How to become a professor in POLITICAL SCIENCE

In this PLAN YOUR CAREER episode Harvard University Professor Gary King tells you why you should NOT follow his exact career path.

More specifically, in this PLAN YOUR CAREER episode you will learn:

  • How Prof. Gary King would plan his career in the field of Political Science today.
  • What are the most relevant journals to submit your work to and which are the most relevant conferences to attend.
  • How Prof. Gary King has been able to maintain a high level of motivation and discipline throughout his entire distinguished career.

 

About Prof. Gary King

HARVARD_PROF2Professor Gary King is the Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor at Harvard University — one of 23 with the title of University Professor, Harvard’s most distinguished faculty position. Gary King develops and applies empirical methods in many areas of social science research, focusing on innovations that span the range from statistical theory to practical application. Prof. King received a B.A. from State University of New York at New Paltz and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison . Prof. King has been elected Fellow in 6 honorary societies and has won more than 30 “best of” awards for his work — including the Career Achievement Award in 2010.

Prof. King led an evaluation of the Mexican universal health insurance program, which includes the largest randomized health policy experiment to date. The statistical methods and software he developed are used extensively in academia, government, consulting, and private industry.  He is a founder, and an inventor of the original technology for, Crimson HexagonLearning Catalytics, and other firms.
His contribution to methods for achieving cross-cultural comparability in survey research have been used in surveys in over eighty countries by researchers, governments, and private concerns.

 

Raw Transcript

Stephan: If you want to learn how to become a professor in the field of political science stay with me.

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Stephan:  Hello, and welcome to howtobecomeaprofessor.com; the web show to learn from proven professors and experts. I am your host Stephen Si-Hwan and I will stress sometime today you will learn how Gary King, university professor at Harvard would plan his career in the field of political science today. Professor Gary King is the Albert J. Weatherhead University professor at Harvard University. One of 23 with the title of University Professor, Harvard’s most distinguished faculty position. Gary King develops and applies empirical methods in many areas of social science research focusing on innovations that span the range from statistical theory to practical application. Gary received a B.A. from State University of New York at New Paltz, and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Gary King has been elected fellow in six honorary societies, and has won more than 30 “best of” awards for his work including the career achievement award in 2010. Professor Gary King, thank you very much for taking this time for your interview. It’s a tremendous honor to have you here with us.

Prof. King: Well, thanks very much.

Stephen: All right, I know that you are very busy so let’s start right into the content. The first question I’d like to ask you is how would you plan your academic career in the field of political science today, from a B.A. Degree to professorship, and if it’s possible please be as specific as you can.

Prof. King: The most important thing to remember is that is if you the student, did exactly what I did and you followed every step that I followed, you wouldn’t do anywhere near as well as I did. That’s because I already did it.

Stephen: Right.

Prof. King: Right. So what you need to do is to cut your own path. You need to find a skill that others don’t have. You need to read some things that others don’t know. You need to have some ideas that others haven’t been figured out before.

Stephen:  Hadn’t solved, right.

Prof. King:  You can take the advice from everybody, but everybody including me is going to give you advice about what we did, and what was successful for us but the field moves forward. It continues to move forward. The technical skills that I had early on were certainly good enough to get where I was going then, but the technical skills that I would need today have moved on and they are different types of skills. Learning the basic statistical skills were very valuable. Today you definitely want to learn the basic skills, but you also need some computer science. That would also be very valuable.

Do that, learn all of those things and then also figure out what the next really cool thing is that I don’t know and my colleagues don’t know and come and teach us.

Stephen: Okay, I have one question regarding the requirement; the requirement process of technical skills. I mean, you know, I personally feel also kind of overwhelmed. There are so many different skills, and if you want to become proficient in statistics and all the quantitative methods, is there a more efficient way to learn those skills?

Prof. King: Yes, let me actually make it worse before I make it better. The way to make it worse is just to understand how bad the problem is. If you actually did it in the way that would be logical and would make intellectual sense, you would take a few years of maybe – you’d take three or four years of mathematics, and then take mathematical statistics, and linear algebra, and real number theory, and then take your first data analysis course, and then maybe a little social science.

Stephen: Right.

Prof.King: But by that time you’d already be a physicist or a chemist or something like that, and so that doesn’t work. Even though that may make the most intellectual sense, it just doesn’t work for social sciences and so what we tend to do and what often makes sense is sure get the background; get the tools, and pick up the tools when you can. They are very important, but what you want to do is learn the substance at the same time so what we tend to do is, and what tends to work the best is to get the tools when you need them, right? When you need them, pick up the tools as fast as you can and go as deep as you can.

Another general suggestion is that most academics tend to use the same methods their whole career and they’re the methods that they learned in graduate school. Don’t be like them, right? That’s the first suggestion. Don’t be like them. Keep learning tools. The second suggestion is to realize that, realize the social science generalization that people are who they are. People tend to be the same and you’re probably going to be like them. What that means is that when you’re in graduate school or you’re an undergraduate, pick up the tools because the tools will enable you to do the things that others haven’t been able to do. So if you have the choice, take some statistics courses, take some courses in political methodology, take a computer science course or two now and then you’ll have a framework on which to build. Then you can prove me wrong after you become a professor and you can learn more tools, but those tools will be taken to the next level.

Stephen: All right, thank you so much. Let’s move on to the second question quick. What are, in your opinion, the most relevant dramas to submit your original work to, and which are the most important conferences to attend in the field of political science?

Prof. King: Political science is a very big, broad, diverse, field. There are people that study all kinds of different things within it  and so we have many, many journals that you might focus on. The main journal of the American Political Science Association is the American Political Science Review. That would be a good journal to pay attention to, to understand what the field’s about, but there’s many, many really good specialized journals. Political Analysis is the main journal of the method subfield of the discipline. It’s cited more often than all of the other journals in the field because so many people use these tools, so that’s another good journal to pay attention to.

There are regional journals in political science; The American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, and then there are specialty journals within particular areas. There is International Studies Quarterly, Journal of Conflict Resolution, a number of others within specific areas. American Politics Research, and so there’s many, many others but I think you could start with those to get a feel for it. On conferences, the way to think about it is that there are some big conferences that many, many people go to; so the American Political Science Association meetings that tends to be at the end of the summer every year. That has maybe 6,000 people that go to it. It’s a big political and social event with hundreds of panels. Those are interesting.

The Midwest Political Science Association is a smaller version of that national conference. That’s also a useful thing to do, but I would also go all the way to the other end of the continuum. Look for some small conferences on areas that you’re interested in. The Society for Political Methodology is a smaller conference with now about 250 people maybe, but there’s even smaller conferences with a dozen or a few dozen people that can be very, very valuable.

Stephen: All right, okay. I reached the last question. How have you been able to maintain such a high level of motivation and discipline throughout your entire and impressive career, and how can young scholastic s avoid the feeling of being overwhelmed?

Prof. King: Well it’s more – it’s not being overwhelmed it’s more what it is you want to do, and why it is you would want to be in the field.

Stephen: Right.

Prof. King: I remember when I was a sophomore in college; my advisor had me doing some research for him. I working as a research assistant, like an apprentice, and I was literally copying numbers out of a book into columns, and then I’d type them into the computer. I would take these and I’d do some analyses on my own and at one point, I did a little analysis on my own, a little scatter-fly. I brought it to him and I said, “It looks like these two variables are related to each other. I think that might be interesting.” He said to me, “That’s really interesting. I didn’t know that,” and I was a sophomore in college and I thought, “You didn’t know that. How could you not know that?” He said, “Gary I don’t know that and nor does anyone else on the planet. In the history of the world no one ever knew this before.”

So it was some silly little thing that I came up with as a sophomore, but it’s not that hard to come up with an idea, and an empirical analysis that nobody in the history of the world has come up with before. Once you think about that, and once you do it, it’s like cocaine. Well I don’t know exactly what cocaine is like today, but it’s the way they describe it. It’s completely addictive.

Stephen: Right.

Prof. King: Once you do it, you just want to keep doing it. You just want to make those discoveries. You just want to be part of it and so you don’t need to worry about motivation if it’s something that you’re really interested in. So that’s, I think, the answer to your question.

Stephen: Okay, let’s wrap this up this up very fast, but still, a very substantial interview. First, Professor Gary King explained that it’s really important to come up with something very original and to learn the techniques. Yes, mathematical techniques, computer science techniques along the way as you need them. Second selection, Gary King shared with us what are in his opinion the most relevant journals to submit your original work to, and which are the most important conferences to attend in the field of political science, which is a very broad field. Stakes, Professor Gary King generously told us how he is maintaining such a high level of motivation and discipline throughout his distinguished career. Professor Gary King, thank you so much for contributing so much value to the Online School for Unconventional Academics. We learned so much, and we learned so many actionable steps, and I’m sure that many of our users will put your recommendations into good use. This interview was by far the fastest so far and as always, I’d like to end my interview with the following quote, “The best advice is worth nothing if it’s not put into practice.”

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Mentioned books, links and resources


Show Notes




Journals




Books by Prof. Gary King




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