4 Pieces of Advice for Every Political Scientist

@StateAs part of the 6th Annual Graduate Conference at my department, we had Dr. Irfan Nooruddin give a key note address. Dr. Irfan Nooruddin is one of the most sought after and respected comparativists in political science academia. So it is little wonder that he is leaving Ohio State this fall to take up the role of endowed chair of Indian Studies at Georgetown in Washington, DC.

His keynote was essentially the most honest summary of what we all attempt to do and what we need to learn to do it better. It made such a profound impact on me that I decided to share his words with all of you.

What do we do as Political Sciences?

According to Dr. Nooruddin, we study power; specifically we study the distribution of power. Our whole discipline is focused on studying dynamics of power that can be attributed to the varying distribution of it in various scenarios. Traditionally we studied the power of the states and how they interacted with each other and internally. But since then as our discipline has evolved, we have started to focus on the powers beyond the nation state. We now study comparative power, domestic accountability and powers of non state actors. What we are still attempting to get right are the challenges of the state and here we need to understand that economic concepts are not always the political way of doing things. This is where politics needs to chalk its own path and innovate to further our inquiry.

Advice for Graduate Students

This is probably the best piece of advice I have heard in a long time.

–        Study What You Want

Study what you want. It is a cliché but thing is it is the best use of your time. But while you do that look and understand the bigger picture. More often than not, political scientists like other specialists get bogged down in minute details which is a good if one understands how their focus fits in to the larger picture of where the discipline and the world is headed.

–        Know Something About Real People

Understand that we are not ‘real’ people. No ‘real’ person gives up steady income to go to school for 5 to 7 years to specialize in a subject and join the job market in their late 30s. This is a handicap we have and to address it spend time learning from real people. Talk to people in other walks of life and understand their perspectives. Understand what they want and how they approach it, for understanding this approach will help you understand politics better. It will help us as political scientists to design better theories. The bottom line is, humanize research, and make it relevant to real people.

–        Policy Relevance

This feeds in to the earlier points. While our research is highly specialized, for it to be useful to the world it needs to have real life policy implications. This is a shortfall that our discipline faces and needs to be addressed. Too many times we do research that is significant but we forget or are simply unable to convert it in to something that has policy implications.

I personally feel this is one of the biggest shortcomings we have as political scientists i.e. we are bad at advocating our research and selling it to the masses

–        The Job Market

Job market is bleak. No point in sugar coating it. So what to do? Well a good start is to plan out your approach to the job market. Enter it when you are ready and not a minute before that. Network and get your name out there as much as you can. Dr. Nooruddin gave his own example that he waited two extra years before he entered the job market so that he could bulk up his CV and get more publications under his belt. Secondly, he talked about how he attended numerous conferences on a regular basis to network and present. His logic to doing all this was very honest i.e. he wanted to make sure that when the time came, people were looking for him in the files. Bottom line is, if you are good you will get a job, but you need to attack the job market in a strategic manner.

I am fortunate that I belong to a department that encourages its students to learn from people like Dr. Nooruddin. In the past 8 months I have come across numerous brilliant minds who have made me realize how fortunate I am as a graduate student to be able to learn and create beautiful things. What they have also made me understand is the disconnect academia continues to have with the real world and why our disciplines future depends on cutting that deficit down.

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