Tag Archives: professional development

What to expect in graduate school: a primer

Editor’s Note: This post is co-authored with Chad ClayAssistant Professor of International Affairs at the University of Georgia, and is cross-posted at Quantitative Peace. It also owes a debt to our colleagues in UGA’s Departments of International Affairs and Political Science that participated in the Graduate Student Professionalization seminar on September 12, 2014.

Last week, we, along with several of our UGA School of Public and International Affairs colleagues, met with graduate students in our program to talk about graduate school expectations. For first year students, this was an introduction to graduate school. For those past their first year, it was a refresher. Over the course of the meeting, a few points were raised that we feel may be of broad interest, and so we have listed those points below. Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive graduate school survival guide. For more guidance on these issues, you should check out the recent posts by Amanda Murdie and David Shorter on the topic.

You will have existential crises.

You will ask yourself why you chose graduate school. You may even contemplate quitting. It is normal to think about this. You’re making a large career decision by going to graduate school, and it makes sense to ask yourself along the way whether it is really the path you want. As you ask and answer these questions, though, talk with other graduate students and (if appropriate) faculty members. Your thoughts may be motivated by a short-term issue (e.g., not understanding the political science jargon), which remedies itself over the longer-run.

Likewise, students also tend to believe that everyone around them “gets it” more than they do in the early stages of graduate school. Indeed, most political scientists have stories about the moments in graduate school when they were convinced that everyone else in their classes knew more, was better prepared, was getting more sleep and exercise, had better ideas, etc. In the vast majority of cases, these things simply weren’t true. Those students that seem to “get it”? They likely feel the same way that you do. This is yet another reason to get to know your fellow graduate students, talk with them, and work with them. You are all in this foxhole together, and graduate school is much easier when you help one another through the hard times.

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Mom, did you see me on TV?

With APSA just around the corner and chilly wind makes Cambridge evenings so pleasant it is time for some reflection on the summer break and a great opportunity to raise the topic of media appearances by political scientists. Of course I’m raising this question because it reflects my unique experience this summer. This was the summer when I revealed the media, or perhaps the summer that the media found me. Either way, as the world was going nuts (and my region of expertise, the Middle East, really outdid itself in the past few months), I got media exposure I never knew before.

It is strange how those of us who study international security benefit from the pain of others. I keep reminding myself that while 9/11 helped me get an academic job, the attack and the events that followed were not my fault. But that issue may be a post for some other time. Here I want to discuss some of the pros and cons I identified as I was going through the media circus. It is one of the many things that graduate school don’t prepare you for. Teaching in a small liberal arts college such as Haverford I cannot say that I was mentored on the question even after graduation. So I hope that such a discussion could help other. I know that I need it myself because I’m still not sure about my own position as I’m still trying to figure out whether interacting with the media is actually worthwhile. As I cannot claim to have an answer I’ll settle for suggesting some pros and cons instead of making sweeping and confident statements.
The pros of media appearances: Continue reading

The Hard Way #10: Know Your Own Style

A bunch of my Facebook friends over the last couple of days have reposted an article by Gregory Semenza, on the value of writing for ten minutes each day. I think that’s great advice for some people, but I also think that one’s maximum productivity is about knowing one’s strengths – and one’s limitations. While I’ve never thought of myself as particularly productive (or particularly unproductive), enough people have suggested that I am particularly productive that I thought that maybe I should weigh in on how that came to be – especially since the ‘writing for ten minutes each day’ thing – especially at the start of a project, where I really need some time to be able to think about what it is going to look like.

I do think that its universal that being goal-oriented is important to productivity, but I think it is important to listen to yourself and your strengths and weaknesses to figure out how to best do that. For me, people often suggest that I ‘don’t sleep’ to get the sort of productivity that I have. Actually, I sleep eight hours most nights, and find myself grumpy and unhappy when I don’t get the opportunity. In fact, I find desiring to sleep one of my most effective work-incentivization tools.

So if I don’t write ten minutes every day, what do I do to keep up with work? Here’s some stuff that works for me, though it may not work for you:

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How To Write a Successful Academic Book (Tips from an Academic Editor)

As with the publishing world in general, today’s academic presses—hardly ever known for profitability—have had to adapt to a series of hardships.  For many years now (a process accelerated by the recent economic crisis), libraries have been pushed to cut back on their book acquisitions (a central profit center for academic presses), and these days allocate ever more of their budgets to serials, databases, and other electronic resources at the expense of book monographs.  Meanwhile, due to university-wide budget cuts, university presses have had to live with reduced subsidies.

As a result, academic presses are increasingly pressured to base their decisions on “what sells” in the publishing world.  They are thus “faced with the choice of publishing fewer books or of changing the mix of books they do publish by reducing the number of specialized monographs in favor of books with a larger potential market—broad syntheses, biographies of well-known figures, anthologies, books with a potential for undergraduate course adoptions, even textbooks.”

Ironically, the pressure to publish books to attract a mass audience runs directly counter to academic trends toward increased research specialization.  There was some hope that electronic publishing might provide an outlet for niche academic research, but for now, prospective authors should be aware of what they are up against.  First time authors hoping to publish their dissertations as books are often the first casualty (I gave lots of tips on this subject in a prior post), as presses must be confident that their titles will sell at least 200-700 copies to be assured of breaking even.  This means that books must be shorter (thus cheaper to print), and they must sell.

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Academic Careerism and Poker Strategy: WSOP Edition

One of my good friends from college, Andrew Brokos, is a professional poker player and poker coach (as Foucault82, follow him at @thinkingpoker on Twitter). He is playing this week in the World Series of Poker Main Event in Las Vegas right now, as he has done for a number of years now. Andrew and I had conversations about playing poker back when we worked together in Boston. Those conversations concluded (as I am sure many of my IR friends can attest) that I suck at poker unless I get to stack the deck. And you don’t get to do that in real poker. Thus I suck at poker. But I have enjoyed following his blog over the years – not least because its a great answer to the question of what you can do with a University of Chicago philosophy degree.

This week, I have been reading about Andrew’s early progress in the Main Event (he’s one of the most consistent finishers in this event over the last decade), and about professional development questions in International Relations (including a discussion with Dan Nexon on Facebook about a future post on the ISQ editors’ blog, Steve Saideman’s post on overthinking professional strategy, and Erin Jenne’s useful post on RelationsInternational on book publishing strategies for recent Ph.D.s. Reading them together, I wondered if I (and other IR academics) might benefit from using some of Andrew’s poker strategy tips to find balance in professional development.

Andrew’s coaching tips often focus around thinking about the situation you’re in, using game theory to assess your odds, and making the right play at the right time – but even Andrew has criticized overthinking. His analytical approach to poker and mine to academic careers have a lot in common – so I figured I’d play with the idea of academic careerism and poker strategy in honor of Andrew’s WSOP appearance this week. Caveat: of course, I know there’s more tournament poker and academic strategy lack in commonality than that they share. But I think that some comparison is sure to be fun, and might be helpful. So … here’s my poker-scholarship advice of the day: play the situation and the cards, but don’t overplay either. Below, I try to use humor and some of Andrew’s advice to make that case.

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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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The Hard Way #9: Be the CV You Want to See

I couldn’t have come up with a sillier title to this post, I realize, but it is an important point, so I figured I’d dedicate a post to it. The last thing that you want to happen to you is to be caught by surprise by a contrast between what your professional record looks like and what you want it to look like or need it to look like for a particular professional goal.

What do you want your CV to look like when you go on the job market the first time? What do you want it to look like when you have a probationary review? Or a tenure review? What do you want it to look like when merit raises are considered? What positions (in your department, in the field, or in professional organizations) do you see yourself occupying, and what do you need your CV to look like to make that happen? What does your CV need to look like to give you the mobility you want? The promotion ability that you want? The income that you want? The opportunities that you want? The free time that you want?

Its not going to magically look like that. And you can’t answer those questions a month before you need particular things on your CV, wish for it, and make it happen. Instead, these things are planned. A note on what I don’t mean by planned: I don’t mean that you shouldn’t be flexible, open to new projects and grant opportunities, willing to leave behind things that do not work, and willing to adapt to a changing field and a changing profession. What I do mean is getting a sense of what you want your career to look like, and trying to make that happen actively and while you still have enough time to do it. For example …  Continue reading

The Hard Way #8: Co-Authoring

This isn’t really a lesson I learned “the hard way” – in fact, in a lot of ways, it is a lesson I learned “the easy way” – but I figured I’d keep the post series title alive. And I did learn some lessons of co-authoring “the hard way” – though, thankfully, very few. I am a big fan of co-authoring – I think, often, the sum of perspectives and skills is better than the parts. Add to that the fact that co-authoring is becoming more and more accepted in the discipline, and what could go wrong?

ertainly, I mean that tongue-in-cheek, and plenty could go wrong. But I think that the adventure is worth it. I have co-authored and co-edited with colleagues, mentors, students, and former students, and the overwhelming majority of these co-authoring relationships have been amazing. I call them relationships for a number of reasons: first, many of them have spanned a number of years and a number of projects; second, a lot of relating is actually necessary to producing quality product in co-authorship with someone else; third, it is important to think of co-authoring as a relationship to know that one is getting into a long-term professional involvement with even co-authors with whom one writes once; and, finally, I think that, for me, many of those relationships have easily been more than a sum of their parts. I could gush about how lucky I have been in the co-author (and co-editor) department for a whole post – but that isn’t great advice.

Instead, the rest of this post is going to talk about picking co-authors, some of the potential pitfalls of co-authorship, and some of the ways that I think good co-authoring relationships can be very helpful to a career in political science/International Relations.

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(Re)writing IR’s Unwritten Rules?

A fair amount of conversation, both online and offline, has arisen around my observations about my post on the unwritten rules of disciplinary IR. I have engaged a number of questions, including whether the rules I observed were uniquely American (see the discussion in the comments of the post); how it is possible to communicate the unwritten rules to new people in the field, especially when they often contradict the written rules (at least in part the point of my series of posts here called “The Hard Way,” [so far] focusing on writing, choosing publication outlets, dealing with rejection, revising and resubmitting, anonymity in the review process, and using networks to aid in publishing); and the ways in which race and gender affect both the ‘rules’ and perceptions of those rules. By far the most interesting and challenging question, to me, has been: how would you rewrite those unwritten rules to make them more just?

I will take a shot at it in this post. A few caveats are necessary at the outset, though. First, as I have mentioned before, I’m not speaking as someone innocent of or removed from some of the discipline’s problems, and don’t mean this as preaching, encouraging others to follow my example, etc. Second, what follows is not a claim that the discipline would be different/better if it was run by people currently disenfranchised by its power structures, whether we are talking about women, minorities, or even people located geographically outside the US with reference to the ‘American’ problems of the discipline. Instead, it is an exploration of what the ‘rules’ might look like if values currently marginalized in the discipline were valued more, and if values that currently dominate disciplinary interactions were recognized and possibly even valued less.

Some of the wish list of rule re-writes are fairly straightforward: it would be good if a broad-based standard about the quality of (diverse) work replaced emphasis on pedigree (which, contra Megan MacKenzie, I see lots of places in the world, just with many hierarchies rather than just one); it would be nice if we could all feel a sense of confidence in our work without either feeling or showing self-centered, egotistical behavior; the discipline would be a better place if (all) scholars could resist retaliation, especially retaliation by association; and the discipline’s work would be stronger, more diverse, and more robust if its (positivist, masculinist, often-white, and always narrow) boundaries were deconstructed and reevaluated. But those suggestions are the easy part, because it is often not clear what implementing them would look like, or what the new ‘rules’ would be.

Here are some ideas (additions, subtractions, and discussion welcome, as usual):

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The Unwritten Rules of IR

The other day, Brandon Valeriano pointed out to me an ESPN article on the unwritten rules of baseball. Though I am a lifelong football and basketball fan, I’ve never been a huge fan of baseball. Several times over the course of my life, I’ve found myself at baseball games, however – including one that was apparently a pretty special game. Each time I’ve been at a baseball game, though, I’ve found myself having a lot of questions. While the rules of the game seem pretty simple on face, it seemed like there was always something going on that I didn’t understand. From keeping track of statistics I didn’t even know existed to what seemed to be a complex formula for when it is okay to throw a ball at a person going 100mph, I always felt like there was something going over my head. Something real baseball fans knew. This is what Tim Kurkjian is writing about – the shorthand to what all the guys on the field know, and I don’t.

Certainly, no one in IR is throwing anything at your ribs at 90 mph. Or, at least, I hope not. But there are still a number of unwritten rules of the discipline punishable by exclusion, gossip, and lost opportunity, and I want to talk about a few of them:

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