Tag: academia (page 1 of 12)

What We Really Need is a Slice of Humble Pie

This is a guest post by former Duck of Minerva blogger Daniel Nexon. The views that he expresses here should not be construed as representing those of the International Studies Association, International Studies Quarterly, or anyone with an ounce of sanity.

We now have a lot of different meta-narratives about alleged fraud in “When Contact Changes Minds: An Experiment in the Transmission of Support for Gay Equality.”  These reflect not only different dimensions of the story, but the different interests at stake.

One set concerns confirmation bias and the left-leaning orientations of a majority of political scientists. At First Things, for example. Matthew J. Franck contrasts the reception of the LaCour and Green study (positive) with that of Mark Regnerus’ finding of inferior outcomes for children of gay parents (negative). There’s some truth here.  Regnerus’ study was terminally flawed. LaCour and Green’s study derived, most likely, from fraudulent data. Still, one comported with widespread ideological  priors in the field, while the other did not. That surely shaped their differential reception. But so did the startling strength of the latter’s findings, as well as the way they cut against conventional wisdom on the determinants of successful persuasion.

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The Freedom to Speak Up As Academics: The Right to Make An “Ass” of Myself Personally

On Thursday, I became part of a growing group of academics that has had a letter like this written about them:

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Thinking about the intellectual future of higher education

Recently, articles have emerged in both the United States and the United Kingdom concerned over the current politico-intellectual trend toward diminishing the importance and funding of the humanities and social sciences (HSS). For all the reasons the authors indicate, this trend is problematic. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) disciplines are of course incredibly important. But they are only part of the collective agenda of intellectual inquiry, and cannot be made to dominate universities without intellectual, economic, and political costs. In this short post, I will leave aside arguments about the intrinsic or societal value of HSS, not because they are trivial (they are not) but because the current wave of humanities and social sciences demotion speaks in terms of global competitiveness and economic productivity. I don’t accept that these arguments should define the boundaries of the debate, but if a case can be made on those or related grounds, then at least parties to the ‘debate’ will not be talking past each other. Continue reading

The Perils of a M/W/F Class

Greetings, fellow Duck readers.  I realize I’ve been MIA this semester – DGS duties and ISA-Midwest stuff took too much of my non-research time.  Another factor in my absence, however: a Monday Wednesday Friday schedule. And, it sucked.[1]  Like large-tornado-near-my-hometown sucked.  Today marks the last Friday class of the semester – thank god.[2]  Even though I should be getting back to research this morning, I wanted to write a little bit about why I think 50 minute/3 day a week classes should be banned in our discipline.

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Normative dilemma of writing policy?

This week, courtesy of my colleague Adam Stulberg and the Center for International Strategy, Technology, and Policy, our department hosted Matthew Kroenig. When I first learned of Kroenig’s visit, my initial thought was that it would be a great opportunity to do (yet another) take on his arguments regarding the possible use of force against Iran. But I think there is little value added to such an exercise. It has been done, not only here on the Duck but in other venues as well. What I think might be a more fruitful way to take advantage of Kroenig’s visit is to think about some of the challenges of bridging the gap between academics and policymakers.

 

Specifically, I am thinking here about the possible parallels with Jef Huysmans’ examination of the normative dilemma of writing security. Like myself, Huysmans is writing from a social constructivist perspective, and as such understands “the creation of a security problem as a social phenomenon.” Security then is the “result of a practice of definition: security is what agents make of it.” These insights inform discourse-oriented constructivist approaches to security like securitization theory. Turning issues into security then involves, among other things, “…a particular kind of knowledge (security knowledge)”. This is where the dilemma comes in: by analyzing and writing about the practices and discourses of security, scholars may in turn reinforce and reify those practices and discourses. This occurs not only through the repetition of the security claims, but also through the legitimacy imparted through association with the authority of academia. As Huysmans points out, in this discursive interpretation, “speaking and writing about security is never innocent.”

 

What if the normative dilemma of writing is not constrained to security, but to the larger interface between the academy and the policy world? That is, in seeking to influence/provide value to policymakers, scholars unavoidably shift themselves from the position of analyst to the position of political actors, and in the process create and reify policy dynamics. Which brings me back to Kroenig. A skim of his CV quickly reveals that he has built his career in a substantial way on bridging the gap between academia and policy. While I suspect that Kroenig does not accept the epistemological or ontological precursors to Huysmans’ arguments, I thought it worthwhile nonetheless to ask Kroenig what he thought of the dilemma. He answered, more or less, that he felt there was a substantial amount of misinformation regarding US policy (and policy options) toward Iran’s nuclear program, and he sought to rectify that misinformation. Therein I suspect lies a substantial part of the charm for academics regarding bridging the academy-policy gap. By contributing to the policy discussion, academics improve the marketplace of ideas that underpins policymaking. That is a powerful lure, and in some ways gets scholars out of the dilemma by reversing the normative dilemma into a normative imperative: it is a socially good and normatively desirable for scholars, with their carefully considered arguments, deep knowledge, emphasis on analytical and theoretical thinking, and focus on linking theory with empirics to enrich the public/policy discourses and as a consequence improve the store of ideas from which policymakers make their withdrawals.

 

I don’t know if there is an answer to the dilemma of writing policy or security. And perhaps the dilemma for policy broadly is less problematic than for security specifically. Or perhaps the dilemma of writing security does not translate at all to policy writ large. Nonetheless, I am left with a nagging concern. As I watched Kroenig’s public talk (which is impressive) I found myself analyzing him as a securitizing actor. How was he making his arguments about Iran as a threat to the United States? What social and discursive tools was he drawing on? Therein lies the source of my concern. In bridging the gap, at least on this security related issue, Kroenig (perhaps unavoidably) goes from being a security analyst to a security actor. He is in his own way creating a specific security knowledge, of Iran and its nuclear program (and possible nuclear weapons) as a threat to the United States. I suspect for Kroenig that is not a problem because he does not share my or Huysmans theoretical orientation. But for those that do, it becomes very challenging to think about how to bridge the gap without becoming a part of the very security/policy practices we seek to examine, uncover, and problematize.

Under Review: Cite This!

The boon and bane of our academic enterprise is that we get feedback all the time on our work.  Our work is better for it–that the hack-iest stuff I read is always stuff that is not submitted to any kind of refereeing process and relies instead on editors who seem to be blind to the hack-ness.   The bane is that, well, rejection and criticism can not only delay publication but also hurt feelings.  When well done, reviews further the enterprise.  However, sometimes, reviews seem to make the authors dance in relatively unproductive ways.  There have been lots of tweets and posts complaining about robustness checks–that reviewers have been asking authors to submit dozens (sometimes hundreds) of additional analyses.

My grievance du jour is something else–reviews that focus on stuff that one “should have cited.”

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A Strategy of Appeasement: Winning the Revise and Resubmit

You hear the “ping” of an incoming email and quickly check the subject – oh, crap, it’s from a journal![1]  This could make or break your day.  You open the  email and quickly scan for the word “reject.”  Wait? What!? No “reject”?  No “Unfortunately, their assessments do not provide us with sufficient support to continue the review process”?  Does this mean what you think it means?  You now read the letter closely, your pulse starting to rise.  It is!  A revise and resubmit!

I remember when I started sending things out for review – I didn’t actually realize that the goal of a first round submission was not an “accept” but a “revise and resubmit” – an “R&R” in professor-speak.  Acceptances on the first round are extremely rare.  An R&R is the decision you should be hoping for; it’s the first step – and the hardest step – in the process to a peer-reviewed publication in our discipline.  Unfortunately, I don’t think this is a step we talk about much or actively advise graduate students on.  I’ve been shocked to find out that some of my students have resubmitted things without their advisor’s input at all.  An R&R is not just an intermittent stop on the road to a publication.  It’s a crucial junction: a misstep can cost you years of further anguish at getting the manuscript published.

After dealing with almost 30 R&Rs[2], I think there is a method or a strategy that works for revise and resubmits: appeasement.  The goal of the R&R stage is to make at least two reviewers 100% convinced that the manuscript is worthy of publication while not angering the other reviewer(s).  I know this advice is unsolicited – however, I thought I’d share 5 tips to ease in converting R&Rs into acceptances.

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“and Elinor?”: when winning a Nobel Prize isn’t enough…

This is a guest post from Leslie Johns, an Assistant Professor of political science at UCLA. 

The Public Choice Society—an academic organization of scholars who study the interaction of politics and economics—recently announced that it has created a new award for scholarly research: the Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Prize.  The announcement of this prize is provoking an intense reaction because of its name: “The Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Prize”?

Elinor Ostrom was well-known to political scientists, policy analysts, and economists.  As a graduate student during the 1960s in the Political Science Department at UCLA, where I work, Ostrom overcame tremendous odds and blatant discrimination to earn her Ph.D.  Her reward for this work was being offered a job as a secretary.  After decades of climbing the academic ladder and publishing path-breaking scholarship on the regulation of shared resources, it seemed as though Ostrom had finally been recognized for her courage and intellect.  Despite the fact that she never received a degree from or a faculty appointment in an economics department, Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009. She was the first, and remains the only, woman to win this prize. Continue reading

Neoliberalizing the academy

Josh’s post on his experience with course evaluations has gotten me thinking about the practice of using course evaluations. Because my personal circumstances differ from Josh’s (e.g. I do not have children), I have been able to avoid some of the painful tradeoffs he discusses and have not yet had to confront ‘bad’ evaluations. Reading his post, however, prompted me to connect some dots that have been floating around in my head regarding the ideological underpinnings of practices in the academy with recent pieces I have seen in the media—specifically a NYTimes report on the release of the follow-up to Academically Adrift and a report in the Economist on the upward march of grade inflation.

 

I assume the original intention of course evaluations was a reasonable one. Professors spend most if not all of their time in the classroom unsupervised, and course evaluations provide a basic mechanism for administrators to make sure faculty are doing their jobs. They also, for reflective teachers like Josh, provide valuable feedback for refining pedagogical approaches and techniques. Today, however, they have come to serve a different purpose. Evaluations have become part of a broader shift within universities as they increasingly adopt neoliberal economic norms. This includes conceiving of students as customers and universities as job training centers. In this context, course evaluations become less about improving pedagogy and more about ensuring the customers are satisfied. But, as Aspiring Adults Adrift—the follow up to Academically Adrift—demonstrates, students are not well placed to assess the quality of their education. From the New York Times piece reviewing Aspiring Adults Adrift:

When asked during their senior year in 2009, three-quarters reported gaining high levels of critical thinking skills in college, despite strong C.L.A. [Collegiate Learning Assessment] evidence to the contrary. When asked again two years later, nearly half reported even higher levels of learning in college. This was true across the spectrum of students, including those who had struggled to find and keep good jobs.

Through diplomas, increasingly inflated grades and the drumbeat of college self-promotion, these students had been told they had received a great education. The fact that the typical student spent three times as much time socializing and recreating in college as studying and going to class didn’t change that belief. Nor did unsteady employment outcomes and, for the large majority of those surveyed, continued financial dependence on their parents.

This brings me to grade inflation. The Economist story only reports on the dynamic on Ivy League campuses, but where the Ivies go many others follow (exploding research productivity expectations for example). To me, these indicators connect to the neoliberalization of American universities. If universities are simply providing a service to customers, then happier customers produce greater revenues (higher enrollments) for departments, colleges, and universities. Course evaluations are the primary metric for establishing student satisfaction, and studies demonstrate that higher average course grades correlate with higher course evaluations. From a 2010 study in the Journal of Political Economy:

Student evaluations are positively correlated with contemporaneous professor value‐added [higher course grades] and negatively correlated with follow‐on student achievement [performance in subsequent courses]. That is, students appear to reward higher grades in the introductory course but punish professors who increase deep learning (introductory course professor value‐added in follow‐on courses). Since many U.S. colleges and universities use student evaluations as a measurement of teaching quality for academic promotion and tenure decisions, this latter finding draws into question the value and accuracy of this practice.

Even units supportive of faculty that seek to prioritize rigor over easy As will have a hard time holding the line as enrollments (and thus revenue) drop because students migrate to courses and majors where such rigor is lacking.

 

The solution is not to eliminate course evaluations. Used properly, as part of a holistic assessment of teaching, course evaluations provide an opportunity for students to provide feedback and for faculty to understand how they are connecting with their students. Instead, the solution lies ultimately with students. The neoliberalization of American universities is not going away. So it will be up to students to demand more of their universities—not in terms of climbing walls or campus Starbucks—but rather in terms of educational rigor. The problem, of course, is that students are the least well placed to recognize rigor. Ultimately, they will have to ask themselves: Did the course challenge me? Did it push me outside the bounds of my conventional thinking? Do I think (about issues and problems) differently? If so, students should take more classes with that professor and reflect those qualities on course evaluations. Students in the end will have to change the ‘rationalist’ cost-benefit calculations underpinning the system.

 

How does this come back to Josh’s experience? I do not know the particulars of why his students evaluated him as they did, but the dynamics I discuss above suggest that perhaps the evaluations really are not as bad as he thinks.

The First Year on the Tenure-Track: Wanting to Give the White Whale Back

As a grad student, I used to the think longingly about the day when I would finally hold a tenure-track job.  I could almost taste the thrill of the teaching and the joy of faculty resources.  You mean, someone will pay for my copy of [insert software you’d like to use legally]?  And, textbooks will be free? I also fantasized about how wonderful it would be to not be under the thumb of my advisors.  Of course, I thought I could live like a queen on a faculty salary, too.  The tenure-track position was my white whale.

Three months into the job, however, I wanted to give my white whale back.  Everything in my life seemed like a mess – my relationship with my SO was rocky, I hated teaching, I just knew I would never get anything published, and I felt like I had no time for anything fun, ever.  I’ve talked to other first year professors over the years and I think this is a common position to be in during the first year on the tenure-track.  And, like all the other loads of unsolicited advice I’ve doled out on the Duck, I thought that I’d spread the word about the “first-year” blues.  Although everyone – EVERYONE! –  I’ve ever met is so thankful for the tenure-track position, a lot of us feel the learning curve is pretty steep.  Perhaps if I had had realistic expectations about what to expect that first year, I would have been better able to deal with all of the changes that come that first year.

There are some strategies I’ve heard for improving your transition from grad student to professor.  Here are a few of them.  Michael Flynn, a current first-year professor at Kansas State University was extremely helpful in providing me comments on this post.  His suggestions are also included below.  Hopefully, others can leave their advice in the comments section.

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The Academic Arrogant Self-Important Snooty Quiz

As I was traveling back from APSA on Sunday, I completed all of the journal reviews that I had on my desk, ran some regressions for new projects, and then completed all the revisions my coauthors are requesting from me currently.[1]  With the remaining few hours I had on the flight, I noticed a Cosmo magazine[2] in the seat-pocket next to me and quickly went to work finding out what kind of female I am and how much I really know about Beyonce.  The quizzes got me thinking: we don’t have a lot of personality quizzes for us as academics but – based on my participant observations at this past APSA – we really need some.

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An Open Letter from the New DGS

Greetings, PhD Class of 2019.  Welcome.   We are excited for your arrival on campus later this summer.  As you enjoy your summer, I thought I’d take this opportunity to write you with some advice for your next adventure.  My comments are just based on my personal experiences but I thought maybe they would be of use to you as you start your PhD.

My first set of comments all revolve around one basic point: this isn’t an extension of undergrad.  The early course work you do in preparation for your PhD should be thought of as something completely different from your past experiences.  Even though the campus might look like your undergrad institution, even though there might be a football team and drink specials on Thursday nights – your days as a high-achieving undergrad are over.  For some of you, you might be 10 or 20 years post-undergrad. You might have multiple master’s degrees and real-world experience.  For others, you might have graduated just this summer.  For everyone, however, graduate school – at this program – is just beginning.  There are going to be lots of differences from your past experiences.  Let me highlight a few:

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I’d like some lemonade with my advice, please

lemonadeAs a junior faculty member, I am not in a position to turn down advice. Fortunately, I receive good advice from mentors, colleagues, and friends.  I am very thankful. Lately, I have also been getting advice from a few organizations for faculty development. They provide free tips on writing and productivity, navigating the job market, and balancing responsibilities as well as seek to debunk some of the myths about success in the academia. On average, their advice has been fairly useful (I have not signed up for paid services, and I certainly do not have a representative sample here).

But based on my experience, I take issue with the advice industry’s focus on mistakes. A laundry of list of mistakes junior faculty must avoid seems ubiquitous: taking on service, supervising theses, investing too much into your current institution, working on multiple projects at once, not eating healthy, not seeking out mentors, not having work-life balance… Avoid these mistakes!

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Wednesday Linkage

Editor’s note: this post originally appeared on my personal blog. It contains some links to posts that appeared here at the Duck.

1. An interview with Jim Fearon about Ukraine. Lots of good stuff here, both about Ukraine and in general. As you’d expect.

2b. Some thoughts from Branislav Slantchev about Russia’s Cold War Syndrome. c. Anna Pechenkina reacts. d. Slantchev responds.

3. Still want to read more about Ukraine? Okay, check out Taylor Marvin on why it doesn’t make much sense to use force in Syria in order to signal resolve. I agree. Using force in one crisis to influence perceptions about your willingness to do so elsewhere may make sense under certain conditions, but the crises would have to be pretty similar. Unlike some, I’m not convinced that failing to poke out the eyeballs of someone who flipped you off will lead the world to think that you wouldn’t lift a finger to stop someone from beating your children to death with a baseball bat.

4. Also, check out this nice post by Anita Kellog on what the crisis does (or does not) tell us about the impact of economic interdependence. Key quote: “In 2012 total trade with Russia (imports and exports) accounted for 26% of Ukraine’s economic activities, whereas this trade accounted for only 2% of Russia’s GDP.”

5. Assad announces bid for reelection. He’s, um, expected to win.

6. A call for partition of Central African Republic. Key quote: “‘The partition itself has already been done. Now there only remains the declaration of independence,’ said Abdel Nasser Mahamat Youssouf, member of a youth group lobbying for the secession of the north, as he pointed to the flag of what he said would be a secular republic.”

7. This isn’t everything you need to know about Israel and Palestine, the title notwithstanding, but it’s still a nice resource. Fairly comprehensive, but still concise. Worth assigning to students.

8. The Marshall Islands is suing the world’s nuclear powers (h/t Holly Gerrity). Key quote: “While the suit seems unlikely to end in any country being compelled to disarm, it will at the very least highlight the fact that while existing nuclear powers frequently invoke international law to argue for why countries like Iran shouldn’t have nuclear weapons, they tend to gloss over the other part of the deal—that they will work to fully eliminate their own arsenals.”

9. A trade spat between the US and Mexico over sugar (h/t Rebecca Johnson). Key quote: “John W. Bode, the president of the Corn Refiners Association, ‘The political influence of the US sugar industry is legendary…. They may be only 4 percent of US agriculture but when you look at political contributions, they account for a third.'”

10. Writing a great abstract (h/t Brent Sasley). A lot of good advice. Key quote: “The ideal abstract…has three parts. 1. statement of the area of concern or disputation 2. statement of the thesis or argument 3. implications for further research.”

11. Interview with GRRM. The whole thing is worth reading, but I found this quote to be of particular interest: “The war that Tolkien wrote about was a war for the fate of civilization and the future of humanity, and that’s become the template. I’m not sure that it’s a good template, though. The Tolkien model led generations of fantasy writers to produce these endless series of dark lords and their evil minions who are all very ugly and wear black clothes. But the vast majority of wars throughout history are not like that. World War I is much more typical of the wars of history than World War II – the kind of war you look back afterward and say, ‘What the hell were we fighting for? Why did all these millions of people have to die? Was it really worth it to get rid of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, that we wiped out an entire generation, and tore up half the continent? Was the War of 1812 worth fighting? The Spanish-American War? What the hell were these people fighting for?'”

11. John Oliver on India’s election.

Academic Parenting 101: parental leave erosion

Academics are generally pretty lucky when it comes to parental leave- at least on paper. Many universities provide more leave than the minimum required by governments (so more than nothing in the US), yet there are several aspects of our careers that cause parental leave erosion. I should say from the outset that I had a generally supportive and positive experience while on leave last year, but I’ve also found several sources of leave erosion. *I acknowledge that there are many different types of parents taking parental leave, and I’m mainly drawing on my experience, or those of close friends in the field. I’d love to hear other experiences.

1. Pre-leave ‘make up’ work: This is a typical scenario: parents learn they are expecting, figure out when they are taking leave, and start working overtime to get ‘extra’ things done before the leave. In some ways this is understandable; it makes sense to want to wrap things up, tick things off a list etc before baby arrives. However, the idea that we need to work extra hard so that the parental leave doesn’t ‘put us behind’ or give some kind of disadvantage places unrealistic expectations on parents. Doing more work before your leave also means you (and your colleagues) treat your parental leave as a reshuffling of work, rather than time away from work. This kind of extra stress is the last thing that parents-to-be need, especially since pregnancy can be really terrible. You might be flat on your back trying to hold down any type of sustenance rather than writing your opus in the 8th month- and that’s ok. Parents don’t need to ‘earn’ their leave- and working extra, taking on extra roles etc before baby arrives means you donate time to the university and treat the arrival of the baby as the ‘finish line’ rather than the starting gate.

2. Parental leave free labor: I blame sabbaticals for this. While on sabbatical staff that are ‘away’ are still expected to respond to emails (even if it is slowly) and somewhat maintain their visibility and roles in the department. But parental leave is, and should be, different: parents take it because they have a new baby, not because they are focusing more of their attention to one aspect of their job. Also, most parental leave involves a pay reduction- so from a purely economic sense, parents are not getting paid to do their job anymore, they are paid to be parents, on leave. But that’s not reality. Most parents on leave end up responding to emails, doing copy edits on articles/books that are in the publication pipeline, writing reference letters, providing annual reports to funders, giving advice or feedback to grad students, and maybe even reviewing. These are tasks that one is almost obliged to do in order to sustain a minimum lifeline as an academic, but it is UNPAID LABOR. Continue reading

Tuesday Linkage

Editor’s note: this post previously appeared on my personal blog. I’ve been doing links posts on Tuesdays over there for a while now, so I guess I might as well start cross-listing them.

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Translating Conference-Speak

I’m leaving for the Midwest Political Science Association conference this afternoon, a wonderful 3 days since I returned from ISA.  I’m a little (*cough*) “conferenced-out” – it wasn’t a good idea to do both conferences so close to each other.  I am excited, however, to see all the fabulous IO panels at Midwest.

As I finished up the last of my conference slides this morning, I was reflecting on the “conference-ese” we all use and what our phrases actually mean.  To the untrained participant, the phrase might not get noticed.  For the seasoned conference participant, however, it is obvious what the phrase really means.  Let me translate some of these:

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Imposters at the ISA?

Long ago, Dan Drezner posted about the imposter syndrome.  The basic idea is that many folks feel as if they will be found out, that there are other folks out there that are smarter, more informed and that one is just getting away with being less than that until eventually getting found out.

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Academic Family Tree

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Almost exactly three years ago, Patrick Thaddeus Jackson blogged “Who’s Your Grand-Advisor? Crowdsourcing an IR lineage map” at the Duck. Patrick was searching for an academic family tree website with a focus on international relations:

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Some Personal Reflections on Social Media and Tenure

Editor’s note: this post first appeared on my personal blog.

As some of you may know, I’m up for tenure this year, and it’s not going to work out. I don’t want to get into the details of anything that ought not be discussed in public, but I thought I’d share some quick thoughts that some of you might find to be of interest.

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