Putin-Biden summit, but make it an 18th century gossip column

Gentle reader*,

People that have an itch at scribbling generally entertain their visitors with their happy projects, high flights, and wonderful publications, therefore ’tis to be supposed this blogue is in great measure the subject of many a drawing-room or a Twitteur discourse. Hence, when the handsome city of Geneva has been suffused by the members of the ton aching to catch a glimpse of the illustrious statemen that graced its palaces with their presence, it is but no wonder that this author had to reserve quite a bit of ink to illuminate their readers on the progress made in the peaceful Helvetia. 

General Bidene and Prince Poutin’s meeting has taken place even after the General had not forcibly recommended his counterpart to the members of the ton by intitling Prince a murderer of sorts. The Prince, desired not to be so fantastically revealing in his dress and widely considered flattered by such a discourse, has disclosed to Mr. S. that he has always been guided by the interests of the people he leads, especially in his martial campaign in the Caucasus and the rumours of slaying his opposition were a mere phoney bulletin.  

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Elite-Public Gaps and Deadlock on the Iran Deal

While campaigning for the White House, U.S. President Joe Biden promised Americans that he would reenter the nuclear deal with Iran, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), so long as Tehran returned to compliance with the agreement’s original terms. Recent polling indicates that this would be a popular move: a majority of the American (and even Iranian!) public would support a joint return to the JCPOA, suggesting that Biden has a solid popular mandate to renew the pact. Yet nearly five months into Biden’s presidency, and after several weeks of indirect talks in Vienna, however, reconstituting the agreement has proved elusive. Why have we not yet witnessed more significant progress toward a reconstituted JCPOA?

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Give Peacekeeping a Chance in Afghanistan

As U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan ahead of the 9/11 deadline set by the Biden administration, the urgency of reaching a diplomatic agreement to end the fighting increases. The United States and the “Extended Troika” (China, Russia and Pakistan) have urged the Afghan government and the Taliban to reduce the level of violence and negotiate a settlement. Washington has proposed a draft plan for direct talks between Kabul and the Taliban within the framework of a UN-hosted international conference and peace mission. The goal is to establish an interim transitional authority that includes Taliban representation, a ceasefire agreement and a roadmap for creating a new government to define the country’s political future.

Missing from the new plan, however, is a formula for establishing interim security arrangements during the transition period. Experience from peace processes in CambodiaBosniaCôte d’Ivoire and other countries indicates that third party security guarantees as part of a comprehensive peace mission are essential for successfully ending internal armed conflicts. The United States and International Stability Forces have been unsuited to playing that role, largely because counter-insurgency involves siding with the sitting government against a rebel force – an approach that means continued conflict. But the absence of security arrangements is often associated with failed peace efforts. As both of us have written elsewhere, there is a third way: to establish a United Nations (U.N.) peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan.

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The Breakdown of Jewish Consensus – Ethnic Violence in Israel Explained

This is a guest post by Hadas Aron, a Faculty Fellow at the Center for European and Mediterranean Studies at NYU.

The recent eruption of violence between Israel and the Palestinians has been the deadliest in years. Israeli airstrikes on Gaza have killed hundreds, and Hamas has launched thousands of missiles, lighting up the horizons of major Israeli cities. This intense military conflict has been accompanied by unprecedented violence between Jewish and Palestinian Israeli citizens. Previous rounds of aggression have rarely included lynch mobs, burnt vehicles, shops, and synagogues in Israeli cities. Although the onset of the conflict was seemingly sudden, the outbreak of ethnic riots stems from ongoing changes in Israeli society, and prolonged domestic political deadlock. Traditionally, democracy in Israel was reserved for Jews. But in recent years, the Jewish consensus has frayed, throwing the political system into disarray. One possible solution is the expansion of the democratic arrangement to include, for the first time, Palestinian citizens of Israel. The backlash against this possibility has brought ethnic relations in the country to a boiling point. 

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A Piece of the Puzzle: The Relative Importance and Unimportance of Academic Contributions to the Policy Process

This is a guest post by Leanne Erdberg Steadman, director of violent extremism at the U.S. Institute of Peace, and Judd Devermont, director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. It is part of an occasional series discussing the ethical dilemmas that arise when academics engage with policymakers and the broader public. This series is part of the Rigor, Relevance, and Responsibility project of the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security & Diplomacy, which seeks to make ethical considerations an integral part of policy-relevant research and engagement. The program develops knowledge around, and informs the practice of, responsible engagement so that future generations of academics can engage in the policy world with confidence and clarity. This program is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Policymaking is a complex system. It may seem linear and straightforward, but it hardly ever is. The process, even when it follows the tenets of the Scowcroft model, is a vibrant, cacophonous ecosystem of input, interactions, ideation, and iteration. As such, academic research findings and policy-engaged scholarship exist in this dynamic system, but they are but one of many contributions to policymaking—let alone outcomes of the policies. Inside the system, it is difficult to ascertain such dependencies as X caused Y or Y caused Z. The concepts of multifinality (the same path can lead to many different outcomes) and equifinality (one outcome can result from many different paths) are much more helpful in describing this system. And as such, academics should not overestimate the individual influence they have over policy outcomes. They are a part of the process, but their input is less like that of an architect and more like that of a contractor contributing a small piece to a building project.

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Duck Podcast: The SolarWinds Hack

The latest (I use that term advisedly as the podcast was actually recorded in early March of 2021) Duck podcast is now available. In it I talk with Nina Kollars of the Naval War College and Mark Raymond of the University of Oklahoma about the hack and what it means for IR.

Duckcalls Events Series 1: Solarwinds discussion with Nina Kollars and Mark Raymond Duckcalls: Duck of Minerva podcast

A discussion with Nina Kollars and Mark Raymond about the SolarWinds hack, recorded in March, 2021
  1. Duckcalls Events Series 1: Solarwinds discussion with Nina Kollars and Mark Raymond
  2. Duck Podcast: Philip Cunliffe
  3. Gin and Tonic Series:Realism and the Academy (Episode 1)
  4. Professor Julie Kaarbo on the Duck of Minerva
  5. Catherine Sanger – Teaching Online in the Time of COVID 19 (with Luke Perez)

Bridging the Other Gap: Approaches for Blending STEM and Social Science Education

Captain Logan Brandt is a senior instructor in the Department of Physics at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Dr. A. Bradley Potter is the Stanton Visiting Scientist at the Eisenhower Center for Space and Defense Studies in the Department of Political Science at the U.S. Air Force Academy and participated in the Bridging the Gap New Era Workshop in 2018.

The COVID-19 pandemic makes it clear – our students need a blend of science and policy literacy. Transnational challenges with technical dimensions are increasingly common. Pandemic disease, climate change, artificial intelligence, biotechnologies, and other issues touching our politics and society demand fluencies that no single academic department houses. So, how might educators prepare students for this complex world?

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Is bullying baked into academia?

Recently, David Edelstein and Jim Goldgeier circulated an open letter for signature to address bullying in the profession. The open letter can be found here. So far, there are nearly 100 signatures, including mine.

As a sophomore in high school, I was 5’2”, weighed 215 pounds, was in a bunch of advanced classes with much older students, and played role-playing games in my spare time. I know a little bit about being bullied. And I know a lot about its toll. I know also that bullying can come in many forms, with some bullies savvier than others in terms of how they ply their craft.

Verbal abuse and physical intimidation or assault are clear violations of behavioral standards – professional or otherwise – and instantly recognizable by any reasonably aware on-looker. One of the things that made some of the recently surfaced allegations of bullying so shocking is that the language and behaviors were so coarse and bluntly damaging as to stagger belief. I think this kind of bullying can be policed, and in ways not all that different from the way it got policed on the schoolyard: someone larger or with more status would make it clear the behavior needed to stop. Or eventually one would snap and stand up for oneself, even if it meant fighting a literal fight you could not win.

Ferreting out more subtle bullying behavior is going to be incredibly difficult because behaviors that would be considered bullying in other professional or interpersonal contexts are formalized parts of how our work is assessed and rewarded. 

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What If Academia Had a ‘Scout Mindset’?

Exensor - Infrared Scout Camera - UGS 2 - Army Technology
Source: https://www.army-technology.com/contractors/surveillance/exensor-technology/attachment/exensor-infrared-scout-camera-ugs-2/

Imagine you are reading a theoretical social science article that is dedicated to making an argument (let’s call it Argument X). You get to a section of the article called “Alternative Explanations,” which discusses Challenges A, B, and C to Argument X. At the end of this section, the author writes: “Challenge B is the superior explanation, and Argument X is therefore disconfirmed.”

Or imagine you are reading the “Robustness Checks” section of a quantitative piece and the author concludes by writing, “The majority of these robustness checks failed and therefore the main hypothesis of this article is wrong.”

These are the kinds of things you might expect to read if academia had a “Scout Mindset,” a term taken from Julia Galef’s new book [Full disclosure: I haven’t finished the book yet, so these are initial observations]. But you don’t read these kinds of passages very often. And that’s a problem.

Scouts and Soldiers

In a recent interview, Galef describes a ‘scout mindset’ as:

“…my term for the motivation to see things as they are and not as you wish they were, being or trying to be intellectually honest, objective, or fair minded, and curious about what’s actually true.”

This can be contrasted with ‘soldier mindset,’ which is what most people have:

“…a lot of the time we humans are in what I call ‘soldier mindset,’ in which our motivation is to defend our beliefs against any evidence or arguments that might threaten them. Rationalization, motivated reasoning, wishful thinking: these are all facets of what I’m calling a soldier mindset.

I adopted this term because the way that we talk about reasoning in the English language is through militaristic metaphor. We try to ‘shore up’ our beliefs, ‘support them’ and ‘buttress them’ as if they’re fortresses. We try to ‘shoot down’ opposing arguments and we try to ‘poke holes’ in the other side.”

Sound familiar? Like many things it purports to be (e.g., a meritocracy), is it really the case that academia uncovers the best explanations or simply defends privileged explanations? The prevalence of soldier mindset seems especially relevant for academia because a career can be made on the basis of having the “right” argument. 

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How do you kill a zombie argument? Middle East studies edition

I’ve started practicing mindfulness, partly to deal with the stress of being a Professor and parent of small kids in a pandemic, and partly to reduce the number of times I become unreasonably angry over bad policy arguments. I experienced a major setback this week, when I encountered yet another evidence-less argument on Saudi-Iran relations. What’s worse, it looks like this zombie claim is not only refusing to die, but it is–in zombie apocalypse fashion–replicating itself and spreading.

The offender was this article in Slate by Fred Kaplan. Reports have emerged of secret talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran, intended to ease long-standing tensions between the two countries. According to Kaplan, “by all accounts, this shift was spurred by recognition that the United States is moving away from the Middle East.”

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Introducing Bridging the Gap’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Fellow: Emmanuel Balogun

The Bridging the Gap team is thrilled to announce the addition of a new member of our leadership team: Emmanuel Balogun, the inaugural BtG Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Fellow. We recently sat down with him to ask about his work, hobbies, and plans for the fellowship. Welcome to the team, Emmanuel!

BTG: Tell us a bit about yourself. What drives your scholarship?

EB: What drives my scholarship is my desire to highlight the multitude of ways African countries engage with the international community. I am also very curious about the role of African expertise in IR. My research on African regional organizations was actually born out of thinking about Foreign Policy Decision Making and how African leaders use regional organizations as forums for foreign policy. As I got into the research, I became more interested in the bureaucracy of ROs and the creative ways they would try to get their job done. As a result, my scholarship is driven by a desire to see how expertise and resourcefulness among African bureaucrats gets turned into governance.

Growing up as a First-Generation Nigerian American, I would often hear stories from my dad and family members about how great it was to grow up in Nigeria, yet these stories were not the same stories I would hear in school, if I heard them at all. I always said that I would want to have a career where I could learn more about Nigeria and where my family comes from and a career that would allow me to travel and learn on the continent. I think this also drives my scholarship, in that I want to better understand the social and political contexts of Africa and better understand my own connection to the continent.

BTG: What’s your favorite part about teaching?

EB: My favorite part about teaching is seeing students get excited about making connections. The connections are not always profound, but I genuinely enjoy seeing students apply material in the course to something in their other courses, or something they have experienced in their own lives. Relatedly, I just enjoy the journey of the semester. The difficulties, the weeks where everyone is struggling to get through the materials, and just the overall challenge of getting students to think critically about course content, while also thinking reflectively about how they situate themselves in the world. Teaching is also a great opportunity to try out my dad jokes. Most of all, I truly enjoy helping students through the learning process and I see the learning process as truly collaborative. I learn a lot from my students and I hope that they leave my classes having been challenged in a way that helps them in other courses down the line.

BTG: What about your interest and activities — how do you spend your time outside of work?

EB: I have a 3 year old and a 10 month old, so a lot of my activities outside of work currently involve singing, acting out Disney movies, and conflict resolution. I really value and enjoy spending time with my family.  But in general, I watch a lot of basketball (go Celtics) and I am trying to get back into playing competitively; I am rediscovering my love for video games, and I am a huge hip-hop fan—I am currently re-listening to the early catalogs of DMX (RIP), De La Soul, and NY Drill music. I also have a long commute, so I have been able to listen to more podcasts. My current favorites are Hear to Slaythe Bodega Boysthe NBA Mismatch, and Trade Talks.

BTG: Why did you want to get involved with Bridging the Gap?

EB: I’ve always wanted to think about how to make my work relevant to the audiences that would benefit from the implications of my work. In my conversations with policymakers and practitioners that I meet and work with on the continent, they often tell me that they do not engage with political science scholarship on Africa for a lot of reasons, but mainly because of accessibility and the tone of the scholarship. I think Bridging the Gap will help me personally keep these questions of accessibility in the forefront of my research moving forward and be more intentional about including the perspectives of my colleagues on the continent in my work. 

Relatedly, I wanted to work with Bridging the Gap because I think there is a great opportunity in this moment to really rethink questions of equity and access in our discipline. I’ve admired the work of Bridging the Gap from afar, but never thought I’d be able to participate in any of the programming, as I did not think I was the type of scholar they would be interested in. Once I saw they were looking for a Diversity Fellow, I thought it’d be a great opportunity to get involved and work collaboratively to seek out ways to make BtG more accessible to those who are also interested in “bridging the gap” but feel they might not have an entry point into this space.

BTG: Why is it important for scholars to share their work with policymakers and the public?

EB: Again, I come back to access. What good is it if we as scholars have something important to say or have an interesting finding and it is gated in an academic journal somewhere? Also, I think it is important for the public to know and be able to access information that we produce as scholars. I think we see this with the crowd sourced syllabi produced over the years and the anti-racism reading lists that proliferated over the summer. While I have some criticisms of these syllabi and reading lists, the fact that scholars were quickly able to deploy scholarly resources for public discussion/consumption in such an immediate and effective way, offers a necessary kind of access for the public to gain deeper understandings about politics and society that I think will lead to a more engaged public. 

It is a two-way street—scholars also get a lot out of sharing our work. For me, it’s allowed me to focus more on the important points of my scholarship—the “so what” of my research, if you will. Being able to distill complex academic arguments in a way that is intelligible for policymaker and public consumption I believe is an invaluable skill. It is also a way to potentially boost the profile of scholars who have great ideas, but have been boxed out of traditional dissemination outlets due to their position in the academy.

BTG: What do you see as some of the challenges confronting underrepresented groups in writing and disseminating policy-relevant scholarship?

EB: There are a lot, but if I must pick a couple, I will say tokenization/representation and legitimacy. I think many people will point to the issue of representation first, and rightfully so. When you look at policy makers or the field of political science (IR in particular), there is an issue of racial representation. Those of us who are black in the discipline, there is the issue of us being tokenized to only speak to “black” issues. For example, the black American that must only study Race and Ethnic Politics, or the black IR scholar who could not possibly be an expert on the EU and/or South Asia. These elements of tokenization and the lack of racial representation might lead to underrepresented scholars not receiving the opportunities for policy engagement because of a perceived lack of expertise. This is why I value the work of Women Also Know Stuff and POC Also Know Stuff, because their mandate is to force underrepresented groups into the space and legitimize our knowledge. 

I also think a significant challenge is knowing where to start/how to engage. For those who do not have the “pedigree” (I hate this term) and were not educated in spaces where everyone has access to policymakers or colleagues/professors who have policy connections, how would they know how to get their research in the hands of someone at a think-tank? How would one know the process of what it takes to write for the Monkey Cage for example? Academia and political science are still very gated and guarded, which I think poses a significant challenge to underrepresented groups and their ability to engage in policy-relevant work.

BTG: What are some of the things you hope to do with Bridging the Gap this year?

EB: I am hoping to build partnerships with groups who are already doing excellent work to make political science and international affairs more equitable. One of my main goals as Diversity Fellow is to work towards creating more of a pipeline from graduate school to post-doctoral studies for underrepresented scholars to engage in this space. I also hope to build on efforts for BtG to engage with undergraduate students as well. 

I am also interested in thinking more about how to mainstream equity and inclusion in BtG programming. I am planning to do an internal climate survey with the BtG leadership team and a broader engagement with BtG alumni to see where they believe equity and inclusion could be improved within BtG. Alongside this, I want to think about how we can broaden our conception of the policy space, to think about those scholars who want to engage with practitioners beyond DC and engage with the practitioners in their area of research.  

Finally, I hope to create what I call a Bridging the Gap “Makers Space” which I envision to be a collaborative space with other like-minded organizations to focus more on how we make the practices in academia and in the policy world conducive to the lived experiences of Black people, queer people, gender non-conforming folx, and people with disabilities.


Not everything outside the Pentagon is “soft power”

As someone who works on religion and politics, I encounter the term “soft power” a lot. Most of the time it’s in a good way; soft power is a means to advocate for policies that draw on our values but still advance our interests. But, occasionally, the term frustrates me. Too often it’s used as a catch-all to address any foreign policy that doesn’t involve military force or economic sanctions. If we want to advocate for a broader set of foreign policy tools, we need a better set of terms to describe them.

Soft power

Soft power was famously introduced by Joseph Nye in a 1990 Foreign Policy article. He argued that it is the ability to get others to “want what we want,” rather than merely doing what we want. It amplifies, or even replaces, conventional “hard power.” Since then, scholars have tried to test it, policymakers have advocated for its use in US foreign policy, and skeptics have questioned the usefulness of the term or whether it really matters.

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Life in the Time of COVID: Planning for Non-Adherence

This is a guest post from Tana Johnson, an Associate Professor of Public Affairs and Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Her publications include the book Organizational Progeny: Why Governments Are Losing Control over the Proliferating Structures of Global Governance.

Options Beyond Border Closures

One of the numerous ways in which the world’s response to COVID has been problematic involves border closures.  As the novel coronavirus spread in spring 2020, more than 130 countries restricted international travel and border-crossing.  Some prevented entry by foreigners from specific countries, or by foreigners generally.  Others used blanket policies, preventing entry even by a country’s own citizens or permanent residents.

The continued pandemic makes it difficult to obtain complete and precise results, but preliminary studies issue several warnings about border closures.  For one thing, they do provide relief, but also should be supplemented by measures such as early detection, handwashing, self-isolation, and household quarantine.  Furthermore, border closures are costly: lockdown and other drastic measures may have been effective from a public health standpoint, but they also hurt societies, economies, and the humanitarian response system. Moreover, border closures may be illegal.  The “right of return” to one’s home country is enshrined in at least four regional or global treaties.  These treaties do contain some language allowing exceptions – but states that closed their borders during the initial months of the COVID pandemic rarely followed the treaties’ procedures, and therefore they’ve opened themselves to litigation in human rights courts.

If border closures are stopgaps that are costly and potentially illegal, then countries must explore additional options for dealing with infectious diseases.  During the COVID pandemic, such exploration has included mask mandates, prohibitions on large gatherings, restrictions on refugee processing, mass vaccination, immunity passports, and others.  Despite the variety of measures, however, exploration for each distills to two steps: 1) determine the policy, and 2) persuade people to follow it. 

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Writing a Dissertation isn’t Running a Marathon… it’s Training for One

Hilary Matfess is a PhD candidate at Yale University, an incoming professor at the University of Denver’s Korbel School, and a 2020-2021 United States Institute for Peace (USIP) Peace Scholar Fellow. She will participate in the Bridging the Gap NEW Era workshop in 2021. Her work has been published in International Security, Security Studies, Stability, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, and African Studies Review. Her first book, Women and the War on Boko Haram, was published in 2017 with Zed Publishers. Relevant to this article, she has also completed several marathons and looks forward to the return of in-person races!

Throughout graduate school, I heard the same, well-intentioned refrain over and over from fellow graduate students, faculty members, and family: “the dissertation is a marathon.” I generally responded with a half-hearted “yeah” and a shrug – sure, it’s hard and time consuming and long so why not call it a marathon? But now, as someone who’s completed both a dissertation and a handful of marathons, I can definitively say that writing a dissertation isn’t runninga marathon; it’s training for one. 

This difference is more than jock semantics. Shifting from a mindset that frames your dissertation as a singular feat of endurance to one that underlines the process of preparation can help graduate students avoid burnout and right-size their perception of what the dissertation signifies.  A training mindset can help academics better balance work-life balance and identify sustainable patterns of work.

Trust Your Training” 

Running a marathon is, even under the best circumstances, pretty monotonous. You’re going to move your body at more or less a steady pace for 26.2 miles. Training, for a marathon, however, requires integrating several different types of exercises into your routine; there’s the classic “long runs,” easy runsfast runs, and even strength training. A marathoner who only ran long runs would underperform and risk injury. 

Just like you don’t one day go out and run 26.2 miles, you don’t just wake up one day and write a dissertation – both processes require setting smaller, discrete goals that build on one another over time. Writing a dissertation isn’t just setting words to page – it’s a task comprised of a myriad of other cumulative and complementary tasks like identifying a viable research question, producing a research design that leverages the methods best suited to your research question, collecting or generating data, analyzing that data, editing, presenting drafts to peers and advisors, identifying relevant literature, and proofreading.  Setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-specific) goals while writing a dissertation can help graduate students consider the different components of the project and consider a realistic timeline for completing each individual component. 

Identifying shorter-term accomplishments is a way to keep graduate students and those training for the marathon on-track and enthusiastic about the process. For example, some marathon training programs actually suggest that runners race shorter distances as a part of their training. This helps runners not only know their true “race pace” and get a feel for what race day will be like, it allows them to pepper a sense of accomplishment throughout their marathon training. So too can graduate students use side projects and intermediate milestones to both further their dissertation efforts and mark their progress along the way. 

There is evidence that “small wins” boost motivation at work, so graduate students should seek out and celebrate their small wins to help keep them on track to achieve their larger goals. Presenting a draft dissertation paper or chapter at a conference, working on a coauthored project on a topic tangentially related to your dissertation topic, or translating your academic research into mass-audience publications can all help keep graduate students motivated and enthusiastic about their work. 

When training for a marathon, you have to balance running with the rest of your life. I’ll admit that the jokes about marathon runners being obsessive and insufferable about their training are warranted to a degree, but ultimately marathon training can’t be the entirety of someone’s identity. Similarly, graduate students need to cultivate a sense of self that’s not related to work. This can be exceptionally difficult – after all, so many of us care deeply about our work and are often making considerable sacrifices (both in terms of salary and in our personal lives) to pursue this degree. Yet maintaining a distinction between the work that we do as graduate students and the people that we are is critical for living a fulfilled life, avoiding burnout, and combatting the culture of “workism.”

One study of economics graduate students noted that “62% of students worry always or most of the time about work when not working” and that 20.5% of students found themselves too tired for activities in private life always or most of the time.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, these students expressed the biggest regrets over “how they organize their timeand engage with their studies.” These findings suggest that preserving aspects of our identity, apart from our position as graduate students, is important for mental health. Given the emergent evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the mental health crisis among graduate students, ensuring that your identity is not enmeshed with your work may be all the more important.

Support Systems

While running a marathon, you’re often surrounded by people. There are other runners, aid station volunteers, and spectators. The mood is jubilant— literal strangers are cheering you on! It’s an incredible experience and a heartening display of humanity and support. In contrast, training for a marathon can be pretty lonesome and requires strategies for maintaining motivation. 

Whether you’re working on your dissertation or tackling your daily run, there is rarely someone cheering you on. Tapping into your intrinsic motivation or identifying external sources of motivation is an important part of finishing the dissertation. Intrinsic motivation is often praised for being more durable and reliable than external motivation. Remembering why your work is important and why you cared about the question in the first place can help cultivate intrinsic motivation, even when the work gets tedious or frustrating. 

Even the fiercest self-starters may also benefit from developing external accountability mechanisms. Just as you may join a running group to get you through difficult parts of the training (and also to make friends), joining initiatives like #ACWRIMO and building your own writing groups can help keep you on track and foster a sense of community. Writing groups, whether convened online or in-person, can provide opportunities for feedback, help academics set aside time devoted specifically to their dissertation projects, and provide powerful accountability mechanisms – in addition to building a sense of community and solidarity. 

Of course, self-bribery can also be effective. To get myself through the hard slog of the last few miles of a long run, I’ve frequently passed the time by thinking about the jar of peanut butter waiting for me at home. Rewarding yourself for getting through a difficult project or for achieving an intermediate goal can also help keep momentum going throughout the course of writing your dissertation. Mirya Holman described her tiered reward system for #ACRWIMO in her #MHAWS newsletter it’s something that I’ve adopted for projects year-round. 

Avoiding Burnout 

Marathon training also involves taking purposeful rest between workouts. In contrast, during the race, you’ll likely only take a few minutes to stop at an aid station. If your approach to rest while writing a dissertation resembles the latter, rather than the former, you’re setting yourself up for mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. One cannot crank out a dissertation with the social equivalent of a dixie cup of Gatorade and a handful of jelly beans. 

Just like people training for a marathon schedule a rest day, so too should graduate students set aside time to rest. My friends give me (well-deserved) flak for sending google calendar invitations to hang out, but if I don’t explicitly schedule time away from work, the impulse to work all the time will take over. Graduate school can be a years-long demonstration of Parkinson’s Law (that work expands to fill the time that you’ve allotted to it); setting aside purposeful times to not work can counter that. 

Something will probably go wrong during the course of your dissertation. A training mindset can help graduate students understand what is necessary to get them across the finish line, despite challenges. Runners that encounter injuries or disruptions to their training schedule can adjust their training plan. Similarly, a training mindset can help graduate students respond to challenges (say, a global pandemic) with minimal despair and maximum flexibility, prioritizing the absolutely critical tasks that need to be done to complete the dissertation (Mara Revkin’s helpful guideon finishing a dissertation under non-ideal conditions is instructive about how to prioritize tasks). 

What Comes Next?

Perhaps the most important way in which writing a dissertation differs from running a marathon is what happens after you cross the finish line. The end of the marathon is the end of the marathon; you get a medal and hopefully a lot of rest. The end of the dissertation, however, is the start of another process; it’s, in fact, just the beginning of your career. Just as those who trained poorly for their marathons are often laid-up on the couch for weeks after the race, vowing to never run again, developing bad habits in the course of writing a dissertation can set you up for failure after you defend. The habits that you are developing as a graduate student writing a dissertation will carry over into your career after graduate school – meaning that developing a sustainable work pattern is key. Both marathon training and writing a dissertation are long processes that prepare you for the next fun, but grueling, endeavor. 


A Gilded Age of Social Science: Big Data Governance, Neopositivist Social Science and Covid-19

This is a guest post by Dr. Adam B. Lerner, Assistant Professor of International Relations at Royal Holloway, University of London and Deputy Director of the Royal Holloway Centre for International Security.

As an American living in London, I wake up every morning and check statistics: the number of positive cases reported the prior day in both the UK and US, the number of deaths, hospitalizations and vaccine doses administered, the percentage of the population fully vaccinated and the number of days until the government promises to re-evaluate the lockdown’s end. These numbers determine when I might see my family again, when I might receive a vaccine or even when I might be able to meet a friend for a much-needed outdoor pint.

Of course, beneath these numbers may lie unspeakable loss to families and communities. Nevertheless, their quantification and continual visualization and dissemination in mass media can also make them feel like talismans, ripped from context, critical reflection and, oftentimes, the lives of real people. Indeed, their dominance in public discourse of the pandemic reflects the encroachment of neopositivist social science on lives and livelihoods in new ways—ways that have crowded out numerous other important considerations. 

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Elite Experiments: Strengthening Scholarship while Bridging the Gap

This post was written by Simone Dietrich, Heidi Hardt and Haley J. Swedlund. Simone Dietrich is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Geneva. Heidi Hardt is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Irvine; a member of the 2015 International Policy Summer Institute cohort, and a 2021 Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow. Haley Swedlund is Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science at Radboud University and a member of the 2019 International Policy Summer Institute cohort.

For decades, many International Relations (IR) scholars portrayed experiments with foreign policy elites as too risky, too costly, or too difficult to implement. Faculty mentors discouraged graduate students from wasting their time. In a new article in European Journal of International Relations, we argue that elite experiments are not as difficult to implement as many believe they are. However, they do require careful planning in order to get elites on board.

When are elite experiments worth the costs? What are some tips and tricks for successfully carrying out this method? How might this approach be helpful in bridging the gap between IR and policy?

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Beyond the Electoral College: MMP in the USA?

Wahlrecht - Schafft die Zweitstimme ab! | Cicero Online
Photo courtesy of Cicero Online.

This is a guest post by Timothy Sisk, professor of international studies and director of the Institute for Comparative and Regional Studies at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. This post is the first in an occasional series discussing the ethical dilemmas engendered when academics engage with policymakers and the broader public. This series is part of the Rigor, Relevance, and Responsibility project of the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security & Diplomacy, which seeks to make ethical considerations an integral part of policy-relevant research and engagement. The program develops knowledge around, and informs the practice of, responsible engagement so that future generations of academics can engage in the policy world with confidence and clarity. This program is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The Trump-induced 2020 electoral crisis in the United States underscores that, in the world’s most long-standing democracy, the “rules of the game” for presidential elections, the Electoral College, is irreparably obsolete.  The diagnosis of the problem is simple: in two of the three most-recent electoral cycles, prior to 2020, the “winner” in fact failed to win in the popular vote. The presidency was won by a plurality of voters.  The U.S., in so many ways, has tendencies toward a “minoritarian” winner-take-all democracy.  If we know one thing in comparative politics, it is that minority- and bare-majority rule governments – especially in ethnically diverse societies – are not sustainable: such systems create broader susceptibilities to political violence.

Observers including the Editorial Board of The Washington Post and the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) observer mission to the 2020 U.S. elections have called for the U.S. to move beyond the Electoral College.  Even some from the Republican party, which has ostensibly benefited from the disproportional effects of the Electoral College, have argued it should be jettisoned.  The national move toward rank-choice voting is a step in the right direction in efforts to induce moderate campaigning in a polarized society.  But ranked-choice voting is at best a baby step, as the systems adopted in Maine, Alaska, and New York City for example, ultimately still function as winner-take-all, or simple-majority rule.

Setting aside the question of how to reform an ossified electoral system, reformers must contend with an equally daunting question: What is the best electoral system to replace it?

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We want you to write for us!

This post from our partners at Bridging the Gap is written by BTG Fellows Danielle Gilbert and Erik Lin-Greenberg, who are now the new editors of the BTG Duck channel, coordinating contributions from BTG’s network of scholars.

The past twelve months have been fraught with challenges, yet they have also given rise to a host of new opportunities. We’ve faced a global pandemic, a contentious U.S. election, social and racial injustice, and assaults on democracy around the world. These experiences have led scholars to ask tough questions, have difficult—but critically important—conversations, and to rethink how we teach and conduct research. At the Bridging the Gap Project, we’ve tried to keep pace with these global shifts, including on our channel here at the Duck.

Beginning today, we’re the new editors of the BTG Duck channel, and we hope to build upon the great work of our predecessors Naazneen Barma and Brent Durbin. We look forward to publishing more content that helps scholars navigate the academia-policy space and to showcasing the work of members of the BTG community. We’re excited to feature posts about your research, teaching, and mentoring as they relate to policy and public engagement.

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Confronting Biases in Policy-Engaged Research: The Case of NATO and Russia

Photo courtesy of NATO via Creative Commons License.

This is a guest post by Rachel Epstein, professor of international studies and associate dean of faculty & research at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. This post is the first in an occasional series discussing the ethical dilemmas engendered when academics engage with policymakers and the broader public. This series is part of the Rigor, Relevance, and Responsibility project of the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security & Diplomacy, which seeks to make ethical considerations an integral part of policy-relevant research and engagement. The program develops knowledge around, and informs the practice of, responsible engagement so that future generations of academics can engage in the policy world with confidence and clarity. This program is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

As early as middle school, we are teaching young minds to think critically and notice bias when it inevitably arises in news and media. Yet as academics, there is an illusion that we are free from bias and conflicts of interests that permeate all other parts of the world. To perpetuate this illusion only hinders policy engagement and deepens the divide between academics and practitioners. PhD training addresses part of this problem pretty effectively—by teaching us to consider alternative explanations in depth, to articulate the limits of any given study, and to avoid making sweeping statements about future developments that are intrinsically unknowable. 

However, in light of a recent review of literature on NATO enlargement, I ponder whether there is a critical strategy to be added to the discourse.  Antithetical to what we are taught at the advanced level—to strive for objectivity— academics should openly acknowledge political commitments where they exist, because of course they will exist. These political commitments can lead us to become “stealth issue advocates,” in the words of Roger Pielke, where social scientists claim to be arguing from expertise but are in fact arguing from a political position. And we may only be dimly aware of doing this; the first victim of the deception may be the researchers themselves, in terms of not recognizing their own biases.

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