Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Academics

Wonder BabiesI last wrote about the academic labor market in May 2015. Nearly a year later, that market is still . . . terrible. And it’s especially terrible for women.

According to a December 2015 report by the Modern Language Association (MLA), advertisements in its Job Information List (JIL) for full-time faculty positions in both English and foreign languages have decreased steadily since the recession of 2008 and are now at their lowest point since the MLA began tracking this data in 1975. Continue reading

Research Methods and that Cat-Calling Video

You may have caught that viral video that’s been going around the internet the last few weeks–the one where a woman walks the streets of New York, silently, and is subjected to cat-calling during a 10 hour period. I’m always on the lookout for ways to help students understand why a basic knowledge of research methods is so important, regardless of their major or if they plan to pursue an academic career. This article does a great job of using this video as a way of explaining just this point, and would be a great topic of conversation in a methods class. It points out, for example, that the vast majority of harassment in the video took place in traditionally minority neighborhoods in New York City–raising questions about whether this means that more harassment takes place there, or whether there was conscious or subconscious effort by the editors to make this appear to be the case. This and many other points provide a great way of dissecting this video from a methods perspective, and helping students see how methods helps us interpret information in all aspects of life. An interesting read, even if you don’t teach methods, but definitely the kind of article that can provoke discussion.

Word Karma

Endless KnotRegular readers might remember my post in July about Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s terrible writing skills on display in a publicly-released company memo. We can now extend my argument that poor writing reflects poor thinking to speaking. At the recent Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, Nadella said that women should not ask for raises but should rely on karma instead. He has since apologized for his statement, but given the wide availability of data on the gender gap in workplace compensation, his position as a CEO in an industry with numerous gender disparities, and the venue at which he was speaking, it was a really dumb thing to say. His words reflect badly on him. More evidence for our students that communication skills matter.

Response to Teaching Women

In reference to Mallendo’s post about gender in the discipline and in the classroom, I run into the same problem. Approximately 65 percent of the students on my campus are female and my classes mirror this gender ratio. I don’t specifically address gender in my comparative politics course but I do make an effort to include literature written by people who are not Caucasian males with U.S. nationality. In terms of female authors, this has included:

In the past I have also assigned some of Elinor Ostrom’s work in a graduate course. But in general, it’s been difficult finding high-quality literature relevant to my course written by women in a field that is dominated by men.

Teaching Women: Gender in the discipline and in the classroom

Two of the courses that I teach annually are in a live-and-learn leadership program for freshman women (wlp.gwu.edu).  The two courses (Introduction to Comparative Politics in the fall and Introduction to International Politics in the spring) have about 20 students, all women who live together and take an additional course together.  In the four years I’ve taught in the program, I have started to pay more attention to ways that gender matters in teaching political science.  This manifests itself in a few ways that I think are worthwhile for others who don’t teach in a similar environment but are interested in questions of gender equality.

First, I noticed that it is not standard for comparative politics textbooks to discuss gender in any depth.  For the upcoming semester, I found a textbook that has a chapter on race and gender, which is a good start.  I will supplement it, as I’ve done in the past, with a few scholarly articles.  I tend to focus on institutional questions, mainly the variation in women’s representation across countries.  One of the group debates this semester (a regular assignment in this class) will be on the use of gender quotas.  In an introductory course, I can only scratch the surface (further limited by the fact that this is not my area of expertise), but it gives the students a foundation for thinking about gender as a comparative politics topic.

Another conscious change that I’ve made in my teaching is to strive for more balance in the authors I assign.  There was recently a great deal of blogging about the gender gap in the scholarship of political science (in particular, the excellent Monkey Cage symposium).  One suggestion that came out of this discussion was to include more women scholars on our syllabi, particularly in graduate courses.  I don’t teach graduate courses, but I think it’s valuable to present undergraduates with women scholars on equal footing with the men on the syllabus.  I am still amazed at how many of my students will still default to “he” when discussing an author’s work in class.  I hope repeated exposure to women scholars changes this default.

No doubt these are small changes (and there are many other issues related to gender in teaching and in the discipline), but if I’m teaching a group of women in a leadership program, the least I can do is expose them to issues of gender in political science and give them some tools to analyze these issues.  I’ve carried this over into other courses I teach.  I’d love to hear how others incorporate gender into their courses.

Michelle Allendoerfer: Rational Theory of War II

I used the Fearon bargaining activity outlined in my last post for the first time very recently. Here are my anecdotal observations on its effectiveness.

NapoleonFirst, only one of the four dyads in class fought a war in the initial complete information round.  The other dyads immediately understood why war shouldn’t occur and after some discussion, the warring group got it.  I would have been happy with the success of the game just after that round; in my experience, getting students to accept Fearon’s main premise that a bargaining range always exists is challenging.

Second, students quickly realized that giving me two of their candies (as the cost of war) was undesirable and they’d prefer to reach a deal than lose candy.  I used this to demonstrate that war is rare—most of the time, the sides will reach a deal to avoid paying the high costs of war.  Students have also struggled with this idea in the past and having physical objects taken away as a cost of war really conveyed the message.

During debriefing, I found it useful to walk through at least one “war” and demonstrate how a bargaining range existed.  A lopsided victory is helpful in showing how both sides still would have preferred a deal to avoid war.  Finally, I allowed the students to “negotiate” before the defender had to accept or reject the deal.  This opened up discussion of signaling and the absence of costly signals in the activity.

Although I did not do a formal assessment, student performance on the related questions on the subsequent midterm exam was quite good. The applications in the essay by and large demonstrated a deep understanding of the existence of a bargaining range, issue indivisibility, and how costly signals affect the probability of war.  I’m considering a formal assessment of the activity in the future, but my gut is that it gave the students a better understanding of an abstract theory by helping them internalize its main ideas.

Michelle Allendoerfer: Fearon’s Rational Theory of War

Today we have the first of two posts by Dr. Michelle Allendoerfer, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Women’s Leadership Program (wlp.gwu.edu), George Washington University:

Rationality of WarOf the concepts typically taught in an Introduction to International Relations class, Fearon’s rationalist theories of war is one of the most challenging for students.  Getting students to actively engage with these concepts makes them more concrete and less abstract.  There are bargaining activities out there to illustrate the bargaining theory of war, but many treat wars as “all or nothing” — the winner gets the spoils while the loser gets nothing (minus the costs of war to both parties).  I wanted an activity that reflected a wider range of war outcomes in which the loser may end up with some division of the spoils.

I divided my class into dyads made up of two groups.  I made eight groups of 3-4 students (four dyads).  Each dyad gets a modified deck of cards (I used only 2-9 with more cards in the middle of the range), tokens (10 per round), a coin, and a handout.

To play, each group takes a card from the deck. In all rounds but the first, this information is kept private.  The challenger, selected by a coin toss, makes an offer to divide 10 tokens. I used Hershey kisses because my class is small and motivated by chocolate; anything that incentivizes the students will work, such as poker chips tied to extra credit.  If the defender accepts, the tokens are divided according to the offer and the round ends.

If the defender rejects, the groups go to war by showing their cards. I linked the division of tokens to the margin of victory. For example, if side A plays a 6 and side B plays a 3, the margin of victory is 3 in favor of side A and this corresponds to a 8/2 split of the tokens – this information is on the handout provided to the students. If a war occurs both sides pay the cost of 2 tokens.

A practice round helps get the students going.  An initial practice round where cards are not hidden also illustrates to students the crucial point of Fearon that war is ex post inefficient and should not happen in conditions of complete information.

In my next post, I’ll share some of my reflections on the activity and some notes on debriefing.  Feel free to email me (mallendo-at-gwu-dot-edu) with questions or for a copy of the handout I use to facilitate the game.  I’m happy to share those materials.