#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.

Q&A with Emily Farris re: The TCU Justice Journey

MPSA member Emily Farris is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth, TX where she and a colleague run an interdisciplinary civil rights course and an annual Spring Break bus tour called the Justice Journey. Here we ask her a few questions about her experience and perspective:

Q: What prompted the Justice Journey series overall and how did the new Latino/a Civil Rights Struggle Justice Journey come about?

Your TCU Justice Journey professors, Dr. Emily and Dr. Max, are excited to be in Crystal City: spinach capitol of the world and home to the 1969 walk out in the Chicano Movement.
Your TCU Justice Journey professors, Dr. Emily and Dr. Max, are excited to be in Crystal City: spinach capitol of the world and home to the 1969 walk out in the Chicano Movement. (TCU Justice Journey on Facebook – Used with permission)

A: Beginning in 2011, Professor Max Krochmal in partnership with the Office of Community Engagement and partners in Inclusiveness & Intercultural Services developed a social justice-oriented educational tour. The TCU Justice Journey annually brings 20 students to places throughout the South important to the civil rights movements. When I joined TCU, I became involved with the Tour, and we paired the tour with for a credit course, cross-listed between History and Political Science. And in Spring 2017, the Justice Journey was expanded to alternate focus in different years between the African American civil rights movement and the Chicano/a civil rights movement and immigrant rights.

We believe the new addition of the tour and class focused on the Chicano/a Movement and immigrant rights is one of the first of its kind – while many groups and schools across the U.S. take trips through the south to explore the African American civil rights movement, few (if any) do a similar Latino civil rights tour in south Texas. This past Spring, the tour focused on South Texas, with stops in Austin, San Antonio, Crystal City and McAllen. Students had the opportunity to interact with and learn from the local organizers who built the civil rights movement on the ground as well as activists and politicians in present-day campaigns for justice.

Q: With involvement from multiple partners, how was the content and the (literal) course of the trip determined?
A: The course is a collaborative effort every year. We meet regularly throughout the year to plan the trip and the course, with each year being different from the next. For instance, in 2015, we planned the trip around the historic 50th anniversary march in Selma, with additional stops in Jackson, Birmingham, and Nashville. Last year was the first trip focused on the Chicano/a Movement, which developed out of our shared research interests of Latino/a history and politics. This upcoming year will likely center around Memphis, given the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s death.

Q: What makes the content of these trips different than regular historical tours?
A: Although the trip includes visits to historic sites and museums, it goes far beyond ordinary heritage tourism. The trip features panel discussions with grassroots movement activists, critical conversations and reflection sessions on race and racism (and other forms of oppression), introductory lessons on community organizing and the origins of social movements, and –most importantly– training in and examples of group-centered or collective leadership models. A pilgrimage to hallowed locales in American history and a classroom on wheels, the Civil Rights Bus Tour allows students to learn from the past in order to change the future.

TCU Justice Journey after a great day with La Union del Pueblo Entero! (TCU Justice Journey on Facebook - Used with permission)
TCU Justice Journey after a great day with La Union del Pueblo Entero! (TCU Justice Journey on Facebook – Used with permission)

Q: What kind of grants/funding supports the project and/or the students?
A: The trip is run at no cost to the students – it is fully funded through Student Affairs and AddRan college through the Political Science and History departments. It is also part of the newest major and minor on campus in Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies.

Q: How are students selected for the program?
A: Students apply in mid-Fall and are selected based on their interest in the material.

Q: What materials do you assign for study prior to the trip? How do you involve the local community and/or the affected community in your course?
A: Back in the classroom, the associated courses survey the history of the modern African American and Chicano/a civil and immigration rights movement and explore modern day politics and policy as ways to understand the nature of social movements and the role of grassroots activism in the struggle for social justice, past and present in the United States. Prior to the trip, we focus mostly on the history of the movements, and after the trip we try to engage that history with modern day efforts in the struggle for social justice. In addition to traditional assignments, students complete work and research that engages them in the community. In Spring 2017, students organized a panel discussion with local community members about their Justice Journey trip, registered voters and participated in get out the vote activities in historically underrepresented areas throughout the community, and researched community engaged projects on modern day social justice issues.

Q: How did you personally get involved in this project?
A: I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and yet, if it wasn’t for my 8th grade English teacher who dared to go off the curriculum and teach us about the Civil Rights Movement, I may have never learned the history of my own city. Since then, I’ve always been fascinated by local communities’ histories and politics and have been driven by the desire to make politics a more inclusive place. When I came to TCU and became friends with Max, I was invited to join the project, given our overlapping teaching and research interests.

Q: Who has had the greatest influence on your research and/or career?
A: My mother was a local journalist and involved in local politics when I was growing up. She served as an example on how a regular citizen could work to make our community a better, more just place – if it wasn’t for her, I might have ended up a lawyer.

This post is part of a series of interviews with our members. Read more MPSA Member profiles.

TCU Justice Journey Flier

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”.

barrydeutsch_theonesilike
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

Rasool_MindMap_Modernization
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.