Category Archives: Teaching

Why TIFU?

So why a series of posts on a political science blog called TIFU (inspired by the subreddit of the same name)? I, and others, have written about failure recently (in a liberal, failure-conscious definition of recently), inspired both by everyday life and by Johannes Haushofer’s post of a CV of failures. But I’ve decided that’s not enough.

It started on a panel hosted by the committee on the status of women at the Southern Political Science Association in Puerto Rico, which addressed navigating networking and other professional development musts. I was giving a talk on the best practices for networking, and many of the people in the audience looked intimidated. Then I realized a lot of professional development talks on best practices suggest there is not room for error. But I (and almost everyone I know) have learned at least some of the lessons about what to do by screwing it up – by doing the wrong thing first, and then learning, or by being put in my place by someone who knew better to begin with. I never think to say that in a professional development talk (or rarely), though, because its about imparting what I’ve learned that works. That, combined with being socialized to hide weaknesses in professional settings, means that it can seem like the people giving professional development hints got to where they are by walking some sort of tightrope perfectly. I had to let that audience know I’d screwed up (a lot) and it’d still turned out ok. And I think some of those stories (not all of them, of course, because I still have some dignity, I think) might contain useful professional lessons as well. Some of my TIFU’s (which seems more sanitary than fuck-ups) in networking and professional socialization will be a part of this post.

Then the CV of failures thing came around. Part of me loved that move because it said – these things did not work out for me, and yet stuff all worked out. My initial reaction was more piecemeal and tangential – that I was interested in the failures that I couldn’t put on a CV of failures. Sure, I’ve had a lot of rejections for journal articles and books and jobs and stuff – and those could go on a CV of failures – but that my biggest failures (and the hardest to overcome) have been failures of anxiety, failures of willingness to show my voice and be seen – failures that are even more invisible than rejections and even harder to show. I still think that this is an important point, and want to write more about several elements of academic failure. First, I want to write more about those quiet, anxious, personal failures. Second, I want to write explicitly about rejections and the lessons one should (as opposed to the lessons one often does) take from them. But third, and perhaps more importantly, I want to write about how to deal with the notion that it might not all be ok in the end. The CV of failures came from someone who made it, as do most of the stories of things that got fucked up or lost or messed up along the way that others in the profession read. My stories are – and can be – no exception – so far, this career thing is turning out just fine for me, and even were something to stop that – my writing would still be from a position of enormous privilege. Still, it is important to acknowledge that stories where it all turns out ok are not representative. Some of the posts in the TIFU series will be about all three of these things – personal failures, rejections, and grappling with stuff that might not turn out ok.

Then there was a panel at ISA-Northeast on navigating the profession as a woman, organized by a lot of junior women. At that panel, another panelist opened up about something personal that had been difficult, and I shared something personal that I’d only told a few people in the profession. The reaction in the room suggested relief at both the admission of something less-than-positive and a sense that it helped understand some contexts and stuff like that. I’m being vague because that’s not a thing I’m ready to share with the internet as a whole (or even the small, five-digit part of it that sometimes reads Relations International) – but I learned at that panel that some people ignore your weaknesses when they can’t figure them out and others attribute a reason for them – but, when possible, admitting them might increase understanding. It also might increase online trolling. So I’m not advocating it as a solution for everyone, and it may be a mistake for me. But some of the TIFU series of posts will be about explaining weakness to provide context.

At that very same panel at ISA-Northeast, there was a discussion of nervousness about sending out pieces of work for review and publication that might not be perfect, or might not be right, or something like that. I’ve always been a big advocate of the strategy of write stuff down, then send stuff out – but that strategy does risk getting reviews that suggest that you are wrong, or being silly, or have missed something; it also risks, on the flip side, publishing something that is wrong, silly, or has missed something. I’ve often told stories at professional development panels about stuff that I wrote and presented at conferences but never sent out because it had some terrible flaw that I hadn’t seen in the writing. But I’ve never talked about published work that I’m not sure about in hindsight. Some of the TIFU posts will talk about the former in more detail – when writing stuff down ends up showing that its not any good. But the very first one (coming soon) will talk about the latter – a piece of my published work with which I now disagree – and how that is/can be situated professionally.

In sum, the (forthcoming) series of posts about things I’ve screwed up over the years is meant to think about, intellectually and emotionally, professional imperfection, and how that does (or should) factor into professional development.

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The State of Relations International – Changes Afoot!

Dear Readers,

I have been a terrible lead blogger over the last year. Terrible. I’d understand it if you didn’t read this post because you’ve forgotten Relations International except for the great posts that Brandon and Patrick have made in my absence. I’m hoping, though, now that you’re reading this post, you’ll keep reading, because 2017 will be a better year for Relations International than 2016 was. Here are some reasons why, in order of importance:

  1. The addition of Patrick Thaddeus Jackson as a permanent member of Relations International. Patrick and I have been blogging together for a long time, and Patrick is not only a brilliant scholar and an interesting person to talk to and hear from, but his blog posts have a great and unique voice on global politics, popular culture, professional development, and all things worth reading. If you haven’t read is recent posts on Marillion (and progressive rock more generally) and the passing of John Shotter, you should – both are creative, interesting, heart-felt, and well worth the read. Relations International is lucky to have Patrick with us, and looking forward to his contributions! He will definitely be an asset.
  2. My father won’t die this year. For those of you who don’t know, I had spent most of the last couple of years living with and taking care of my ailing father. It had become my normal, and I was writing from, blogging from, and even teaching from his house and his location. Both the last few months of his life in the Spring and the familial circumstances that surrounded his passing made it impossible for me not only to do this but really to do any work at all except around the margins. I miss my father every day, and will always – but am truly humbled by how much a confluence of circumstances around that disrupted my professional life. Relations International, which I have almost completely neglected for most of this year, has been one of the biggest casualties. But its been dormant, not dead – and almost every conference I go to, someone tells me something that they like about the posts here. So that makes it worth pursuing, now that I can. Expect a new set of posts from me, including but not limited to another series of posts, adding to series on book publishing, on professional development the hard way, and on feminist IR 101. This series will be called “TIFU” (inspired by the subreddit of the same name), and will talk about the good reasons for discussing and thinking about particular academic failures, both in terms of the quality (or correctness) of scholarship and in terms of professional development.
  3. Donald Trump won’t get elected in 2017. Ok, this one is mostly tongue-in-cheek, because he will most likely become president in 2017, and that is actually much worse than him getting elected. But, actually, I had trouble finding something to say about it, and about politics when it was happening. Unlike many others, I knew it was going to happen. And I couldn’t talk about it then. I don’t know if it was a lucky guess or my finger on the pulse of American politics; but since I’m writing this, I’m going with the latter. But even I was surprised by the sudden change in everyday micropolitics that came with it – the different ways that it felt to interact with local law enforcement, local politics, etc. That pulse that I (think I had) picked up on subtly in the undertones became acceptable, ok, everyday in a very visceral way that felt very dangerous to many of the people I know and love (but discernibly not to me) and I didn’t (and still don’t) have something to say about that. But more than a month later, I feel like maybe I can talk about other stuff. Maybe. 🙂

In all seriousness, to our faithful readers who have put up with our sporadic nature, we’re going to do better. To those who could be tempted to return, give Relations International another shot. To those who are new here, most of our posts don’t talk about death or fascism. And when they do, they’re interesting. Give us a try and see how it goes!

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Academic Freedom, or Privilege with Blinders?

Patrick Thaddeus Jackson wrote a thoughtful response to the University of Chicago’s declaration to the class of 2020 that they won’t find trigger warnings or intellectual safe spaces in Hyde Park, and promises another that specifically addresses safe spaces. I’ll leave him in charge of the cool, level-headed, intellectual arguments, and I’ll post as an angry alum. There was a lot I valued about getting an education at Chicago, but this (attention-grabbing stunt?) move really reminds me of the things that I liked least about being a Chicago Maroon.

The letter in question boasts of the University of Chicago’s long, and often controversial, commitment to academic freedom, referencing a free expression report and coordinated website. All these materials tell a story of an institution that has, for more than a hundred years, permitted and defended hosting controversial speakers, refused to censor controversial ideas, and valued deliberation. The report calls free expression “our inheritance, and our promise to the future.”

A cynic might think that this is a quick turnaround from the threat to expel a student body president who facilitated a protest for campus workers to make a living wage just a couple of months ago. But someone with a long view on the University’s history might think that the University has made a distinction between a narrowly-defined academic freedom, and freedom to/ability to speak more generally – where the former often comes at the expense of or during the suppression of the latter. In fact, one can find this distinction codified, where the University’s “protest” policy, located far away in web-clicks from its “freedom of expression policy” has a very low bar for disruptive behavior (which, ironically, some academic “free speech” might meet, using the letter of the law). The University of Chicago has been noted as one of the institutions that cracked down the strongest (most unreasonably?) on Vietnam War protestors in the 1960s and 1970s. While academic speech in a confined sort of environment (a traditional speaker giving a traditional talk with questions and answers) is highly valued at the University of Chicago, I never got the sense that free expression generally was nearly as valued, especially when it was protest speech.

This is one of the things that makes me angry about the University’s hard line on trigger warnings and safe spaces – the University of Chicago is a place for free expression, among students, in a classroom, about things “outside” the university rather than about how the university is or what the university is or how it works. In fact, on at least two occasions, the University has suppressed protest speech directly related to University practices. This means that UChicago students have a particular sort of freedom – all ideas in the classroom and at talks – but lack other freedoms, particularly participating in the shaping of their institution when the institution refuses to engage their concerns.

That is a problem, but it isn’t my biggest problem. My biggest problem is the University of Chicago touting free expression without there being scrutiny on what the University chooses to be silent about. I think that the University chooses problematic, discriminatory, white-washing silences, and that those matter both in its claims to freedom of expression generally, and the trigger warning/safe space debate specifically.

As an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Chicago, I was mailed driving directions to get to campus from the south, before in-car or on-phone GPS was a thing. I trusted the University to give directions to itself more efficiently than I could figure out on the atlas. The driving directions from the south were to drive up the Dan Ryan to Lake Shore Drive, then south on Lake Shore Drive to campus. For those of you who know Chicago, or can look at a map,  I drove almost 14 miles on four-lane-highway at rush hour from the Dan Ryan exit on 55th Street to getting off of Lake Shore Drive on 57th street – which I think is about two miles on 55th street. The University sent me a ridiculous distance out of my way – why? I can only guess to stop my new-freshman eyes from seeing Washington Park as my first exposure to Chicago? The public transit directions to go Downtown were similarly narrow – they said to take the Jeffrey Bus (at the time it was the #6) or the University bus. You could even the 55 bus to the Red Line over the Dan Ryan, though I remember warnings about that at night. The problem? Between campus and the Red Line on the 55 bus was the Green Line – another way to get downtown.

I am sure the University saw it was public relations, or as keeping students safe, rather than as censorship, or painting a partial picture of the University’s world. The University has a long and storied history of relationships with the surrounding community that try to drive out diversity, which even John Boyer explains have played out on race and class lines. I remember attending a number of events at the University of Chicago which were nominally open to our non-affiliated neighbors but were neither welcoming or accessible. ‘The neighborhood’ was a place that we as students were encouraged to help, but not necessarily encouraged to learn from – the University was a resource for the neighborhood (limitedly, in its own view), but the neighborhood wasn’t treated as a resource for the University. Academic speech was valued in its quality, quantity, and freedom, but what constituted academic speech is narrow, confined by degrees and tuition dollars and an unrepresentative part of the population. This “fits” with a place that suppresses students’ protest speech, especially when that suppressed protest speech is about treating its workers, the neighborhood, its minority students, or its war-objector students with more justice.

At the end of the day, both of these problems – the hypocrisy of the juxtaposition of this statement with the threats to punish a protesting student earlier this year, and the speech the University chooses to promote compared to the speech the University chooses to silent/be silent on – make me angry about what appears to be a self-righteous statement about trigger warnings and safe spaces. I don’t have a well-formed opinion on trigger warnings and safe spaces – I see both sides of the argument – but I worry that the self-appreciating blanket announcement that they will not exist is yet another implicit bias and exclusion in a University that claims inclusiveness but whitewashes its exclusions. The people who need/want trigger warnings are another disadvantaged population that the University of Chicago is not taking serving seriously.

Why do I say that the University of Chicago is not taking serving those people seriously? The letter linked above does not talk about why people ask for trigger warnings and safe spaces; it doesn’t talk about the horrors of war or rape culture of child abuse or child molestation or any number of things that cause serious trauma and psychological damage. It doesn’t talk about resources that the University offers (like the counseling center, or student support groups) to deal with trauma and stress and triggers; it doesn’t talk about the barriers to learning that Patrick deals with; it doesn’t talk about making sure that the University of Chicago is an accessible learning environment. I think that its letter to its 2020 freshman showcases, both implicitly and explicitly, its axes of exclusion rather than its axes of inclusion.

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Professors of, not professors in…

So the LSE has appointed — appointed, not hired, which is important — Angelina Jolie Pitt (AJP) as a “Visiting Professor in Practice.” The importance of the hire/appoint distinction: there is a part of me that is somewhat perturbed that an institution that has not once but twice passed on the opportunity to have me join its ranks has made a space for someone whose scholarly CV is, shall we say, somewhat spotty, but the kind of position AJP has been awarded is a very different animal from anything I might have applied for — and presumably she did not have to give a job talk, secure letters of recommendation from senior colleagues, and have her latest book dissected by a faculty search committee, so I think it’s safe to say that there is a different game being played here.

angelina-jolie-hands

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Do You Ever Feel Afraid? And Other Questions about Failure

I was a guest in an undergraduate class this week, and the students got to ask me questions, both about my work and about how I do my job. I received a number of questions, but one student’s question made me think twice.  The student asked if I’m ever overwhelmed by the process of writing, and just do not want to do it anymore.

And I thought – almost everyday I’m writing. I mean, some days, the writing works and flows. Other days, its 1am and I’m still plugging away at the to-do list or writing quota. Some of those days, its because there’s too much to do or life just gets in the way. But other days, its because there’s some time that I spend in a sense of fear or paralysis about something that I’m probably perfectly capable of writing.

Many will make jokes that my productivity suggests that doesn’t really get in the way; fine, fair enough. And others will suggest that my professional behavior is overall pretty fearless. Also, fine, fair enough. But perhaps it is because it is not totally debilitating to me that I can talk a little bit about that fear.

When the student asked the question, my first thought was about the recent decision of a Princeton professor to post his CV of failures. I thought about my failures. There are the things like that Princeton professor discusses – schools you did not get in to (ironically, for me, that was Princeton), jobs you did not get (I’ve applied for, by my count, almost 1000 academic jobs in my career. I haven’t gotten 1000), articles that were rejected (one article I wrote was rejected at 7 different journals), grants you didn’t get (ever tried to convince NSF that poststructuralist feminism is science?), teaching fails (I once slipped on four-inch heels in a classroom of 400 students), poor professional decisions (remember when I mentioned the kegstand in the last post?), and the like. But, to me, those failures kind of feel like bumps in the road. I’m not afraid to apply for a job I won’t get, or submit an article that will get rejected or a grant that will not be funded. I know that’s itself a privilege – a lot of people are afraid of that stuff too, and feel a very serious sense of failure around it.

For me, my CV of failures would be more of a narrative. It would tell of all the times that I sat around watching reality TV paralyzed and afraid to write something that if I just applied myself I could have. It would tell of all the emails that I leave in my inbox for like six hours for no reason except an inexplicable fear of typing whatever words I would type in response. It would talk about how I actually hide from the “send” button as I hit it sometimes when I send important or risky things. Not metaphorically hide. Actually hide. It would tell about the six weeks one summer I spent doing nothing productive except assembling jigsaw puzzles upside down while I felt insecure about my work. It would talk about how deeply personally I take personal attacks on me by people who don’t know me except professionally – how all of their accusations literally repeat in my head over and over when I am trying to write something that carries with it any professional risk.

I’m pretty sure I zoned out for ten minutes while this entire thought process went through my head, completely forgetting to answer the student’s question. When I snapped back, though, I tried to answer it honestly – yes, I’m terrified – sometimes more than others, but a lot. And I don’t think I admit that very much. I usually just humbly demure to questions about productivity, and provide professional socialization advice when asked how I accomplish this or that. I don’t know whether it is that scholars as a profession are trained not to show vulnerability or if it is just something I am not used to doing – but I do know that this is a very solitary profession with a lot of vulnerability, yet vulnerability is rarely discussed. So I admitted (and emphasized) that its not about whether you are vulnerable or not – its about how you cope with the vulnerability.

Either the student asked or I imputed a second question – so then what do you do to overcome it? Like no two people’s fears are the same, no two people’s coping strategies are the same. Mine are a set of elaborate incentives. Each day, there is a writing quota – how many words depends on the difficulty of the subject matter. It can always be accomplished, with due diligence and when nothing goes wrong, by 5pm. When that happens, those are the sane days- the ones that are functional. But most of the time it doesn’t happen directly – it gets delayed a bit, or it gets delayed a lot. That’s fear and paralysis as much as it is anything else. So, to force myself over the fear of putting the words on the (figurative) paper, I don’t let myself go to bed until the quota is done. Some days, I am done at 5 and go out for a nice dinner. Some days, its 3am. Those days, I learn – both how to keep my psychological composure in a field that lends itself to constant self-questioning and how to manage my time and overcome my fears more efficiently.

I have a lot of other tricks – small writing-windows (15 minutes at my most scared), a less desirable task set up if I don’t keep writing, accountability schemes, and, of course, the Facebook hive-mind. Some or all of my tactics might work for you; others might not. But I do think it is important to recognize that time management isn’t the only barrier to professional productivity: fear matters too,

And, for those of you who this irony is not lost on, it is 1:24am, this is the second-to-last-thing on my list, and there’s a good chance I’ll need to wait until tomorrow to wake up and send the email I’ve been afraid to send today. Or this week.

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Never Tell a Soldier the Costs of War…

Jon Lindsay over at PV@G said most of what needs to be said about Eye in the Sky. I will only make a few points but mostly reiterate the need for any IR scholar to see this movie. It is frankly incredible but it is also a “hard watch.” It wasn’t exactly the best movie choice for my last day in Los Angeles, but it is something that needs to be seen by those in our community.  EITS_Ex_Original

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Teaching Cyber Security in Japan

I am tired, so very tired.  This month I took a trip to Japan, would love if the entire goal of the trip was to eat Kobe beef and real sushi, but sadly, no.  The goal was go to Akita International University and teach Cyber Security for a week long Winter term course.  I can think of no better method of preparing a course, an activity that usually takes months and in ordinate amount of daily stress (waking up in the morning in terror realizing you forgot to prepare for class that day) than going to the north of Japan during a blizzard and forcing myself to do it over a week long period.  snow akita

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If I could teach anything in an IR theory graduate seminar …

I have the distinct privilege of being allowed to teach under a course number the University of Florida has – INR 6208 – “Advanced IR theory” – for which there is no set curriculum. When I took this course number more than a year ago, I imagined I would teach it much like the class that I took under the same name from Hayward Alker in the Fall of 2001 at the University of Southern California. Hayward used it to historicize, contextualize, and re-read a number of IR paradigms. For example, we read Thucydides, then interpretations of Thucydides which questioned its mapping onto realist IR. We read Locke, then interpretations of Locke which complicated its availability to liberal IR. Much of the reading on the syllabus was from the humanities, relating humanistic thinking to IR. It was in that class that I felt like I found a voice about the complexity and contextualization of IR theory – and I’d always thought I’d teach Hayward’s class someday.

When the time came to make the syllabus, though, I surprised even myself by going pretty significantly the other way – perhaps still in the spirit of Hayward’s class but in a different direction in terms of the substantive content. I picked looking at IR theory now. Like, this decade. The idea is to see what interesting theory work is going on, and how (if?) it matters to conceptualizing (current) disciplinary histories. Rather than Thucydides, Machiavelli, and Locke – I decided I wanted my students Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Naeem Inayatullah, Michael Horowitz, Dan Levine, and Lauren Wilcox – among others. This is what I’m thinking of, in terms of the course:  Continue reading

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as the Ultimate IR Blockbuster

by Brandon Valeriano and Andrew Stevens (recent University of Glasgow graduate)

Movies are important teaching tools in the field of International Relations.  We have to be honest with ourselves; students now are less inclined to read assigned materials.  On top of this, visual media and active learning techniques have been demonstrated over and over again to be more effective when compared to traditional methods.   This (past) last weekend Valeriano saw Guardians of the Galaxy and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, while Guardians was perhaps the most fun, original, superhero movie of the modern era, Dawn was likely the ultimate reflection of important themes in the International Relations field and a seminal reflection on the roots of violence. Dawn will be a useful teaching tool for some time, so we wanted to highlight some of the major themes and issues it addresses.  dawnoftheplanetoftheapesceasar

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So You Want to Publish Your Dissertation (Tips from an Academic Editor)

Last fall Roger Haydon, Executive Editor at Cornell University Press,* came to visit Central European University to meet with a series of hopeful authors and give two talks–one on turning the dissertation into a book and another on changes in the academic publishing world (discussed in a separate post).

Why is book publication important to scholars? Publishing one’s research in the form of a monograph has long been the coin of the realm in much of the social sciences and humanities—helping one to score a good tenure-track job, secure tenure, and literally forge the scholar’s academic reputation in his or her research community.  It is certainly still true for most scholars of international relations and comparative politics that one’s reputation hinges on publishing excellent books at prestigious presses.

With a long record of cultivating scholars and award-winning academic books, Roger was a great guest speaker on the topic of academic publishing.  Here are some of his best tips on turning one’s dissertation into a book, summarized below (see Roger’s full-text handout here, which he adapted from Emily Andrew, at UBC Press):

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