The Duck of Minerva

Revisiting Trump’s Challenges to Doctoral Students: A Round of Trump Bingo

8 March 2017

This is a guest post from Ariya Hagh, Andrew Szarejko, and Laila Wahedi. All three authors are doctoral students in Georgetown University’s Department of Government. Author order is alphabetical by last name.

In a December 2016 post here at the Duck of Minerva, we considered how a Trump presidency might affect doctoral students within our discipline. We necessarily relied upon statements that Donald Trump and his advisors made before the inauguration. Now that we are more than a month into the presidency, it is worth revisiting our claims to see what we got right and what we missed, while addressing what you can do about it.

We argued that a Trump administration would likely yield reduced access to government data, less federal funding, a tougher job market, obstacles to activism and teaching, and greater insecurity for international students. Unfortunately, many of these predictions are already coming true. To keep track of what has and hasn’t happened, you can use the handy bingo card attached here. When you win, everyone loses.

Challenge #1: Data access

While the Obama administration had a public commitment to open government data, the Trump transition team did not. We argued that the Trump administration could have a negative impact on data access.

Our predictions:

  • Death of 18F: 18F was exempted from the hiring freeze and may survive, but is undergoing changes to its organization, leadership and priorities. It remains unclear how the Trump administration will make use of this agency.
  • Data restrictions: (so far). is still up, but data sources are disappearing or being considered for removal –including EPA data, climate data, even information on White House personnel salaries.
  • Overworked agencies with reduced personnel will not update or clean their data: (so far). Hiring freezes and reduced benefits are in effect. There are proposed cuts to many federal agencies, including those that maintain climate data. But it is too early to see the effect on data quality overall.
  • FOIA will become harder: . FOIA and other information requests are likely to become slower with the personnel restrictions that are already underway. For example, the FBI has already removed the option to send requests by email.

New developments:

  • Gag orders have prevented federal research from being released (though this seems to have been partially rolled back), individual employees from talking, and agencies from sharing press releases, suggesting that any information that is released will have new political biases.

Overall:  Data access is being restricted. We expect that trend to continue.

What you can do:

Consider contributing to one of several initiatives underway to preserve government data. If data you needed is gone, it may still be hosted by one of these initiatives. Websites like and google’s website caching provide access to sites that have already been taken down. Relatedly, Code for America is still hiring.

Get help with your FOIA requests. They move faster with a letter from a lawyer. There are also non-profits and lawyers who are willing to help, and the Department of Justice will investigate complaints.

Challenge #2: Funding acquisition

We noted that federal funding for research, especially political science research, would likely face cuts.

Our Predictions:

  • Funding cuts to the National Science Foundation: ?  Too early to tell.  A frequent target for criticism by Congressional Republicans in recent years, the NSF has so far retained its Obama-appointed director, but it remains unclear whether the Trump administration will seek to replace her.

New Developments:

  • It appears likely that the NSF will be targeted for cuts in the administration’s budget proposal. Reports suggest that government spending on basic science is expected to shrink by 10.5% in 2018. Even if the NSF escapes cuts, basic science budgets in other agencies likely will not.
  • The National Endowment for the Humanities, which the American Political Science Association (APSA) identifies as a funder of political science research as well as “education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities,” faces steep cuts or outright elimination.

Overall:  The administration’s cavalier attitude toward funding for basic research is on display in the proposed cuts to discretionary spending. We fear that the social sciences will be among the hardest hit.

What you can do:

Making the case for social science funding will require continued public engagement. This sort of engagement–with both policy-makers and tax-payers–is already happening, but we can still do better. Concerns that advocacy reduces credibility even appear to be unwarranted.

For those seeking funds now, the fact that political science research tends to be relatively inexpensive and the recent uptick in public interest in political questions may mean that political science research is a good candidate for crowdsourced funding.

Challenge #3: The job market

We expected a Trump administration to leave current doctoral students in political science with fewer job opportunities, whether in policy or in academia.

Our Predictions:

  • Fewer federal jobs:  A hiring freeze is in effect, and federal employee benefits are under siege.
  • Fewer think tank jobs:  ? Too early to tell. Most appointee positions have gone unfilled, leaving both “establishment” Democrats and Republicans filling think tanks. If this pattern continues, this prediction will also come to fruition.

Overall: ? The federal hiring freeze has reduced the availability of non-academic jobs. It is too early to see the effect on the academic market, but this will bear watching even if the hiring freeze is eventually lifted (given the reticence many academics would have to work for this administration).

What you can do:

Federal jobs aren’t the only way to be policy relevant. Increased political engagement has filled the coffers of some non-profits, which may leave them hiring. Also consider teching up with data science credentials to make yourself more marketable in multidisciplinary departments and sectors doing politically relevant research. Social scientists can bridge the gap with tech in order to answer politically relevant questions.

Challenge #4: Political activism

We noted in our December post that Trump would likely spur many academics toward greater public engagement and activism–we also suggested that Trump’s penchant for vindictiveness could extend to these increasingly vocal academic critics.

Our Predictions:

  • More academics would become involved in the political process:  ✔ Even without hard data, this appears to be the case given the proliferation of academic blogging and tweeting since Trump’s election, the planned March for Science, efforts by professors to organize students (at our home institution and elsewhere), and protests from within professional associations like the International Studies Association.
  • Harassment of academics and universities:  (for now). Trump supporters might suggest we were being alarmist, and we have not yet seen anything we could call a purge of academics. However…

New Developments:

  • Less than a month into his presidency, Trump suggested that federal funding to UC-Berkeley could be cut due to protests surrounding a speaking engagement by Milo Yiannopoulos (whether or not he has the authority to do so).
  • Academic tenure continues to come under fire from Republican legislators.

Overall:   ? It remains unclear whether the administration will go after academic critics, but the signs so far do not bode well. Republican efforts across the country to make it easier to punish protesters and erode tenure protections will only make it easier to go after academic critics.

What you can do:

Don’t let disaster fatigue set in. If you feel so inclined, keep resisting, but stay up to date on new local, state, or federal legislation that could be used to target protesters.

Communicate important insights from your research to the public with op-eds, consider writing amicus briefs for lawsuits, contributing analysis through events like DataKind’s data hacks, or volunteering your analytical skills.

Challenge #5: Teaching

We expected new challenges to teaching in an increasingly divided America and asked several open questions to consider going forward. We don’t have all the answers, nor did this come with any predictions, but others have written extensively on the topic, and we would refer you to a few selections.

Challenge #6: Supporting international students

Given Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric and promises to restrict immigration, we expected international students to encounter an increasingly difficult and stressful legal environment.

Our Predictions:

  • Restrictions against international students: ? While no action has yet been taken, a draft executive order would restrict H-1B visas.
  • Deny visas to countries that refuse to accept deported immigrants: This has not occurred, and no plan has been proposed.

New Development:

  • The travel ban against predominantly Muslim countries (both the original and the revised version) has affected students, professors, and many others from those countries.
  • Expedited processing of H-1B visas has been shut down, though this is allegedly temporary.

Overall: ?  The extent of restrictions on international students is still unclear and may ultimately depend on individual circumstances (country of origin, residency status in the U.S., and so on). The trends so far, however, are extremely troubling.

What you can do:

We implore senior scholars and institutions to be understanding of the needs of international students and to do what they can to provide a safe environment. This includes providing summer funding so that those who are in-country can afford to stay over the summer, and flexibility with residency requirements and requirements to be present during exams and defenses for students who are stuck outside.

Bonus: Unionization

The NLRB ruled in 2016 that graduate students who work as research or teaching assistants at private universities can unionize. Once Trump fills two seats on the NLRB, the board will have a Republican majority that could roll back previous rulings on graduate student unionization. While we do not know of any immediate challenges to this ruling, we recommend caution–those who seek unionization should act quickly, before the ruling is challenged.


As we wrote in December, “Donald Trump’s actions to date give us ample reason to believe that the incoming administration will present doctoral students in political science with challenges that we would do well to start thinking about now. We hope we are wrong.” Unfortunately, we were not. For graduate students confronting these challenges, there may be a tension between asking questions that matter on an issue you find interesting and asking questions that you can answer given these new difficulties. We implore senior scholars to be understanding as we struggle with these issues. To our fellow graduate students, remember that our priority is to graduate. Be persistent and creative in how you tackle these difficult questions. And hope that you don’t end up winning Trump bingo any time soon.