Bridging the Gap (Page 1 of 2)

Bridging the Gap promotes scholarly contributions to public debate and decision making on global challenges and U.S. foreign policy. BtG equips professors and doctoral students with the skills they need to produce influential policy-relevant research and theoretically grounded policy work. They also spearhead cutting-edge research on problems of concrete importance to governments, think tanks, international institutions, non-governmental organizations, and global firms. Within the academy, BtG is driving changes in university culture and processes designed to incentivize public and policy engagement.

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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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.


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. 


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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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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On Inconvenient Findings

This post was written by Marie Berry and Milli Lake, co-founders and principal investigators of the Women’s Rights After War Project. Dr. Berry is Associate Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver and a member of Bridging the Gap’s current International Policy Summer Institute cohort. Dr. Lake is Associate Professor in the International Relations Department at the London School of Economics and a co-founder of the Advancing Research on Conflict Consortium.

What happens when research findings challenge the work that policy makers are invested in promoting?

In recent years, a strong, ongoing initiative to “Bridge the Gap” between academic research and policy makers has gained salience in academic circles. For several years now, and with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and other funders, scholars of international affairs have doubled down on efforts to write for public audiences, engage with various actors in policy processes, and even work to revise tenure and promotion standards to increase the value of policy-relevant work. Through the Women’s Rights After War project and other work, we have been eager participants in these efforts. We view engaged scholarship as part of our commitment to democratizing knowledge more generally.

But what happens when the results of research challenge the status quo policymakers are invested in defending? When research findings fail to reinforce policy priorities—whether they are political, economic, social, or otherwise—such efforts to “bridge the gap” stumble. This tension was recently brought dramatically to our attention when a policy brief we prepared was deemed unsuitable for publication by the organization that commissioned it, because our findings were neither positive nor politically convenient. Our experience, and those of others, raises questions about what happens when researchers generate findings that prove inconvenient to particular policy communities and knowledge gatekeepers. For us, this experience also raised questions about whether pressure to make research findings legible and accessible to policy audiences can inadvertently marginalize research that poses the most obvious challenges to status quo paradigms. 

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My Yes and No Committees Approved the Writing of This Post

This post is written by Bridging the Gap Fellow Dr. Danielle Gilbert, Assistant Professor of Military & Strategic Studies at the U.S. Air Force Academy. The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not represent the U.S. Air Force Academy, the Department of the Air Force, or the Department of Defense. The author would like to thank the brilliant women of her yes and no committees for their time, feedback, permission, and encouragement to write this—you know who you are. 

Six women approved the writing of this post: my “yes committee,” my “no committee,” and the editor—who happens to be a mentor as well. It’s fitting that these women would find themselves involved in this paragraph, because they have a say on nearly everything I write or do in my professional life. Outside of my classroom, I seldom make professional decisions without them. They are absolutely crucial to my success. I need them, and you need your own committees, too. 

What are yes and no committees? While a “no committee” is the group of friends and mentors you turn to when you need help declining requests and opportunities, the “yes committee” is the designated hype squad that nudges you beyond your comfort zone. In short, the “no committee” reminds you that your time is valuable; the “yes committee” reminds you that your ideas are valuable.

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The Leaky Pipeline

This piece is written by Bridging the Gap co-Director Naazneen H. Barma, Director of the Scrivner Institute of Public Policy, Scrivner Chair, and Associate Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. It was commissioned as part of the “Represent” series on diversity, inclusion and representation in the national security sphere, an initiative of Defense 360 of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Defense 360 and the Duck of Minerva agreed to cross-post the piece in order to ensure wide reach to both academic and practitioner readership on this crucial topic.

The last decade has brought a series of welcome initiatives to amplify, bolster, and expand the diversity of voices in the national security sphere—including the Leadership Council for Women in National Security, the Diversity in National Security NetworkOut in National Security, and Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security. What each of these seeks to redress is the simple fact that a paucity of diverse voices in the national security spaces results in poorer national security dialogue and practice. There is a normative imperative: our national security professional cadre should represent us and the diversity of identities that comprise this country; it is the right thing to do. And the goal is also instrumental: bringing the wealth of a wider range of lived experiences into national security policy formulation does improve the process; it is the effective thing to do.

A crucial part of the challenge of achieving better representation in national security lies in the pipeline that runs through academia and into the policy-making sphere. Whether we are talking about those who undertake graduate education in order to pursue national security careers or about emerging scholars who want to make a career of studying and informing national security, the pipeline leaks diverse voices all along the way.

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The Book Nook: Diversity, Violence, and Recognition

This entry in the Bridging the Gap Book Nook series comes from Elisabeth King and Cyrus Samii of New York University. In their new book, Diversity, Violence, and Recognition (Oxford, 2020), they address key questions for peace-building in multi-ethnic societies: Under what conditions do governments manage internal violent conflicts by formally recognizing different ethnic identities? And what are the implications for peace?


Mentoring Yourself as a Woman in Academia

This post, part of the Bridging the Gap channel, is written by Rosella Cappella Zielinski, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Boston University and non-resident fellow at the Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Creativity at Marine Corps University. She is  an alumna of BTG’s International Policy Summer Institute

For those of us figuring out how to navigate our identities in the classroom, on the job market, and in the wider world of academia, mentoring often plays a crucial role. Yet, often, our institutional advisors, as immensely supportive as they can be, do not reflect our gender, race, ethnicity, orientation, or other personally identifying attributes. 

The Future Strategy Forum (FSF) — an annual event designed to connect scholars of national security issues with leading practitioners to showcase female talent in the field and build vertical and horizontal networks across the policy-academic gap, organized by CSIS in partnership with Bridging the Gap, the Kissinger Center at SAIS, and the MIT Security Studies Program — recently asked me to offer some remarks regarding the effect of COVID-19 on financing grand strategy and to also share some career-related advice for the FSF–BTG grad student cohort that was part of the event. It turns out that the former was easy — while the latter, not so much.

I was stunned to realize, in preparing my remarks, that in all my time as an undergraduate and graduate student studying international relations, I never had one professor that was a woman or Hispanic. Not one. 

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Reflections from an “Accidental” Mentor

This piece is written by Kathleen R. McNamara, Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University. It is the coda to a mini-forum honoring Kate as recipient of the Society for Women in International Political Economy (SWIPE) 2020 Mentor Award and follows posts written by Naazneen BarmaDiana KimJi-Young Lee, and Tana Johnson on the Bridging the Gap channel.

Last spring, when I got an out-of-the-blue email from Cindy Cheng informing me that I had won the 2020 SWIPE Mentor award, I was delighted—but also rather surprised. Reading through the extraordinarily moving nominations, I remembering thinking to myself: “Really? I am getting an award for simply acting like a human being?”  

I embrace the honor whole-heartedly—but here’s the thing: I rarely consciously think about mentoring (which makes this piece rather challenging to write). The activities and attributes that the nominators described were simply the things that provide me with happiness and ultimately make life meaningful to me. Mentoring is not a separate activity, or career box to check off. Instead, it is something inherently satisfying as part of my everyday life: a chance to connect in a deep way, to learn from others who come from a different perspective, and to observe people rising to their awe-inspiring potential. It honestly gives me as much as it seems to have given others—so, I am doubly grateful for this recognition, as it is so unnecessary.

Reflecting on my experience over the past couple of decades, I realized that there might be a couple lessons from my life as an “accidental mentor.” I have no illusions that there is a one size fits all way to mentor—or be mentored. Yet I hope that these lessons can create the space for all our colleagues and students to flourish. In so doing, we will take one step further toward a more inclusive and diverse scholarly community. In addition to being normatively necessary, diversity also means our knowledge will encompass all the dynamics of political life, not just those obvious within our own narrow worlds. Ultimately, for me, this produces a professional experience that is inherently more interesting and enjoyable, as well as being much more likely to provide us with the full range of theories and tools we need to address the challenges we face.

So, two modest proposals for how to mentor: model who you really are, and celebrate the commonality across all of us.

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From Political Science to Public Policy: Three Lessons

This post, part of the Bridging the Gap channel, is written by Tana Johnson, Associate Professor of Public Affairs and Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Previously, she was an Associate Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University and a Research Fellow at Princeton University. She earned her doctorate in Public Policy from the University of Chicago.

This piece is part of a short forum on mentoring in academic careers in international affairs, written to honor Kathleen R. McNamara, Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University, as recipient of the Society for Women in International Political Economy (SWIPE) 2020 Mentor Award. Others posts in this series can be viewed herehere, and here.

Recent events make it clear: whether loved or loathed, government policies are central to our lives. That’s why public policy schools are devoted to understanding the causes, design, implementation, and effects of government policies. And it’s why some political scientists (including me) feel the pull to work in both a political science department and a policy school. 

But if we make this choice, what goes from optional to required?  For answers, look at Georgetown University faculty member Kate McNamara, the 2020 recipient of a prominent mentoring award from the International Studies Association. Kate exemplifies three requirements for political scientists in policy schools: 1) track down the policy insight, 2) learn from other disciplines, and 3) learn from practitioners.

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Becoming and Living as a Happy Academic

This post, part of the Bridging the Gap channel, is written by Ji-Young Lee, Associate Professor of International Relations at the School of International Service, American University, where she holds the C. W. Lim and Korea Foundation Professorship of Korean Studies.

This piece is part of a short forum on mentoring in academic careers in international affairs, written to honor Kathleen R. McNamara, Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University, as recipient of the Society for Women in International Political Economy (SWIPE) 2020 Mentor Award. Others posts in this series can be viewed here and here.

In this era of COVID-19, teaching is done online. As universities ponder whether students would come back for virtual classes if campuses were to remain closed in the fall, a question came to my mind. If pursuing a PhD had been all about online classes and virtual experiences, would I still be an academic today? Maybe. But, most likely, no.

In any profession, mentoring is regarded as important. But in academia, this is particularly so. One’s ability to independently produce knowledge is gained in and through the social interactions with others who have been walking the path in pursuit of inquiry. When I first met Kate in 2004 as a first year PhD student, I was an international student who had just come to the United States two years earlier and had very little knowledge of the American academic environment. I was still training myself to express ideas in English, trying to make sense of how things worked in a new social, cultural setting. Looking back, it is due to those conversations and one-on-one interactions I have had with Kate during all these 16 years that I am leading a life as an academic now, mentoring my own students. 

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On Mentorship and Diversity: A Favorite Voice in the Room

This post, part of the Bridging the Gap channel, is written by Diana S. Kim, Assistant Professor in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a core faculty member of the Asian Studies Program. Her first book, Empires of Vice: The Rise of Opium Prohibition across Southeast Asia was recently published with Princeton University Press. 

This piece is part of a short forum on mentoring in academic careers in international affairs, written to honor Kathleen R. McNamara, Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University, as recipient of the Society for Women in International Political Economy (SWIPE) 2020 Mentor Award. The first post can be viewed here.

The photograph above captures a panel of experts discussing the results of the Dutch general election in March 2017, at the American Enterprise Institute. Kate McNamara is the woman speaking.  

I’d like you to imagine Kate’s voice. She has a clear, eloquent, and unhurried way of speaking. 

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Mentoring Is What You Make Of It

This post is written by Bridging the Gap co-Director Naazneen H. Barma, Associate Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School.

This piece kicks off a short forum on mentoring in academic careers in international affairs, written to honor Kathleen R. McNamara, Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University, as recipient of the Society for Women in International Political Economy (SWIPE) 2020 Mentor Award. Kate was due to receive this award, which pays tribute to excellent mentors who have invested in the professional success of women in the IPE field, at a roundtable in her honor at the 2020 International Studies Association Annual Convention in Honolulu, Hawai’i. The contributions to this forum reflect remarks originally prepared to celebrate Kate’s award and her noteworthy contributions to mentoring in the profession. Four more pieces, written by Diana KimJi-Young LeeTana Johnson, and Kate McNamara will follow on this channel over the next week.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, the Skywalker twins, separated at birth, each rose through a series of tribulations to the top of their chosen pathways. The notion of mentoring in the ways of the Jedi is central to the Star Wars saga and, in this narrative, Luke Skywalker is the archetypal hero. Nurtured and trained one-on-one by Obi Wan Kenobi and then Yoda, Luke succeeds on his Jedi path and vanquishes the bad guys. He then joins the Jedi pantheon and it becomes his turn to offer sage training and guidance to the next generation. His twin Leia Organa — a wise ruler, diplomat, and, eventually, leader of the rebel alliance — is an equal success by any measure, yet it does not appear that she was traditionally mentored like her brother. Instead, at key turning points, she sought and was offered advice, help, and encouragement from a whole range of different supporters. In turn, that is the model of mentorship she pays forward as she becomes a source of widespread inspiration herself.

The upshot is that there are many different ways we can and should think about what a mentor is, how to seek one, and how to be one. A mentor can be a guru-type senior person in your field who charts a trajectory that you want to follow and who helps guide you along a similar path in your own work, someone to whom you can always turn for professional advice and access to opportunities. Or a mentor could be someone you encounter more sporadically and yet still plays a crucial role on your mentoring map as one of many who serve as a specific type of resource, source of encouragement, or sponsorship at different points in your career.

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Borders, Blinders, and Mental Maps: Assessing Scenario Analysis in Light of Covid-19

This post is part of the Bridging the Gap channel at the Duck. Danielle Gilbert is a PhD candidate in political science and a fellow with the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at the George Washington University. She serves as a New Era Fellow with the Bridging the Gap Project. Rachel Whitlark is an Assistant Professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She serves as a New Era Fellow with the Bridging the Gap Project.

In 1701, a cartographer named Herman Moll produced a map entitled “The Isle of California: New Mexico: Louisiane: The River Misisipi: and the Lakes of Canada.” Glance at this image, and you will notice the exaggerated size of Florida, condensed Great Plains, and presence of a Gulf of California fully separating the state from the rest of the country. How might such a map have been drawn?

The apocryphal story goes something like this: In the 1600s, a first set of explorers arrived in California via Baja. Trekking north, they soon encountered non-navigable waters. A second set of explorers started at the north end of the territory, journeying south through the Straits of Juan de Fuca; they too encountered water they could not pass. Putting together the explorers’ reports, the mapmakers in Amsterdam connected the dots, and the Island of California appeared.

Years later, a third group of explorers sought to cross the Gulf and explore the land beyond. They arrived, fully prepared with long boats in tow. But of course, instead of water, they encountered the Sierra Nevada mountains. The crossing was merciless, and most of the explorers died. Those who survived shared their discovery with the mapmaker. “Well,” he replied, “the map can’t be wrong; you must have been in the wrong place!”

This tale illustrates our very human blinders. We have outsized confidence in what’s familiar (Florida) and pay less attention to what isn’t (the Plains); we extrapolate from existing knowledge to project into the unknown. And when faced with contradictory evidence, our entrenched models and maps remain difficult to overturn.

For the last 15 years, we at the Bridging the Gap Project (BTG) have used this story to introduce scenario analysis as a central piece of our New Era Workshop for PhD students. During the workshop, two dozen graduate students in political science, history, and related disciplines are presented with thematic, global scenarios, unfolding five to ten years in the future. Through analyzing these scenarios and probing the challenges and opportunities presented by plausible future worlds, our participants shed their “mental maps” to pose questions about future-oriented policy and research questions. BTG directors and fellows have previously written about this exercise—an innovative method for generating novel, policy-relevant research questions.

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What Is . . . and Isn’t . . . a Norm?

The Norm Concept

This post, part of the Bridging the Gap channel at the Duck, comes from Michelle Jurkovich, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She is a 2019-2020 Public Engagement Fellow with Bridging the Gap and an alumna of BTG’s International Policy Summer Institute. During 2017-2018, she was an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology fellow working in the Office of Food for Peace at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

We talk about norms a great deal in international relations (IR) scholarship — but what are the edges of this crucial concept? In a recent article in International Studies Review (“What isn’t a norm?” – ungated until September 21), I argue that in using the term in increasingly flexible ways, scholars have blurred important differences between norms, supererogatory standards, moral principles, and formal law.

Understanding differences among these concepts enables us to better analyze the social and normative environment in which important international actors are working. Enhancing the conceptual toolkit we use to make sense of the social world to encompass more than just the “norm” also helps to highlight potential areas of conceptual stretching, which, as Sartori (1970) warned, may lead to false equivalence. 

The article is a conceptual piece, but it was driven by a desire to understand some important real world challenges. Why is it so difficult to effectively use shaming strategies around some global problems (like hunger or homelessness) that everyone agrees are morally repugnant? While many human rights are codified in law, are all human rights codified in law also governed by norms? And if they aren’t, how can we make sense of the social environment around them? (My forthcoming book Feeding the Hungry: Blame Diffusion in International Anti-Hunger Advocacy with Cornell University Press tackles these issues with greater depth.)

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The Politics of Reform in the Middle East: A Conversation with Erin Snider

Each Spring, Bridging the Gap (BTG) announces the recipients of our annual Policy Engagement Fellowships (PEF), the purpose of which is to support efforts by scholars to connect their research on international issues to the policy community. One of our 2018–19 PEFs is Dr. Erin Snider, Assistant Professor of International Affairs at Texas A&M University’s George H.W. Bush School of Government and Public Service and a Fellow with the New America Foundation in Washington, DC.

[Learn more about Bridging the Gap, including the Policy Engagement Fellowship program, at our ISA reception on Friday March 29, in Toronto.]

Erin’s research focuses broadly on Middle Eastern political economy. She has conducted extensive research in Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and beyond on the politics of foreign economic and democracy assistance programs and the question of how international actors might promote reform in authoritarian states. Erin is using her PEF to help disseminate her research through policy-oriented writing and is planning to organize an event with policy-makers and other practitioners to reflect on the economic dimensions and consequences of the 2011 Arab Spring.

BTG recently asked Erin some questions about how she came to her current research agenda and how it has evolved, what her research has to say about the contemporary US democracy promotion approach in the Middle East, and how her extensive policy experience has informed her scholarly work.

BTG: What initially motivated your decision to study Arabic and conduct research on the Middle East?  

ES: I’ve been interested in the Middle East since I was a kid—I became fascinated with Turkish history and politics after my father spent several years working in Izmir. My interest shifted from Turkey to the Arab world when I was in college. Arabic wasn’t offered at my university when I was an undergrad and there was little interest in it then—that would all change, of course, a few years later post-9/11. I jumped at the chance to study the language through night programs while working in DC and New York and continued throughout graduate school in different immersion programs in the Middle East.

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Congress, Trump, and Internationalism in U.S. Foreign Policy

This post comes from Bridging the Gap co-director Jordan Tama, Associate Professor at the School of International Service at American University. 

American presidents have typically been more internationalist than the average member of Congress. For instance, many presidents have struggled to persuade Congress to approve important international agreements or increase spending on diplomacy and foreign assistance. Scholars of U.S. foreign policy have provided a compelling explanation for this pattern: since voters hold presidents more accountable than members of Congress for the country’s overall welfare and security, presidents have a stronger incentive than lawmakers to advance broad national interests through overseas engagement.

Under Donald Trump, however, this pattern has been stood on its head. As Trump has sought to advance his “America first” agenda by pulling back from international commitments, Congress has at times become the country’s strongest voice for maintaining and deepening overseas ties. This has been evident in the rejection by Congress of Trump’s proposals to cut the State Department’s budget by one-third, the reaffirmation by Congress of the U.S. commitment to NATO, and the restriction by Congress of the president’s ability to withdraw U.S. troops from South Korea.

Yet simply labeling elected officials as internationalist or the term’s opposite (nationalist or isolationist) fails to capture a lot of the nuance in their foreign policy positions. In a terrific new Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) report, Beyond the Water’s Edge: Measuring the Internationalism of Congress, a team led by Kathleen Hicks, Louis Lauter, and Colin McElhinny looks under the surface of recent foreign policy debates to explore congressional internationalism in depth. The report is based on an impressive set of original research, including case studies of recent congressional activity in several foreign policy issue areas and detailed profiles of a representative sample of 50 members of Congress.

Importantly, the study finds that internationalism is more widespread in Congress than one might think.  Continue reading


With Arms Sales, “It’s Not Just the Economy, Stupid”

This post comes from Jennifer Spindel, Assistant Professor in the Department of International and Area Studies at the University of Oklahoma and a 2018 participant in Bridging the Gap’s New Era Workshop

The disappearance and suspected murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi this month has led to calls for the US to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia. President Trump has ignored these calls, saying “it would not be acceptable to me” to cease arms sales to Saudi Arabia because doing so would hurt the US economy. Arms sales have been a remarkably consistent news topic, from discussions about US arms sales to Saudi Arabia, to the recent grounding of the F-35 fleet, to disputes with Turkey about its arms purchases. This is, on the one hand, unsurprising: the United States sold $55.6 billion in weapons in the 2018 fiscal year, a 33 percent jump from the previous year. Yet the way the Trump administration talks about arms sales in terms of their sheer market and economic value reveals a fundamental misunderstanding about the political stakes of arms sales.

The issues surrounding the F-35 are instructive. From potentially decapitating pilots to recognized hardware issues, the F-35 has become a favorite (if too easy) punching bag in the defense community. Despite issues with the F-35’s capabilities, the plane is still a sought-after weapon – and not just because states have already poured hundreds of millions of dollars into developing and producing it.

The recent fighting between the US and Turkey over Turkey’s F-35 procurement illustrates the political stakes of such deals. Turkish companies produce components for the F-35, and Turkey is supposed to receive at least 20 of the planes. But in December 2017 Turkey purchased the Russian-produced S-400 missile defense system and, in response, the US Senate wanted to prohibit Turkey from acquiring the F-35. There is some concern that the S-400 will be able to collect intelligence about the F-35’s capabilities – and send this information back to Russia.

Yet much of the debate concerns the broader political problems of Turkey buying the S-400. States treat arms transfers as signals of foreign policy alignment: Turkey’s deal with Russia drove home its deteriorating relationship with the US and European States.

This political salience is reflected in statements by US and other policy-makers about the arms sale. US Assistant Secretary of State Weiss Mitchell said, “We can’t be any clearer in saying, both privately and publicly: a decision on S-400s will qualitatively change the US-Turkish relationship in a way that would be very difficult to repair.” Similarly, US Senator James Lankford said, “Turkey has gone a long way from being a NATO ally and an important partner in working against terrorism, to the situation today.” US allies are taking Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 as a symbol of rift between Turkey and the West, with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute calling it “meltdown in relations between Turkey and the US.” Israel has repeatedly expressed its concern about Turkey to the United States, arguing that allowing Turkey to get the F-35 would reward its bad behavior, and that Turkey should no longer be considered a “real” NATO member.

The political effects of the plane on the U.S.–Turkey relationship are independent of its military capabilities and will not change even though the entire F-35 fleet was grounded yesterday. The F-35 is, if nothing else, a status symbol that reflects the strength of political ties between states that have it.

As a signal of alignment, arms sales have wide-ranging consequences. Turkey’s simultaneous pursuit of the F-35 and the S-400 has emboldened other US friends to do the same. What was once unthinkable – US-friendly states actively courting Russian weapon systems – is becoming increasingly common. India, which was recently designated a Major Defense Partner by the United States, also signed a deal to get the S-400 and Saudi Arabia, a US ally, has hinted its interest in getting the S-400 as well.

Arms deals are much more than the transfer of military capability. Nor can they be thought of purely in economic terms. But – in responding to calls to suspend arms transfers to Saudi Arabia for its air campaigns in Yemen or, this week, for its supposed murder of Jamal Khashoggi – Trump has chosen to emphasize the economic consequences of halting arms transfers: “We have jobs, we have a lot of things happening in this country,” he said. “Part of that is what we’re doing with our defense systems and everybody’s wanting them. And frankly I think that that would be a very, very tough pill to swallow for our country.”

Even if Saudi Arabia proved the crucial market to keeping US production lines open, Trump is overlooking the foreign policy signal that the arms sales send. By continuing to supply Saudi Arabia with arms, the US is tacitly endorsing Saudi actions. Congress should, at the very least, suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The State Department approved $1 billion worth of sales to the kingdom in March – delaying the transfer of TOW anti-tank missiles would be one clear way to signal US displeasure with Saudi Arabia. Otherwise, why should Saudi Arabia cooperate with investigations into the disappearance of Khashoggi, or modify its policy in Yemen? In the realm of international politics, talk is cheap; actions matter. Cutting off arms sales or switching suppliers is one way states can signal their dissatisfaction with partners, as Turkey so clearly did by purchasing the S-400. The political stakes of arms sales are high – and it is crucial that policymakers consider that political significance in their arms sales decision calculus along with economic and military considerations.


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