The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Stuff Political Scientists Like #16 — Summer Break

June 22, 2012

Political scientists love summer break. They do not sail, as they have no money for a boat. They do not sun bathe, as they would burn outdoors. Spending time with children is not high on the priority list, at least for male political scientists, who generally use their paternity leave as a sabbatical to finish a book. And it is well known that political scientists are all deathly afraid of kites. No, political scientists love summer break for the exact opposite reason as everyone else. They get to work. 
Political scientists like to “get stuff out.” This means to send out their articles and books for anonymous review by peers, not that they are constipated or have to clean out the garage, which is normally what non-political scientists think when they hear political scientists talk. Political scientists should really be more careful with their language. “Getting stuff out” is important because the median time between the inception of an idea and its publication in print for a political science article is 12.5 years. Books come in at 18. This is why there is so much pressure on political science graduate students. They are up for tenure. 
That political scientists love to work in the summer generally comes as a surprise to non-political scientists who assume that like other teachers, political scientists become political scientists so they can have summers off. This is a familiar refrain for political scientists at home with their families during the holidays. They try in vain to explain that they love to write and that they never have enough time to do so. Their relatives, remembering how painful it was to write 15 page papers in college, aren’t fucking buying it. Who wouldn’t want to work for only six months a year with good benefits and no chance of getting fired?  
“Getting stuff out” during the school year is made most difficult by professors’ biggest chore – teaching. Professors sometimes spend up to eight hours a week in the classroom. And they are expected to create new classes at least once a decade. Their office door must remain open for two hours a week, in case anyone stops in to ask a question, and the noise from the hallway is very distracting. Bell tower chimes are noisy. And those papers don’t grade themselves. Graduate students have to be given an answer key. And that takes time to create. Plus the traffic to work at 11am is brutal, just brutal. Bloomington is so congested these days. But in the summer, political scientists have none of these obligations and are free to let their hair down and just be themselves – the really uptight antisocial narcissists that they are. 
Most of political scientists’ summer is spent on their “APSA paper,” the one they committed to writing eight months prior for the annual political science convention, which marks the official end of summer vacation. Political scientists make such promises way in advance in order to force themselves to write, which might seem strange to non-political scientists. You might ask, didn’t you just finish saying that political scientists love to write? Yes, but political scientists find it difficult during the summer when they have no structure. They can get up anytime they want. There are no deadlines or traffic to contend with. How can one be disciplined with so much free time? There are all those back issues of the New Yorker and the Nation that have piled up. Without being surrounded by like-minded colleagues for a few months, how will one reinforce what one already thinks? Those beliefs don’t just bolster themselves.

As they sheepishly present their APSA “paper,” which generally resembles their sister-in-law’s high school term paper, sometimes even reaching 15 pages, political scientists promise themselves that the coming school year will be good for them. It will encourage them to use their time more wisely. And in another eight years or so, fingers crossed, that paper will be a pretty good publication.

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Rathbun is a professor of International Relations at USC. Brian Rathbun received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley in 2002 and has taught at USC since 2008. He has written four solo-authored books, on humanitarian intervention, multilateral institution building, diplomacy and rationality. His articles have appeared or are forthcoming in International Organization, International Security, World Politics, International Studies Quartlery, the Journal of Politics, Security Studies, the European Journal of International Relations, International Theory, and the Journal of Conflict Resolution among others. He is the recipient of the 2009 USC Parents Association Teaching and Mentoring Award. In 2019 he will be recognized as a Distinguished Scholar by the Diplomatic Studies Section of the International Studies Association.