Category: Academia (page 1 of 14)

Fieldwork and Your Health

Fieldwork – “leaving one’s home institution in order to acquire data, information, or insights that significantly inform one’s research”

(Kapiszewski, MacLean, and Read 2015: 1)

– has long been a cornerstone of social science research. It is a remarkably diverse enterprise: ‘doing fieldwork’ can mean carrying out archival research, interviews, surveys, focus groups, participant observation, ethnography, or experiments. Fieldwork is also quite valuable: it helps orient scholars toward under-addressed ontological questions, including whether many of the concepts that we routinely study actually exist ‘out there’ in the world, or at least exist in the form that our theories postulate. Fieldwork also enables scholars to take measurement seriously, as sometimes our indicators and scales do not accurately describe or quantify our concepts. Fieldwork, in short, is vital in aligning social science concepts and measurement with the real world that we seek to study.

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Bringing Ontology Back In


Political science has long had debates over methodology – i.e., ways of knowing about the world – but has had fewer over ontology – i.e. what exists in the world. This was noted by Peter Hall in his 2003 book chapter, “Aligning Ontology and Methodology in Comparative Research,” but other authors like Colin Hay and Liam Stanley have made the same critique.  

Why is this a problem? Two examples, one personal and one not:

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On Being a Scholar-Activist

This is a guest post from Prof. M. Victoria Pérez-Ríos. Pérez-Ríos holds a PhD in Political Science from The Graduate Center, CUNY (City University of New York); and graduated from the Law School of Saragossa, Spain. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and at the Social Science Department at LaGuardia Community College. Her research interests include civil rights, accountability & counterterrorism. She is currently writing a manuscript on memorials. Follow her at @victoriahhrr.

This post is based on an ISA 2019 panel on scholar-activism. We invite others to contribute to what we hope will be a wider series of blog posts on what it means to different faculty. Why do you think it is important to be both a scholar and activist (or do you disagree)? Look for the series with the hashtag #ScholarActivism

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A SCHOLAR-ACTIVIST?

This question made me think about what I understand by being a scholar. In my case scholarship has to seek the truth but not in a vacuum; it has to be transmitted to others and this is done through our peers and our students. As a result, I consider myself, foremost, a teacher. And, can I, as a teacher, not worry about, examine, and try to find solutions to unfairness in the world? As Paolo Freire explains, “[P]roblem-posing education involves a constant unveiling of reality… strives for the emergence of consciousness and critical intervention in reality.” Read: Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Moreover, in order to excel as a teacher, I need to be a life-long student.

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Want to fix peer review? Standardize appeals

It’s happened to all of us. You get that email “Decision on Manuscript…,” open it with a bit of trepidation, just to find a (hopefully) politely worded rejection from the editor. Sometimes this is justified. Other times, however, the rejection is due to the legendary “Reviewer #2,” a cranky, ill-informed, hastily written rant against your paper that is not at all fair. The details can vary–they don’t like your theoretical approach, don’t understand the methods, are annoyed you didn’t cite them–but the result is the same: thanks to a random draw from the editor’s reviewers list you’ve got to move on.

We all seem to agree this is a problem. Peer review is finicky, and often relies on gate-keepers who can fail to objectively assess work. The pressure to publish for junior faculty and grad students is immense. And editors are over-worked and overwhelmed. Dan Nexon provided a great service recently by writing a series of posts on his experience at International Studies Quarterly. This gave a lot of insight into this often opaque process, and got me thinking about what to do with the above situation.

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Can researchers be both scholars and activists?

This is a call for a new series that grows out of a panel held at ISA earlier this spring. We have a few posts in process that come from participants on that panel, but we want to open it up to other contributors under the hashtag #ScholarActivism.

Questions that you could explore include:

  • What’s your idea of the appropriate balance between scholarship and activism?
  • What’s been your experience?
  • Does one’s activism potentially serve as grist for critiques that academics are indoctrinating students?
  • Is activism different from policy engagement?

We welcome your thoughts on these questions and others.

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Changing the discipline through political economy, bodies, and Open Educational Resources

This is a guest post from Matt Evans (mevans8@nwacc.edu), who is Associate Professor of Political Science at Northwest Arkansas Community College. His words represent his own opinions as an individual, and not (necessarily) his employer. This is the fifth in the series on changing the field. #IRChange [i]

The answer for change is simple:

Political Scientists should consider how our ideas, practices, and institutions (dis)able our students financially; and then address these problems through our politics without retreat.

The Problem

At my first in-person teaching job, the department chair chose the books (before I was hired for the job). When I taught the first class, I told students to return the books and get refunds from the bookstore. Anything students needed, they would get as PDFs in the course shell. Other jobs have compelled me (through various institutional constraints) to use and keep the same for-profit textbook as the other full-time teacher of the course.

In these classes, students frequently tell me that they cannot buy the textbook immediately (because they are waiting on a paycheck or more financial aid disbursement) and ask for an extension on the first assignment. At other times, students drop the course (and sometimes tell me about it after the fact). To be fair, whether I control the textbook choice or not, students find themselves in a series of difficult economic situations – that the book is one ingredient in their retention, advancement, and intellectual growth – and I help them find resources to help them eat, not be evicted from their home, or to prevent homeless (because critical theory compels me so).

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The Decision Letter, Part I

Public Domain — From Pixabay

For caveats and background, see my introductory post.

Editors write a lot of decision letters. At high-volume journals, editors write so many decision letters that it can become a tedious grind. For authors, though, the information communicated in decision letters matters enormously. It can affect their job prospects, salaries, and chances of advancement. Of course, authors, especially in the moment, overestimate the significance of any single journal decision. But receiving a rejection, revise-and-resubmit invitation, or an acceptance can certainly feel like a defining event. This is especially the case for graduate students and junior academics, who are less experienced in, and more vulnerable to, the vagaries of the review process.

This makes decision letters the single most consequential way that editors communicate with authors. The same is true for referees. We don’t spend a lot of time teaching academics how to craft referees reports. There is, at best, limited consensus about what makes for a good review. So decision letters also become an important way to send cues to referees about the quality of their reports.

If you think about it, all of this places a heavy burden on editors. That burden only seems heavier when we consider how arbitrary and capricious the peer-review process can be

Yeah. Okay. I’m being a bit melodramatic. Editors don’t perform literal surgery. They don’t design airplanes. The stakes are what they are. But I stand by the underlying sentiment: editors have a responsibility to take decision letters very seriously.

In this post, I’ll focus on general issues. In Part II, I’ll elaborate on them in the context of the specific kinds of decision letters.

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What’s in a Wink? The Case for Thick Description

This is a guest post from James Guild who is a PhD candidate in political economy at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. His research interest is economic growth and infrastructure development in Indonesia and Southeast Asia, and his work has appeared in The Diplomat, Jakarta Post and New Mandala. Follow him on Twitter @jamesjguild

This is the fourth in the series on changing the field. #IRChange

The dominance of rational-positivist approaches to modern social science, particularly in the United States, has tended to privilege research designs featuring deductive hypotheses that can be rigorously tested, typically with large-n datasets. This means the role of culture, society and history is often situated lower on the methodological hierarchy. I think many would agree that culture and socially constructed meaning are important variables in understanding political and economic outcomes; but there is little consensus on how to define or measure them, which makes them tricky analytical concepts.

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Reflections on Journal Editing: Caveats

Josh asked me if I would write a series of posts at the Duck of Minerva reflecting on my time editing International Studies Quarterly (ISQ). I agreed.

This post is less a reflection that some background and caveats. I figure that by collecting them in a single post, I won’t have to junk up subsequent entires in this series. I’ll just refer back to what I’ve written here.

Background. I formally edited ISQ from 2014-2018, although my team started to handle new manuscripts in October of 2013. I headed up a very large team. At peak, it included as many as fourteen academic editors and two managing editors. So my job was as much about oversight as about handling specific submissions. I won’t bore readers with a long discussion of process. You can read about our procedures in our annual reports.

ISQ is the “flagship” journal of the International Studies Association (ISA). This matters for three reasons.

First, “association journals” (such as ISQ) are answerable to external leadership. Their editors depend on the explicit or tacit support of that leadership when it comes to journal policy. Some policies are mandated by the association.

Second, association journals have a duty to the various constituencies of their parent organization. In principle, ISQ should be open to any of the kind of work produced by ISA’s intellectually and geographically diverse membership. It therefore has a responsibility to represent different methods, theoretical frameworks, and substantive areas of research.

Third, although ISQ has middling rankings in some indices—such as the infamous “Impact Factor”—it scores well on subjective rankings of prestige and enjoys significant visibility.

The combination of ISQ‘s relative pluralism and its visibility mean that, as far as I know, it receives more submissions than any other peer-reviewed journal in international studies. But it also has a lot of space, so while it received 650+ submissions in my final year as lead editor, our acceptance rates hovered around 10-12%.

Some Caveats. My observations about the peer-review process and journal publishing are based on a single journal in a single field. They also come from a discrete slice of time. Overall submissions at international-studies journals continue to increase. The field continues to globalize. Expectations for scholarly publishing continue to evolve. All of this means that while some of my views may remain relevant for years, others are likely to become quickly outdated.

In my next post, I’ll start talking substance.

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Announcing Our New Guest Ducks

We are pleased to announce our slate of new guest Ducks for the fall semester and beyond. We are also delighted to announce that longtime guest blogger Lisa Gaufman has joined us on a permanent basis.

We have two terrific guests from last year, Peter Henne and Luke Perez, who are staying on for the year. Luke has moved to Arizona State where he has started as an Assistant Professor so kudos to him!

We are also extending our partnership with the Bridging the Gap project which will periodically have folks from their academic network post here on a dedicated channel. Bridging the Gap is a terrific initiative for academics interesting policy and practice. They host annual workshops for graduate students and faculty to learn about how to make academic work relevant to policy audiences. Apply to participate if you haven’t already!

Our new guests include Evren Eken, Meg Guliford, Anne Harrington, Cullen Hendrix, Alexandra Stark, and Ajay Verghese. Read more about them below!

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Bringing Indigenous Experiences into International Relations

This is a guest post from Andrew A. Szarejko who is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Government at Georgetown University, where his research focuses on the origins of U.S. wars with Native nations. You may reach him at andrewszarejko@gmail.com or on Twitter @Szarejko.

This is the third in our series on changing the field. Parts 1 and 2 are linked here. More submissions welcome! #IRChange

Many scholars of International Relations (IR), especially in the past couple decades, have sought to study and teach about a more diverse set of political actors to counter-act the biases of a relatively homogeneous professoriate. In a word, this has been described as an effort to decolonize IR. As was noted in a 2016 symposium in Perspectives on Politics, however, political scientists still all too frequently ignore indigenous groups—including Native nations in the United States, on which I will tend to focus here (for a note on terminology, see the Native American Journalists Association’s reporting guidelines).

This neglect has been especially evident in International Relations. In this post, I will make the case that IR as a subfield currently lags behind other subfields in examining indigenous experiences and that IR scholars ought to be doing more of this, and I will describe how one might bring such actors into research and teaching alike. 

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Changing the Atmosphere in Political Science: Ten Key Political Questions about Climate Change

We’re re-upping this guest post as part of our series on changing the field. #IRChange. This is the second post (the first is here).

This is a guest post from several authors including:

Climate change is arguably the most urgent problem facing humankind. It is not a single policy problem, but rather pervades all aspects of state and society – affecting everything from geopolitics to local planning. Yet, one is hard pressed to reach this conclusion given the current landscape of political science.

Excellent work appears occasionally in premier journals on the variety of political questions that climate change raises.  But given the centrality of politics in contributing and responding to the climate change problem, there is not enough of this work and — critically — much of it occurs outside the central discourses and journals of our discipline. Some political scientists are instead engaging climate change debates in policymaking, assessment and public venues. For example, Science and Nature seem to value contributions by political scientists. But what of our discipline? How is it responding to climate change?

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Ranking Tenure Candidates? No Thanks

Sunday mornings are for tenure reviews.  Huh?  I am reading stuff to evaluate a scholar for whether he/she is worthy of tenure.  This is a standard part of the tenure process–to have outside scholars read a bunch of a candidate’s work and then indicate whether they have made a significant contribution and whether they are likely to continue to do so.  As I have written elsewhere, this is a fair amount of work, almost always unpaid.  So, I have gotten a bit cranky when I do it these days.

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Call for Guest Posts: How Should the Discipline Change?

We are going to begin calls for contributions to thematic series. The Monkey Cage for example had a terrific series on the gender gap in political science.

The first in our call for contributions is for guest posts on how the discipline–broadly understood as international relations–should change. We will be using the hashtag #IRchange. This can be in terms of publishing, teaching, research, methods, whatever changes you think are needed. We have run a number of posts on the need for more environmental and climate change research, including this recent multi-author post on how the wider field could explore important questions related to climate change.

How should international relations research be conducted, taught, researched? What are the important and understudied areas or questions? Are there methods that the field isn’t deploying or not nearly enough? Whose work merits more attention? How should syllabi change? How should we think about hiring? What is our relevance to practice and wider world? What kinds of work should count towards tenure? Lots of these kinds of questions and more.

We are certain many of you have outstanding ideas. Send me or any of the permanent contributors a pitch or post. We are looking in the 800-1500 word range. Hyperlink your sources. If you haven’t written a blog post before, take a look at a few just to get a handle on the format.

We look forward to hearing from you!

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Reanimating the Minerva Cast

In the Fall semester we will be reanimating the podcast series that Grand Duck Dan initiated a few several years ago. As in the original, the podcast will largely be conversations with academics, engaging them on their past and current work as well as their views on important unanswered or underaddressed questions and future of the discipline. But as we sketch out a general template for the conversations we would like to hear from you. Who would you like to see on the podcast? What kind of questions/topics would you like to see answered/raised? Do you have any other suggestions that would help make the podcast must-listen? Leave thoughts below in the comments, email the permanent contributors or me (Jarrod.Hayes@gmail.com), or @ me on Twitter @jarrodnhayes. 

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Choosing a Cover For Your New Book

This is a guest post from Bear Braumoeller, Professor of Political Science at The Ohio State University. Follow him on Twitter @Prof_BearB

Graduate study in the social sciences is overwhelmingly oriented toward the process of researching and writing a dissertation that will become a book. We very rarely talk about any other aspect of publishing—how to approach an editor, how to design a book with a specific audience in mind, or how to (gasp!) market a book.

The latter topic came to mind recently when Professor Matthew Shugart complimented the cover of my forthcoming book and asked what the story was behind it. That question prompted enough discussion that Josh Busby asked me to go into in more detail in a post for Duck of Minerva, in case the answers are of use to other authors who are facing this question.

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Thoughts on making the most of APSA for the alt-ac attendee

Graduation Cap and Diploma on White with Soft Shadow.

C/o Bluestocking, 2008 Uyen Le

APSA is nearly upon us again, and I thought I should write something profession-related as I got back into blogging. My first thought was to make fun of annoying questions, but I already did that (six years ago…but still relevant). And there is a lot of advice floating around for grad students or others on the market. Instead, I thought I’d focus on an area where my experience is more unique: navigating academic conferences while working outside academia (or alt-ac*) and–in my case–trying to get back in.

For just a little context, I am currently in a tenure-track job but had always been on the policy-academia border. I worked in the defense industry in DC before grad school, and continued working part-time after I started (as I attended school in DC). I then switched to the think tank world (working part-time with the Pew Research Center). After graduating, I went on the academic job market but ended up getting policy jobs–first with the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Responses to Terrorism (START) and then full-time with Pew. After a few years out, I decided to try the academic job market again, and got my current job.

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A Call for New Guest Ducks

We are looking for you! The fall 2019 semester is upon us, and we’d like to bring on a new cohort of guest Ducks.

The Duck remains a unique blog in terms of our ability to cover a wide variety of topics from IPE to the environment to health to human rights as well as traditional IR topics such as security. We also have freedom to do more academic introspection on the discipline and higher education writ large.

As a guest blogger, you have the freedom to find your voice and the format and length that suits you without an editor. You are free to muse and use the platform to try out new ideas.

We want to privilege new voices and approaches. We would especially welcome more diversity on the blog, including gender, ethnic, and non-North American perspectives.

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Using Pop Culture in the Classroom: Footloose FTW!

I love this tweet as it puts the usual dynamics on their head:

Tip for students going off to college: study 80s/90s pop culture. Particularly Ferris Beuller, Princess Bride, Simpsons seasons 2-5. Your gen x/early millennial profs will try to connect with you through these, and will be confused/sad when you stare blankly at them. Not joking.

— David Mimno (@dmimno) August 2, 2019

Each summer, profs are reminded how much younger the students are and then the onus is on them to update their references.  This tweet nicely makes fun of profs by suggesting the reverse.

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Academic (S)mothering Part III: Conferencing

Ah, the sweet time your baby becomes a toddler and maybe lets you sleep for more than 5 hours a night. Your teaching is sort of kind of on track, your scant article submissions get a steady number of rejections so why not try to venture back into the world of academic conferencing? Something not too far away and not too expensive, because as a parent you are too responsible to spend your hard-earned money on conference fees and hotel “discount rates”. So, you dust off your formal clothing (all carefully selected in accordance with the misogynist ideals of appropriate female academic attire) and click with a trembling finger on the “submit” button for your abstract. Lo and behold, the program chair deemed the submission passable, so you double check with partner, in-laws and daycare and soon fly towards your first time away from the baby for more than 9 hours. 

When you have babies no one really tells you that you might have separation anxiety as well. So, you are grateful to the technological progress that allows you to obsessively watch your baby sleep on a monitor or even get him to smile to you on FaceTime for a second because their attention span hasn’t evolved beyond half a minute. You revel in discussions on post-structuralism and post-positivism, delight in the opportunity to discuss that latest methodological article that you managed to read at 3 am, and enjoy not carrying a single wet wipe in your bag. In a whirlwind of presentations and round tables you see your friends whom you haven’t seen since your last conference two years ago (because that’s how you see people), but no late-night cocktails – you cherish your opportunity to actually sleep through the night for the first time in a year and a half too much. 

After abysmal (not the Joey kind) anxiety over your child you start to choose the conferencing opportunities careful: 

  1. Do I need a visa? Because an extra trip to the consulate can make it or break the desire to enjoy “more of a comment than a question”. 
  2. How far away is it? I bet Honolulu is nice, but travelling for almost 24 hours adds extra away days that your partner may not be able to do without you.
  3. Can you or your department afford it? These days you can’t shamefully justify the out of pocket expenses for a conference as “investments into your career”. Nope, your mommy brain does not buy it anymore and would rather put it away into the baby college fund. 
  4. How helpful is this conference for your career and how much of a guilt trip on top of the conference trip the escapade will involve? I don’t know whether it’s the same for all moms, but pretty much every activity is weighed against “I could be spending this time with my child and instead I am doing this” scale.  

Another option is, of course, taking the baby with you. But as I learned the hard way, most toddlers can’t sit still for more than 10 min and most academic presentations last longer than that.  Usually only the bigger conferences offer on-site daycare (thanks, ISA!), but given (1) they require a visa and (2) that they are far away and most often (3) very expensive, there is no way I would go there in the foreseeable future. Thus, it’s really hard to get back to jet-setting times of pre-baby. 

But let’s finish on a brighter note. Thank you, people who live-tweet the panels and snap photos of the slides! I love you all very much and I will see you back in 2 to 3 years!

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