25 June 2012

That NYT op-ed

Ironically,  political science as a discipline, and IR in particular, would be under much less attack if we went back to the bad old days of counting megatonnage.

And so, not for the first time, I recognize that everyone would be better off if they listened to more Randy Newman.

24 June 2012

IR, SF, and Africa

We need to update our images of Africa.

Like a lot of Americans, I don't know a lot about Africa--just enough to know that "Africa" as a label obscures as much as it illuminates, much like "Europe." Nor is the almost reflexive use of the term "sub-Saharan Africa" any better. That phrase conveys as much about the societies, economies, and polities of the continent as the phrase "sub-Canadian America" would tell us about Maine, Arizona, and the Dutch-settled part of Iowa.

So I'm not the right person to talk about how we should update our images of Africa. But I do know enough--mostly from a combination of a handful of case studies and party from running a lot of data about the continent's countries--to know that the continent is rather diverse. And a very interesting BBC radio show about science fiction in Africa offers a particularly incisive way (for me, at least) of reflecting on how the writing of even non-authoritative texts (sf novels don't have the cultural cachet of textbooks or scholarly monographs!) constitutes a process of dominance.

22 June 2012

Notes from the King

Some folks are rock stars.
Given that this blog is, in part, a commonplace book with a readership of one, here are the highlights from the King's advice on dissertation writing.

[T]he dissertation is not about writing 250 pages; it's about reorienting your life, making the transition from a student taking classes--doing what you're told--to an independent, active professional, regularly making contributions to the literature. To do this, you need to arrange your whole life, or at least the large professional portion of it, around this goal. This transition can be brutal, but it is crucial for far more than your dissertation. You must change not into a dissertation writer, but into a professional academic.

Do not go to dissertation defenses (except your own!!); they are a waste of time. Go to all the job talks you can.

Your goal is to answer the key question: whose mind are you going to change about what? ... Don't choose a "dissertation topic;" ... [y]our goal is to produce some clear results or arguments.

It might take more time than  you think; might require recasting your argument, recollecting your evidence, or reanalyzing your data. Don't get discouraged; they call it research, not search, for a reason! But get it done. In my experience, almost all dissertations are written in 4 months, although it takes some years to start, and sometimes requires some motivation, like a job offer. So get started.

This process may sometimes seem like drudgery, and it is true that aside from all this you are also allowed to have a life! But do not forget that you are tremendously privileged to participate in science and academia and discovery and learning--by far the most exciting thing to 99 percent of the faculty here. The thrill of discovery, the adrenalin-producing ah-ha moments, etc., are more exciting than all the skiing and mountain biking you could possibly do in a lifetime. Don't miss how intoxicating and thrilling it all really is.