Race and “Ism”: Incoming Fire from All Directions

Since it is impossible to discuss the issue of racism from the beginning, I will just start where I find myself. As an Assistant professor, it is probably safe for me to say that the multi-directional pressures and demands from administrations, departments, students, and parents are universal in academic life. What is different for faculty of color is the racism in the form of micro-aggressions encountered while going about the tasks of engaging a diverse student body and fulfilling other responsibilities in a challenging social and political environment. We are charged with supporting our students who also share these experiences. In “Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses, Ross (2015)”, Lawrence Ross points out that it never seems to matter when or how often we bear witness to these realities, the incidents are marginalized as being isolated, or the acts of “one bad apple”.

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Used with permission. See more and support the artist: http://www.patreon.com/barry

My goal here is to share some divergent experiences to reinforce to others that we, as faculty of color, are neither alone nor insane, or even overly-sensitive. Here are a few examples of what I have personally encountered:

  1. During a faculty orientation, the facilitator suggested the primary way of recognizing when a student was experiencing high anxiety or having a panic attack in class was a change in complexion. This is a “curious” indicator considering that approximately 20% of our students identify as Black or African American. Even considering the diversity within that group, the facilitator seemed completely oblivious to the inappropriateness of that indicator for those identifying as Black or African American where there would be no apparent physical change in complexion.
  2. I witnessed a Black female student recounting her anxiety about being judged about how she styled her hair: (a) If she went “natural” it may be interpreted as making a radical statement by the mainstream community; (b) a hair wrap might be critiqued as being “Aunt Jemima” and (c) wigs and other forms of “fake” hair might be interpreted as an identity crisis or trying to fit in. Her words to her classmate were literally, “you just don’t understand what Black women go through!”
  3. Following a controversial police shooting of unarmed Black men last year, I participated in two public forums in Fall 2016 which included law enforcement. A police chief opened his remarks by referring to Ferguson as the start of the problem between law enforcement and the black community. When the point was raised that it is a 400-year-old problem, he immediately apologized and backtracked – standard responses when caught marginalizing and isolating the issue. Many attendees were obviously traumatized by the recent events (I say this not because of any complexion variation that may or may not occurred) and expressed fear of any possible encounter with law enforcement.
  4. From the discussion in the forum mentioned above, the law enforcement representatives seem to have little understanding of the differences between community relations and community engagement. While the police chief was touting police-youth programs (public relations), I personally witnessed three White officers harassing three young Black men over a vehicle moving violation. The situation escalated to the point where one of the young men was pulled out of the car where he crouched as the officers searched the vehicle (and found nothing) while shouting at all three. Despite their “public relations” activities, this is an example how law enforcement engages the community.
  5. In another forum, a White colleague expressed his complete understanding of racial discrimination because he has had a ponytail since the 1960s and 1970s and often felt rejected by some of his counterparts. It never seemed to occur to him that while he could choose to cut his hair, skin color is not a choice.
  6. Finally, I attended a social gathering at a recent political science conference. Not recognizing anyone, I introduced myself to two colleagues and took a sip of wine. Seconds later a gentleman asked to join the table, introduced himself to my colleagues, then on looked directly into my face and turned his head without introducing himself. Make what you will of that!

As faculty of color, we must manage ourselves, encourage our students, and promote learning in sometimes less than ideal social climates. This task is often complicated by the denial or minimizing of the problems by segments of university communities and the society as a whole. We have to carefully choose when, where and how to respond to incoming fire lest we be labelled thin-skinned and aggressive. There are no simple answers, but know that you are not in this alone. As positive outcomes are dependent on multiple veto players, it is incumbent upon our personal leadership and the leadership of our colleagues, regardless of racial identity, to acknowledge these societal problems and constructively engage with one another to develop strategic approaches to support one another. We then must follow through, and repeat!

About the author: Harold Young is an Assistant Professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. His research area is Public Law and he examines an American and comparative perspective on judicial institutional changes and decision making. In previous lives, he was a social worker, a health communications project manager, and an attorney-at-law. He can be reached via email at youngh@apsu.edu.

 

 

 

Making Sure the Light at the end of the Tunnel is not a Train: Securing a Faculty Position

After more than six years as a graduate student, and having survived the rigors of academic life including assignment deadlines, student teaching, qualifying exams, proposal defense and drafting my dissertation, the end was in sight. What followed in quick succession was the realization that I needed a job! Of course, not just any job but a faculty position where I could engage young minds and pursue my other academic interests.  This is a time consuming process and one requiring your attention while in the final throes of completing your dissertation. Neither can be neglected. During a five-month period, I submitted 67 applications. I received four invitations to interview which ultimately led to two job offers. Here are some salient points that will make your job search less stressful and help you land a faculty position.

  1. Start early as possible. Consult your Chair before entering the job market.
  1. Consider the following to determine the scope of your initial search:
  • Research or teaching?
  • Instructor, lecturer, adjunct, non-tenure or tenure track?
  • Size of school, department, classes?
  • Region of country?
  1. Time is precious: Based on #2, do not apply for positions you do not plan to seriously consider if contacted or to an institution in a location where you are not prepared to live. Respect your time, your committee and that of the institution.MPSA-Blog_SearchCriteria
  1. Register for job sites: com is good start and your may want to join APSA for access to ejobs. (Editor’s Note: A list of open positions is also available on the MPSA homepage.) While job alerts can be useful, I found it rewarding to personally review postings as they appeared. I, therefore, checked the job sites daily which brought to my attention other positions within my preferred framework.
  1. Prepare your resume: research an appropriate format. You need a format tailored for a new graduate on the job market. Remember that this is the first “view” the search committee has of you. A well presented resume increases the odds that your application packet is immediately put in the “consider box”.
  1. Cover letter: One crisp and clear page is preferable. Certain applications may ask you to address something specific in the cover letter so an extra half page may be appropriate. Review carefully to avoid unnecessary verbiage.
  1. Letters of References:
  • Identify at least 5 references (sometimes called referees) as early as possible. Discuss with them what your goal is and share your resume.
  • Get accurate names, address, e-mail, phone number, and work titles of each person and create a List of References.
  • Pay close attention to applications that require Letters of References along with application. Some institutions only ask for letters if you are selected for an interview. Do not send documents not requested unless the application has accommodation for “other documents”. Note, however, that some applications will specify what can be submitted in that category.
  • Check with your Chair about whether the Department has a staff member who coordinates those letters that must be sent directly to the institution.
    • Some institutions ask that you submit the letters yourself. If that is the case, then identify the portal and ensure the referees are prepared to give their respective letter to you for submission.
    • Be sure to provide your referees with the appropriate portal when necessary.
  1. Transcripts: Have all transcripts on hand. Be prepared to provide any of the following in specified format:
  • PHD coursework.
  • One version with all other tertiary transcripts.
  • One version containing all transcripts in a single document.
  1. Statement of Teaching Philosophy: Identify specific goal(s) and objectives.
  1. Statement of Research Interest: Identify your current work and topics of future interest.
  1. Teaching Evaluations: teaching evaluations by students are testaments to your skill and knowledge. Nevertheless, do not ‘edit’ out unfavorable comments.  Search Committees keep such evaluations in perspective.
  1. Create a spreadsheet to track applications:
  • Name and address of school
  • Specific point(s) of contact
  • Application due date; date when review process starts as you want to get application in by that date (even if job announcement says reviews continue until filled).
  • Minimum requirements
  • Description of position
  • Prescribed path for delivery of Letters of Reference, if required.
  1. Before submitting every application, carefully review to ensure you have followed all instructions. Many institutions do not allow you to edit the application once submitted. In those cases, if you delete the application, you cannot resubmit for the position.
  1. Keep your cell phone charged. The last thing you want is for a Research Committee Chair (or a representative) to call offering you the opportunity to interview and your cell phone battery dies during the call. Also, be prepared for teleconferenced interviews (Skype or similar platform).
  1. When you get “the call”, prepare for the interview:
  • Review institution’s website and the department’s pages.
  • Prepare to respond to questions based on your application. You should have an “elevator blurb” prepared about your dissertation topic.
  • Prepare questions you want to ask the committee. Don’t ask about money at this point.
  • Do not “wing-it”!
  1. Be patient and flexible.  Try to work with the schedule and constraints of the research committee.

Success in landing an interview that will lead to an offer ultimately may depend on five factors: your resume, application package, presentation, attitude, and, of course, luck. Work as closely as possible with your Chair, put your best foot forward in each application and prepare to shine in interviews!

 About the author: Harold Young is an Assistant Professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. His research area is Public Law and examines an American and comparative perspective on judicial institutional changes and decision making. In his previous life he was a health communications project manager, a social worker and an attorney-at-law. He can be reached via email at youngh@apsu.edu.

Studying for Comps? Here are Three Approaches to Try Based on Learning Style

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An example of the author’s mind mapping technique (click to expand).

There comes a time in every PhD student’s career where they have to sit through the dreaded qualifying exams (or “comps” as they are often called). The structure of the exam changes from department to department, but the essence of the process and purpose remains the same; test the knowledge and capacity of the candidate to see if they qualify to be a peer rather than a student.

Having recently taken my comps (and hopefully having passed them), I realized a number of things that I wish someone had told me earlier. There were techniques that my colleagues and I used which were helpful and unique in their own right that could be of benefit to others. Here are three approaches, and tips from the process, that might be helpful to those of you taking your comps soon:

I. Answer the Question

“Answer the question” and “what is your theory” are the running jokes in our department and there is a good reason for that. As obvious as it is, it is really hard to stick to answering the question when studying or writing a qualifying exam answer. We all have a tendency to go off on a tangent when talking about material that we have spent months studying and revising. According to most professors I talked to, the biggest issue is that students get excited about showing off their knowledge and that they forget to specifically answer the question. Instead of answering the question, the students end up talking about all the material they know about that particular subject area.

For example, when asked whether ASEAN is a successful organization, students have a tendency to do a data dump of everything they know about international organizations. While that is helpful and that literature is critical, it does not answer the specific question asked. In this case, I found it helpful to break down the question into portions; a technique often taught in high school for parliamentary debating. First, break down the question, then rewrite it in your answer with detailed definitions to reword it in a manner you can answer more specifically.

In the case of our example (Whether ASEAN is a successful organization?):

  • What is ASEAN?
  • How do we define “successes” for international regional organizations?
  • What are we comparing it to?

Answering this series of questions creates a default sequence and structure that keeps your answer on point.

II. Find Your Learning Technique

Learning techniques work differently for different people. This is an obvious statement that we all tend to forget and expect somehow that the learning process of everyone at the same level needs to be identical.

Let’s use myself and my colleague as an example. I am a visual learner. I draw things out and they stick with me. Reading something fifteen times has no impact on me but drawing the words out just once, allows me to pick up on concepts. My colleague on the other hand has to read every single word in every article and book in order to fully understand it. While I can glean an idea and theory based on the Abstract, Intro and Conclusion, my colleague will not. This means our speed of learning is different but not our quality.

Your learning technique will determine how much time you need to prepare for comps. Depending on the approach, some people will need to prepare for a year, some need six months and some need only three months. Additionally, seniors will often share their notes from when they studied for comps. Those notes can be helpful but by no means are those notes everything you need.

Since I am a visual learner, I create mind maps of information to find my way through the large quantity of data that I consumed during my preparation for the comps. The mind maps are a helpful tool to help remember large quantities of information not just for the exam but for professional life that awaits us. Think of mind maps like a walk down a super market aisle – everything has a location. You do not need to know the exact product that is there by name because you will never be able to memorize all the products on the shelves. What you can do is remember what products are at each location. Then, once you remember the location, you can locate the exact brand of the product you want. For example, if I need to remember something about democracy, I start with whether it’s a definition, transitions or something else. If it is a transition, which of the three major ones is it? If it is modernization then I can remember the three to four major works under that. This mapping of knowledge allows me to remember specifics about things that other methods don’t.

If you are a visual learner, try drawing the information with the mind map technique. It takes a while to get used to it, but it does make life easier.

III. Use Audio and Video

We get so consumed with reading and writing that we often forget that one of the best ways to remember things is through audio and video. One of the major methods I used during my preparation was to write my notes, build mind maps and then record myself talking through my mind maps. I recorded every major concept area I had as if I was explaining a route to myself. I would listen to the whole set of recordings (I had 5 sets for IR and 4 for Comparative – lasting about 45 minutes combined) first thing in the morning. I would put them in the background while I got ready in the morning and also every day for a week before going to sleep. Through the magic of repetition, it got to a point where I could remember most of the things I needed to know because my brain would make them in to a sequence similar to song lyrics.

My colleague on the other hand used videos. One of them simply made a YouTube playlist of interviews of all major authors in different subject areas and watched them over and over again. According to him, the advantage was that he could learn and remember more when he heard it from the person who wrote it. He could understand the context of arguments better when he heard the narration and saw the expressions that went with it. Another friend used podcasts of book reviews to understand what the author really wanted to say instead of just reading the book.

These are just three approaches out of a number of potential study methods. These specific ones were helpful to me and I hope they will be helpful to others. I do plan to post my recordings and material online so they can be of use to others who are preparing. My intention is to share my own experiences and also start a discussion where others can chip in ideas and approaches that worked. This process is brutal for every PhD Student and every bit of support makes a difference. As political scientists, we can help each other and also build best practices that can systematize this process and make it slightly less stressful.

 

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.

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.

 

Primaries and Caucuses 2016: Experiencing the Energy and Demystifying the Math

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INDIANOLA, IA – FEBRUARY 1, 2016: Indianola mayor Kelly Shaw (second from right) and Smith’s Emporia State University students at the Iowa caucus. (Photo courtesy: Michael A. Smith)

The 2016 Primary/Caucus season started this week in snowy Iowa, and my students and I were there to see it. Eight Emporia State students and one alumnus joined me for the trip.  Dr. Kelly Shaw, mayor of Indianola and a political scientist at Iowa State University, hosted us for a night observing both Democratic and GOP caucuses on the campus of Simpson College. One group of my students watched the Democrats vote, while another group observed the Republicans.

Students were struck by the differences between the voting procedures. The Republican process opened with a prayer, then featured speeches by advocates for the different candidates. Finally, caucus-goers voted for their preferred candidates on a paper ballot, the votes were tallied, results were announced, and that was that. Marco Rubio was the big winner in Warren County, despite the fact that no one spoke on his behalf beforehand. Afterwards, party stalwarts stayed to choose various, local party officials for the coming year.  We would later learn that Rubio and Ted Cruz each had a good night in Iowa.

The Democrats were more raucous. While the Republicans were seated, the Democrats had chairs only for those with disabilities. Others stood, re-grouping themselves based upon which candidate they were supporting. Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats re-allocated supporters based on a threshold. The candidate (Martin O’Malley) with too few supporters was eliminated and his supporters invited to join either the Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton crowd, with supporters of each cheering and chanting for their side. Undecided caucus-goers were also asked to choose a side between the two candidates who reached the viability threshold. In the end, the precinct we observed had 83 Sanders supporters and 61 for Clinton. Due to rounding, each got two delegates. As with their GOP counterparts downstairs, most caucus-goers left once this was announced, with only the hard-core remaining to vote on local party officials and other matters afterward. The students later elected to go to a Bernie Sanders rally where his supporters cheered, booed, anxiously watched returns, and waited for their candidate to speak.  In the end, it was the closest presidential caucus in Iowa history.

Delegate Selection

The differences in delegate selection between the two parties have real consequences.  Recalling Arrow’s Theorem—roughly summarized as proving that no system of counting votes always assures a fair outcome—the different vote-counting mechanisms can affect who becomes President of the United States. For example, Barack Obama won enough delegates to be the Democratic nominee in 2008 despite Hillary Clinton’s slim edge in the popular vote.  This year, the parties (particularly the Republicans) have changed the process yet again.

On the Democratic side, the process is detailed here. In sum, each state is awarded delegates based upon a formula using the following factors:

  • The votes that the Democratic presidential nominee received in 2004, 2008, and 2012.
  • The state’s electoral votes.
  • Bonus votes for states that hold their primaries or caucuses later in the cycle.
  • Additional bonus votes if neighboring states also hold their primaries or caucuses later.

The Democrats require all states to use the proportional-representation-with-threshold system that my students observed in Iowa. Democrats also have “superdelegates,” who are Democratic elected officials and other DNC members in the states.

The Republican system has changed significantly since 2008. While the GOP has stopped short of directly requiring the use of proportional representation to assign delegates, they have greatly restricted the use of winner-take-all allocation, compared to previous elections. Now, only late-voting (after March 15) states are allowed to use winner-take-all, that is, to allocate all of the state’s delegates to a state’s one highest vote-getter in the primaries. When it comes to allocating the delegates among the states, the GOP process is detailed here. In short, the GOP formula for assigning delegates includes the following:

  • 10 at-large delegates per state, and 6 each for American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Additional delegates based upon how many U.S. House districts are in a state.
  • “Bonus delegates” for GOP elected officials: Governor, U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and majority control in one or both chambers of the state legislature.
  • A penalty for holding primaries or caucuses earlier than called for in the official RNC rules.
  • Instead of “superdelegates,” RNC rules call for their members in the states, including certain elected officials, to be included in a state’s regular delegation to the party convention.

Comparing Party Processes

Political scientists are right in our wheelhouse when it comes to studying how these formulas work. Even a superficial glance at the differences above can be telling. For example, the Republicans penalize states for “jumping” the calendar, while the Democrats instead reward the states which vote later. The end result is that no state has deviated from the calendar in either party. For the Republicans, then, the sanctions do not apply to any state this year. For the Democrats, on the other hand, the extra delegates given for holding primaries or caucuses later may give late-voting states extra sway in choosing the nominee, if the race is not wrapped up by early March. In other words, the difference between the two parties’ rules means that the later-voting states could hold more sway in the Democratic race than in the GOP one.

The “nuts and bolts” of voting are often far more important in determining results than the latest insta-poll or a candidate’s embarrassing gaffe, but fundamentals are often overlooked in superficial media coverage. Political scientists can help those who are ready to go beyond the sensational and see what will really decide the next U.S. President. Is all of this too technical to hold our interest? Not according to my students. One even said, “It was probably one of the best nights of my life.”

About the author:  Michael A. Smith is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Emporia State University where he teaches classes on state and local politics, campaigns and elections, political philosophy, legislative politics, and nonprofit management. Smith has contributed to multiple media outlets and is also a blogger for the 2016 MPSA conference in Chicago.  Follow Smith on Twitter.

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.