Category: Academia (page 1 of 14)

Audit Culture in UK Higher Education

In 2016 I took a job at university in the UK. As an American, British academic culture was new to me, especially its ‘audit culture’. The key elements of audit culture are mechanisms for the evaluation and measurement of teaching and research. The vast majority of UK higher education is delivered by public institutions, regulated and funded in large part by the government. The UK government justifies its use of oversight mechanisms on democratic grounds. They argue that since higher education is funded primarily, though not exclusively, by the central government, academic staff should be held accountable to the public through the evaluation of the relative ‘excellence’ of a university’s research and teaching. However, as I will explain, government-mandated reviews are only the tip of the iceberg. The practice of oversight is woven into the day-to-day administration of teaching and research.

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) is a national review of research quality and productivity that takes place approximately every five years (the upcoming REF is in 2021, the previous one was held in 2014). The process is taken very seriously by university administrators because it informs the allocation of around £2 billion per year of public funding for universities’ research. At my university we have already begun preparing for the next cycle with what is known as the “rolling REF”, an ongoing internal assessment exercise where we all read and assess one another’s published work. What this means, in effect, is that it feels like there is no end to the REF review process. As one colleague put it, “after the REF is before for the REF.” 

The rules of the REF are baroque and shift with each subsequent cycle. Under the current rules, as a scholar on a research and teaching contract your aim should be to produce four, four-star research outputs every five years. This is because, at least for the 2021 cycle, no one researcher can submit more than four items, but universities have to submit at least something from all eligible staff it employs (just determining eligibility requires a flow chart–see p. 36). There is also an “impact case study” element to the REF used to assess the role research plays outside academia. To give you an idea of the scale of the REF audit, here are the stats from 2014:

https://www.ref.ac.uk/media/1021/guide-to-ref-2021-for-research-users.pdf

Continue reading
Share

The sneaky rise of “common wisdom” in Middle East studies

We’ve all spent the weekend processing the killing of Iranian official Qassim Suleimani by a US airstrike. While this is obviously very important, we should think about a secondary implication of this act–how this undermined the apparent Middle East analyst consensus that America was pulling back from tensions with Iran, and how this consensus even emerged in the first place.

A few months ago I noticed something interesting. Saudi Arabia, after adopting a hostile foreign policy on Qatar and Yemen–motivated by its fears of Iran–seemed to be getting nervous. They’d issue warning signs about the impact of a war, and their UAE allies actually seemed to be trying to calm things down. I noted this on Twitter (I’m not going to look up my tweets, but you can find them), and thought I was onto something.

Continue reading
Share

The Same but Different: US vs UK Higher Education

Four years ago I accepted a job at a university in the UK. When I took the job I didn’t think a whole lot about how working in the UK might differ from my previous academic posts in the US. I’m an American, and though I have British friends who work at UK universities–one of whom warned me “not to be fooled by the fact that we speak the same language”–I was woefully underprepared for just how distinct the two higher education systems are. Brits and Americans do speak the same language, but there are significant differences in their use of terminology. It’s not just that we use different words to mean the same thing, it’s that we use the same words to mean different things. For instance:

Are you alright? 

Let’s start with the simple stuff. If a Brit greets you and asks, “You a’right?” it is the equivalent of an American saying, “Hey, how are you?” However, I spent my first couple weeks in the UK wondering if there was something wrong with how I looked. I would immediately check to see if I was bleeding or if I had spilled coffee on my shirt.

Dissertation vs Thesis

In the US the dissertation is what you write to earn your PhD. In the UK it’s what an undergraduate or master’s level student writes as a capstone assignment. I learned this fact only after a couple of rather confusing conversations with my advisees. To sum it up: A dissertation is a thesis and a thesis is a dissertation.

Course 

In the US what would be called a “course” is called a “module” in the UK. So, for instance, where students select their classes from a course catalogue in the US, they browse a module catalogue in the UK. However, this use of terminology becomes extra confusing because in the UK they use the word course to describe what in the US would be a degree program. In other words, a module is to a course in the UK as a course is to a program in the US.

Lecturer 

When I was hired on in the UK, I was hired as a lecturer. I knew it was a “permanent” position. Yet the fact that in the US a lecturer is usually a contingent or adjunct employee caused confusion for my friends back home. In the UK a lecturer is the first rank on the academic promotion scale. In some ways it is equivalent to being hired as an assistant professor in the US, except that in the UK there is no up-or-out tenure system. Once you pass a cursory probation period you are hired on an open-ended contract. Though rare, technically, you could spend your entire career as a lecturer.

Reader

In the US the term reader is generally used to describe someone who enjoys reading. In the UK it is also a rank on the academic promotion scale. The rank of reader does not have a US equivalent in the sense that there are three rungs on the US promotion ladder, whereas there are four rungs in the UK. The promotion ladder in the UK is lecturer, senior lecturer, reader, professor. A senior lecturer is generally considered to be equivalent to an associate professor. A reader is equivalent to the junior ranks of what would be a full professor.

Professor

Adding to the confusion is that in the UK there are differences in title attached to the differences in rank. In the US all tenure-track and tenured faculty are addressed as “professor.” In the UK, until you reach the rank of professor you are addressed as “doctor” rather than “professor.” My students call me Dr. Harrington, or at least that’s how I ask them to address me. I still get plenty of emails that start out with “Hi” or, more unfortunately, “Miss Harrington.”

Staff 

In the UK the term staff refers to all academic and administrative employees. In the US “staff” usually refers to administrative support and “faculty” denotes the academic personnel. Moreover, rather than working directly for academic faculty who have taken on administrative positions, as they usually do in the US, administrative staff have a career track and promotion hierarchy that sits parallel to the academic track. This then touches on another, broader point about the extent of UK bureaucracy, but that’s a story for another time.

Marking

Marking is what in the US is called grading. This is not a particular source of confusion as marking and grading are more or less synonymous terms in the US as well, but I am including it here because the culture of marking is quite different than it is in the US. It is a much more involved process which includes the practice of moderation in which a colleague reviews a sample of the marked essays and comments on the consistency of the grades and the quality of the feedback.

Scheme 

What in the US would be called a program or plan Brits call a “scheme.” There’s a scheme for almost everything in the UK. There’s a pension scheme, a postgraduate funding scheme, a publication scheme. To an American it manages to make even the most banal plan sound like an underhanded plot. Take for instance the Beacon Scholarship, which my university’s website describes as “a lucrative scheme..open to all undergraduate courses,” or my university’s bicycle scheme. I pictured a bicycle theft ring, but it turned out to be a completely above-board program to purchase a bicycle on a tax-free installment plan.

This catalog is far from exhaustive, and it only scratches the surface of what are much deeper structural and cultural differences. I’m sure that there are many more terms that one could add, but for now, as they say in the UK, I wish you all “Happy Christmas.”

Share

Chain-ganging in reverse? Gulf states and US hostility towards Iran

I had a piece in the Washington Post’s “Monkeycage” over the weekend, which you can read here. I noted that many worry Saudi Arabia and the UAE will pull America into war with Iran. But it actually looks like they’re the ones restraining us. The piece was inspired by the famous “chain-ganging” dynamic in IR scholarship, but there was little discussion of that as it was geared towards a broader audience, so I wanted to expand here.

I suspect most readers of this site had to read Christensen and Snyder’s “Chain gangs and passed bucks” at some point. In case you didn’t, the argument is basically that in multipolar systems, alliances tend towards chain-ganging (being dragged into wary by allies) or buck-passing (wars breaking out because no one wants to stand up to an aggressor). The former happens in the case of offensive-dominant systems, the latter in defensive dominant ones.

Continue reading
Share

Exploring Obstacles to Social Cohesion in the Aftermath of Violent Conflict: A Scholar-Practitioner Symposium

This is a guest post by Kara Hooser and Austin Knuppe, Conflict to Peace Lab, Mershon Center for International Security Studies, The Ohio State University

Rebuilding social cohesion—restoring bonds of social trust that bind people together in communities and enable them to peacefully coexist—commonly serves as a central goal for peacebuilders engaging in communities fractured by political violence. Despite a growing consensus about the necessity of promoting social cohesion in the aftermath of widespread violence, questions remain about how scholars, practitioners, and donors can collaborate to implement effective peacebuilding practices.

To address these challenges, we brought together sixteen scholars and practitioners for the inaugural peacebuilding symposium of the Conflict 2 Peace Lab at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies at The Ohio State University.  Drawing on lessons learned from similar “bridging the gap” initiatives, we designed a workshop to facilitate exchange and find spaces for building community and mutual learning. Our time together focused on three themes: concepts and theories of social cohesion, effective peacebuilding practices, and monitoring, evaluation, and learning.

Finding Common Cause: Peacebuilding in Research and Practice

Over two days of structured discussion and information conversations, several commonalities emerged.

Continue reading
Share

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Policy Engagement* (*But Were Too Afraid to Ask)

Earlier this year, our team at the Sié Center at the University of Denver announced our program on the three R’s of Academic-Policy Engagement (or R3, if you prefer): Rigor, Relevance, and Responsibility. Generously supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, our program is intended to both study and help train early-career scholars around the ethical issues that arise when academics—who face ever-increasing pressures to demonstrate the broader social impacts of their research—attempt to interface with policy audiences. Broadly speaking, our scholarly community is doing a good job of training scholars to engage: initiatives like the Bridging the Gap Project (BtG) have been massively successful in demystifying the mechanics of engagement: how to write for policy audiences, give good interviews, etc. BtG now has over 100 alums who are doing an excellent job of making IR scholarship legible for policy and general audiences.

Continue reading
Share

IR, it’s time to talk about what the “multiple comparisons issue” really is

As a reviewer and recipient of reviews, I’ve noted a recent trend among IR papers. A study uses cross-national data with regression analysis, and runs multiple models with different variables or sub-sets of the data. Sometimes the results are consistent, sometimes they aren’t. But often a reviewer will object to the study’s validity, pointing to the “multiple comparisons” issue. Multiple comparisons can be a real problem in quantitative IR studies, but I worry we’re mis-diagnosing it.

What do I mean? Imagine we’re writing a paper on interstate conflict. We could measure conflict onset, duration or intensity. We could measure intensity by an ordinal scale, the number of deaths, or other more complicated measures. We could include all dyads, politically-relevant dyads, dyads since 1945, 1989, etc. Ideally these choices would be based on our theory, but our theories are often not specific enough to specify such choices.

Continue reading
Share

Duck podcast episode 2: Dan Nexon

The second episode of the podcast is now live. Dan and I discuss his recent-is tenure as lead editor at ISQ, insights on the journal article model for career advancement, prophesies for the future of journals in IR, and advice for young(ish?) scholars. The podcast should be available through Apple and Google podcast syndicators, and the RSS feed is https://feed.podbean.com/duckofminerva/feed.xml. As always, feedback is welcome in the comments or on twitter @jarrodnhayes

Share

A bigger question in the alt-ac debate

I had a kind of unique path to my current tenure-track job, straddling the policy-academia divide. So I’ve followed current discussions on “alt-ac” careers with interest, but found something lacking in them. Nathan Paxton’s recent interview with APSA crystallized that; the bigger question is not how to support alt-ac PhDs but how to counsel people before getting PhDs in the first place.

As I’ve discussed, I sort of followed the “alt-ac” approach in the first part of my career. For those who haven’t seen it, “alt-ac” means “alternative academic,” referring to PhDs who pursue jobs outside of higher education. I worked in DC before grad school, and continued working in “policy” jobs during grad school even as I tried to prepare for an academic career. And I worked in research jobs for several years before becoming a professor.

Continue reading
Share

All Journals Can, and Should, Provide Decision Letters and Reviewer Reports to Referees

Public Domain — From Pixabay

Note: This is the third post in an occasional series in which I talk about lessons learned (or related stuff) from my time editing International Studies Quarterly. My prior posts focused on “best practices” for writing decision letters (Part I and Part II).

I won’t knowingly review for a journal that doesn’t, as a matter of policy, share anonymized copies of decision letters and reviewer reports with referees.

Once a journal makes a decision and I don’t receive these materials, I usually check to make sure that mistakes weren’t made – that I didn’t accidentally delete the notification or whatever. If there wasn’t a mistake, and the journal confirms that it doesn’t provide referees with the decision letter and other reports, then I’m done. I let the journal know that I won’t review for them again unless and until it changes its policy.

And I do mean “policy.” It’s not enough for the journal to share this material only when prodded.

Why do I feel so strongly about this? There are a number of reasons why, in my opinion, journals are obligated to provide referees with decision letters and reports.

  • It’s the courteous thing to do. Referees invest time and energy into providing feedback; they should know whether and how that feedback mattered to the editorial decision.
  • Knowing how seriously the editors took the referee reports is an important part of the general good of editorial transparency. If the editors want to overrule one or more reviewers, that’s within their rights. But it’s inappropriate to obscure that choice from referees.
  • The field doesn’t invest a lot of time and energy into training people how to be good peer reviewers. Seeing what the editors did with your report, and how other referees assessed the same manuscript, is an important way for scholars to learn how to be better reviewers.
  • Knowing the contents of the editorial decision and the other reports becomes particularly crucial in the context of evaluating a revised and resubmitted paper. Some journals will provide these materials only in the context of an R&R, which is better than not providing them at all – but it’s still inadequate.

I feel so strongly about this that I occasionally make public appeals to other academics to boycott journals that don’t engage in this best practice when it comes to transparency. I made one such call on Facebook and Twitter within the last few days – about the same time that I emailed a journal that hadn’t sent me a decision letter for a manuscript that I’d reviewed. Both an exchange with another former editor and with that journal highlighted something that hadn’t ocurred to me. It isn’t always a matter of not wanting to provide these materials, but not knowing how to do so.

Continue reading
Share

Has regression analysis shrunk our imaginations?

I realize this is a weird thing for me to ask, since the vast majority of my publications–as well as a few of my works in progress–have relied on regression. But I was wondering this recently based on my own and others’ responses to a new project.

I was presenting qualitative research recently that tried to make the case for ideas mattering in a conventional security studies topic (I’m being intentionally vague). I had a lot of evidence that it did, but the way it mattered was bit more nuanced than the way material factors mattered. An audience member took issue not with my evidence, but with my interpretation; they argued it seems like this shows ideas don’t really matter at all. And I had similar thoughts while writing this paper; not that ideas didn’t matter, but that they fell short of the type of effect we were used to seeing. So I had to decide how defensive I wanted to be in discussing my results.

Continue reading
Share

Non-Academic Career Paths: The Dirty Secret of Academia?

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the academic job market is tough. Faculty openly warn political science PhD students that there are very few tenure-track jobs available, that they will be competing for those few positions against their most talented and accomplished peers, and that multiple publications and the imprimatur of an Ivy League school have become de facto pre-requisites for the top jobs. The academic job market has changed so rapidly that first-year professors often boast more publications than their tenured senior peers. From their first semester, students are steeped in a culture of scarcity that provokes fear and uncertainty (indeed, it’s not surprising that PhD students suffer from anxiety and depression at “astonishingly high rates”).

Over the past couple of decades, according to NSF’s Survey of Doctorate Recipients, the proportion of PhD holders who find careers in academia has declined precipitously in every field. In 2017, only 23% of PhDs in life and health sciences held a tenure-track or tenured position, down from 33% in 1997. Math and computer science have declined from 49% to 33% over the same period; engineering from 23% to 16%. In the social sciences and psychology, 30% of PhD-holders had a tenured or tenure-track job in 2017. 

Yet given all of this, it is also a universally understood truth that pursuing a non-academic career path as a PhD candidate in political science ought to be treated as a dirty secret, at worst, and a less prestigious alternative to winning a coveted tenure-track post, at best.

Continue reading
Share

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.

Continue reading
Share

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:

Continue reading
Share

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.

Continue reading
Share

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.

Continue reading
Share

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.

Share

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).

Continue reading
Share

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.

Continue reading
Share
« Older posts

© 2020 Duck of Minerva

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑