as how social issue cases impact trust of social interest groups in Federal Judiciary.  You can also find Rasool on Twitter and blogging at The Gradventures

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.