Back End Skills

By Chad Raymond of Salve Regina University and Active Learning in Political Science

Most ALPS posts deal with the front end of teaching — the stuff that eventually turns into the student experience. Today I’m going to talk about the back end of the job: skills that are beneficial for one’s career because they have applications far beyond the classroom environment.

Here are the skills that I now wish I had acquired while in graduate school:

Writing for the Audience
As I’ve mentioned occasionally in the past, the vast majority of academic writing is terrible. It is produced to be published, not to be read. Important ideas are not communicated well, if at all. For example, compare the writing of Anatol Lieven in Pakistan: A Hard Country to any journal article or multi-authored volume about that country. Or read Sarah Kendzior‘s The View From Flyover Country. These people can write well, a lot of people read what they write, and they have benefited professionally as a result.

Academics need to reach different audiences, and that requires learning how to write for those audiences. Take courses in journalistic or creative writing. Write memos. Submit op-eds to your local newspaper. Get feedback from people who write better than you do. Write a lot, even though it takes time. Use the process of writing as a tool to refine your thinking. Practice what we preach to students.

Graphic and Web Design
I’ve written about this before too — messages can and often should be communicated visually. But the message is lost if the visuals are bad. I’m often shocked by the inability of faculty members to display information in a manner that is easy to understand — whether for other academics or a curious and reasonably intelligent public. Creating simple but effective charts with Excel is not that difficult. Yet training in this basic skill was not part of my graduate program — I had to learn it on my own. Others probably never bothered.

My doctoral studies began just before the Web sprang into existence. Since then, I’ve been struggling to catch up with the digital revolution. This blog is one small tangible result. Don’t be left behind like I was — learn how to build websites. The more proficient at this you become, the more of an advantage you will have.

Data Literacy
Related to the above is the ability to work with data. Can you easily mine data by creating longitudinal analyses and calculating percentages? Do you know how to determine whether your data and conclusions are meaningful?  I am constantly amazed by what I can learn and communicate by making those simple Excel charts. I dream about what I could do if I knew R.

Stage Presence
Let’s face it: teaching is performance. As are committee meetings, admissions office recruitment events, and board meetings. Elocution and body language can make or break a conference presentation. Don’t be the person whom everyone immediately tunes out. Take a course in public speaking, acting, or musical theater.

People Management
We have to interact with others as part of larger organizations, and I bet every person who reads this has encountered at least one toxic colleague in their careers. Some of us end up with managerial duties, as research team leaders, department chairs, and administrators, yet we’ve never been trained for these roles. I recently attended a workshop on how to manage difficult conversations in the office, and it was eye-opening. Find out how you can become better at working with people. Then do it.

About the Author: Chad Raymond is Chairperson, Department of Cultural, Environmental, and Global Studies at Salve Regina University and Managing Editor of http://activelearningps.com. This article was originally published on Active Learning in Political Science. Read the the original post.

Diffusion by Any Means Necessary

By Harold “Harry” Young of Austin Peay State University

MPSA-Young-Diffusion
Members of the “GRAD SCHOOL: What to Expect at a Job Interview at a Teaching School” roundtable at the 2018 MPSA conference in Chicago.

They stood in place at each poster in the exhibit hall, graduate students eager to share their research with anyone willing to take the time to listen, ask questions, or possibly offer some instructive or encouraging advice.

While sometimes considered as a consolation prize by more experienced researchers, for grad students the poster sessions are an essential component of learning, a form of knowledge diffusion featuring visual experiences and personal interactions. Elements we all know are integral to effective communication in diverse forums.

The posters’ second-class status is not deserved as this the ideal forum for students entering academia. As our future, their work deserves our attention and support. Since not all exhibits are equal, however, I zeroed in on several that were both topical and presented solid research effectively.

My first stop was an exhibit on the effects of visual aids in political literacy by Breanna Wright of Stony Brook University. Political psychology is not new (Merriam, 1924) but its resurgence is evident (Political Psychology). In the current environment, identity politics is at a new high (or low if you are disapproving of it). What the News Means to Me: An Exploratory Experiment Investigating Social Identity Salience After News Exposure by Ming Boyer and Sophie Lecheler of the University of Vienna was an interesting dive into identity politics in Austria. Echoing what we experience in the U.S., their research illustrated the intersection of politics and communication or Political Communication. While the topics in the program were extensive and diverse, in my view, the demographics of the graduates were not representative (which was a challenge for the conference more generally).

Moving from those presenting posters to an Author-Meets-Critics session, I was moved to another world where scholars were more seasoned, but fortunately, still as passionate about their work.

First, Chris Sepeda-Millan of UC Berkeley discussed his first book, Latino Mass Mobilization: Immigration, Racialization, and Activism. Well-received by the critics in the session, Sepeda-Millan introduces a term worth mentioning: “racialized illegality.” This elegantly merges the controversial issues of race and legal status into a single term,  capturing inequitable approaches to legal status based on race. I suggest, in fact, that racialized illegality captures the real underpinnings of the decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1856).

Andrea Benjamin of University of Missouri’s book Racial Coalition Building in Local Elections: Elite Clues and Cross-Ethnic Voting was also well-received. It reminds us of the immortal words of the former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Tip O’Neill who said, “all politics is local. Dr. Benjamin was also concerned with diffusion of her work, having written an op-ed piece and contemplated a podcast.

I had the opportunity to be actively involved rather than merely an observer. First, I was a panelist in a session for graduate students about interviewing for jobs at teaching schools. While each panelist was able to cast their own pearls of wisdom, what I found most surprising– and disappointing–was the guidance, or lack thereof, provided by many schools.

In one case, the student had been told he should not waste any more time teaching classes, even though he had not taught any introduction courses, a requirement of new faculty at almost any university. In another case, the student had gained no teaching experience at all!

While it is crucial that we are able to diffuse knowledge not only to political science majors but to students from any discipline, I humbly submit that discouraging a student interested in teaching, coupled with their lack of pedagogic experience is a recipe for catastrophic failure. Our students–and the discipline– deserve better.

Finally, I shared a meal with Barbara dos Santos of American University and some other students working on environmental politics. They were not only enthusiastic, but embraced the need for knowledge diffusion and its potential impact on society.

Overall, I hope my conference vignettes show that our work is important, interesting, and can meaningfully contribute to relevant spheres in society. The graduate students I met demonstrated the knowledge and skills to carry on the work. The conundrum, however, is whether we remain in our academic towers or start responding to the question, “What have you done for me lately?”

Our futures may depend on our willingness to rise to the occasion, by any means necessary.

About the Author: Harold Young is a blogger at the 2018 Midwest Political Science Association conference. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. His research focuses on Public Law and examines an American and international perspective on judicial institutional changes and decision-making. Previously, he worked as a health communications manager, a social worker and practiced law. Read more from Harold on the MPSA blog and Avnon World Series. He can be reached at youngh@apsu.edu.

 

The Top 5 MPSA Roundtable Audio Recordings (podcasts) from 2017

MPSA-Top5Podcasts

Each year at its annual conference, MPSA records dozens of professional development panels focusing on topics most relevant to researchers and to those who teach. Audio from the roundtable discussions is available to MPSA Members online by visiting the Highlighted Presentations Section of the website and selections are also available to the public as part of MPSA’s outreach to the discipline. As 2017 comes to a close, its time to take a look back at the five most popular of these audio recordings.

  • MPSA Roundtable on Career: What to Do/Not Do at a Job Talk
    (Read the Recap) – Listen in as Elizabeth A. Bennion of Indiana University-South Bend chairs the MPSA Career Roundtable on “What to Do and What Not to Do at a Job Talk” with Mary Hallock Morris of University of Southern Indiana and David C. Wilson of University of Delaware. During the discussion, the members of the panel share their observations on how to know if the university is a good fit for you (personally and professionally) and what can make you stand out as a successful candidate.  
  • MPSA Roundtable: Applying to Graduate School
    (Read the Recap) – Mackenzie H. Eason of the University of California – Los Angeles chairs this MPSA roundtable session on “Applying to Graduate School” with Coty J. Martin, West Virginia University, Joan Ricart-Huguet, Princeton University, and Jovan Milojevich, University of California-Irvine. Members of the panel discuss questions and issues related to applying to graduate programs, such as when and where to apply, and how to make yourself a more appealing and ultimately successful candidate for admission.
  • MPSA Roundtable: Teaching LGBTQ Politics
    (Read the Recap) – Susan Burgess, Ohio University-Main Campus, chairs this discussion among panelists and participants in the audience on Teaching LGBTQ Politics. Panelists include Christine Keating of Ohio State University-Main Campus, Megan Elizabeth Osterbur of Xavier University of Louisiana, Marla Brettschneider of University of New Hampshire-Main Campus, and Courtenay Daum of Colorado State University-Fort Collins. Session topics included selecting topics, readings, and pedagogical strategies pertaining to teaching LGBTQ politics classes.
  • MPSA Roundtable On Congressional Leadership Through The Eyes Of Randy Strahan And Barbara Sinclair
    (Read the Recap) – Sean M. Theriault of the University of Texas at Austin, chairs this MPSA roundtable session on “Congressional Leadership through the Eyes of Randy Strahan and Barbara Sinclair” with Gregory Koger, University of Miami, Daniel John Palazzolo, University of Richmond, Kathryn Pearson, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, David W. Rohde, Duke University and Matthew N. Green, Catholic University of America. Members of the panel remember the contributions of Randy Strahan and Barbara Sinclair to the field of political science through the sharing of memories and personal reflections and take an early look at congressional leadership in the 115th Congress.
  • MPSA Roundtable: Teaching Research Methods to Undergraduates
    (Recap Not Available) – Nathan D. Griffith of Belmont University chairs the MPSA roundtable session on “Teaching Research Methods to Undergraduates” with Binneh S. Minteh of Rutgers University-Newark, and Emily Clough of Newcastle University.

Many thanks to our panelists at the 2017 conference and congratulations to those with topics that have been shown to be among the most popular with listeners after the conference. You may share your expertise by participating as a panelist in one of MPSA’s Professional Development Roundtables at the 2018 conference in Chicago. MPSA seeks to organize a series of roundtable sessions on topics including public engagement, career development, publishing, teaching, and research methods. Learn more about the opportunity and volunteer your expertise as a panelist.

#MPSAchat – Teaching Political Science in a Politicized Environment

MPSAchatOn Tuesday, September 26 at 2:00 PM (Eastern), please join us for a Twitter chat on Teaching Political Science in a Politicized Environment. This month’s chat topic has been inspired by “Frequently Asked Questions for Faculty in the Wake of the 2016 Election” from American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers, Amanda Rosen’s Active Learning in Political Science post of compiled resources on “Teaching Trump“, Dean of UW-Madison’s School of Education Diana E. Hess’ AERA Ed Talk “Political Education in Polarized Times”, Jeffrey L. Bernstein’s MPSA blog post “I’m Not a Disgrace, I’m Just Wrong”, and multiple politically-charged conversations that have entered daily American life on and off campus.

We look forward to discussing the following topics:

Q1: How do you attempt to maintain political neutrality in your classroom?

Q2: What steps have you taken in your classes to DIRECTLY address political polarization?

Q3: Alternately, what steps have you taken in your classes to AVOID addressing political polarization?

Q4: How do you respond to students who make controversial statements in the classroom?

Q5: How have your syllabi changed since this time last year?

Q6: Do you share any (non-syllabus) course materials with students specific to maintaining a neutral classroom?

Q7: Experienced instructors: What is your best advice for those new to teaching this semester?

If you haven’t participated in a live Twitter chat before, here are a few tips:

  • A moderator from MPSA will post a series of numbered questions over the course of the hour to help prompt response from participants. (How do you attempt to maintain political neutrality in your classroom? #MPSAchat)
  • To share your answer to a specific question, just begin your response with “A1” and include the hashtag(s) designated for the chat.
  • The live chat will last approximately an hour, and you are welcome to participate for some or all of it. We hope that the conversation continues using the hashtag so others can catch up on it later.
  • You may choose to use your regular Twitter account to follow along or you may opt to use online tools created specifically for Twitter chats. Here are three examples and instructions for each.

Future MPSA Twitter chats will be on the fourth Tuesday of each month with a focus on topics including professional development, public engagement, advocacy, research, publishing, teaching/learning, and work-life balance.

Upcoming chat sessions:

  • October 24, 2017 – Q&A with AJPS Editor William G. Jacoby
  • November 28, 2017 – Work-Life Balance #PSBeWell

Not able to participate in the September chat session? See the conversation here. 

MPSA Roundtable on Applying to Grad School

MPSA Roundtable on Applying to Grad School

Mackenzie H. Eason of the University of California – Los Angeles chairs this MPSA roundtable session on “Applying to Graduate School” with Coty J. Martin, West Virginia University, Joan Ricart-Huguet, Princeton University, and Jovan Milojevich, University of California-Irvine. Members of the panel discuss questions and issues related to applying to graduate programs, such as when and where to apply, and how to make yourself a more appealing and ultimately successful candidate for admission.

Additional topics discussed include:

  • Challenges faced by first-generation and international college students.
  • Financial considerations and obtaining funding for graduate study.
  • Selecting a graduate program that will be a good fit based on research interests and geographic location.
  • Writing a personal statement or statement of purpose.
  • Networking, mentoring and building relationships with faculty.

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