Book Review: Children's Books for Ramadan

I give frequent lectures to the general public about Islam and politics. One question that is often asked is for additional resources. In this post I discuss two children's books that could be used to teach children about the Islamic month of fasting.

Ramadan Moon, by Na'ima B Robert and illustrated by Shirin Adl

This beautiful book presents a positive, devotional portrait of the holy month of Ramadan, the "great Month of Mercy," by following the phases of the moon. In this work, the main characters look forward to the holy month, enjoy it, and long for its return. This is a welcome change from the narrative that Muslims "survive" or "endure" the fast.

The book also presents the holy month as more than one of just fasting. Rather, Ramdan is portrayed as a time when Muslims seek to embrace their faith in every aspect of their lives, by giving to charity, acting with patience toward others and resist behavioral patterns like anger.

Most importantly, the book is BEAUTIFUL. The illustrations, especially pages 5-6, are stunning. Muslims are presented as diverse. In an age where Islam is so often presented in a negative light, people of all ages will benefit from reflecting on the Islamic esthetic tradition.

This book is ideal for parents introducing the subject of fasting to their own children, whether Muslim or not.

It's Ramadan, Curious George, by Hena Khan and illustrated by Mary O'Keefe Young

Curious George turns out to be a wonderful character from whom to learn about Ramadan. In the book, he shows solidarity with his friend Kareem by entertaining him during the day of his first fast, and then by partaking in the feast at the end of the month. George does not fast, however.  Nor is the focus exclusively on fasting. Like Ramadan Moon, the book emphasizes charity as an essential practice during the holy month. The book is ideal for parents wanting to teach their children about how to support their Muslim friends who are fasting or for Muslim parents who want to encourage their children to involve their non-Muslim friends in some of the month's activities.

 

Book Review: Emma Sky's The Unraveling

Emma Sky's new book The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq solves a number of problems for professors trying to teach about the War on Terror to undergraduates.

1. Female voice: It is difficult to find book-length female analyses for teaching the War on Terror (Lisa Stampnitzky's Disciplining Terror excepted - see my review here). Sky does not write as an omniscient narrator. Rather, her memoir explicitly addresses how being a woman in a war zone shaped her experiences, including the often very funny jokes that others made at her expense (or she made at theirs). Students will appreciate the candor and frequent use of dialogue and all students regardless of gender will benefit from learning about the war from an extremely intelligent observer and participant.

2. Positive portrayal of the military: Too often, writing about the Iraq war conflates disdain for the policy with disdain for those soldiers who participated. Sky, though initially very critical of the US military, is nuanced and ultimately praiseworthy of the soldiers she worked alongside in Iraq. This is important for undergraduate classrooms because many veterans seek out classes on Middle East politics in order to understand their experiences, but end up alienated by the negative tone taken by their professors.

3. Brief and cogent syntheses of complicated developments: Writing on the Iraq war tends to oscillate between oversimplification and a deluge of information. Sky frequently summarizes extremely complicated situations in a matter of paragraphs, boiling down the most important information without veering into inaccurate or simplistic renderings. As a result, the book could easily be paired with more complicated readings. Students should be encouraged to read the relevant portion of the Sky text first, so that they can use it as a reference, particularly if another reading is very detailed or poorly written.

4. Breadth of Coverage/Capturing Evolution: The book is divided into four parts: Direct Rule (June 2003-June 2004), Surge (January - December 2007), Drawdown (May 2008-September 2010) and Aftermath (January 2012-July 2014). Viewed from this ten year span, Sky is able to comment on the significant changes that took place in the Iraqi context and coalition strategy, a welcome reprieve from the narrative that the War in Iraq was an unmitigated failure. Rather, Sky presents how many small successes still did not ultimately add up to a stable or democratic Iraq.

5. Primacy of Politics: Finally, political science faculty will welcome the (implicit) conclusion of the book - that military strategy cannot compensate for political processes and strong democratic institutions and processes.

Faculty considering the memoir should be forewarned that the book is very long-- 363 pages of text, though individual chapters are often brief.

Overall, though, I highly recommend the text for use in undergraduate classrooms.

Post on the Monkey Cage Blog

Don't miss my post on the Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog about the need for narrow definitions of terrorism. The piece previews my new book coming out in fall 2017!!

Here's an excerpt:

"As Andrew March recently described, the United States has already taken steps to interpret counterterror legislation and other statutes in a way that allows for wide applicability. Examples from the Middle East and North Africa demonstrate the risks of such an approach, particularly to journalists and members of the political opposition. The focus on whether or not to call it “radical Islamic terrorism” obfuscates the more critical issue of how to define terrorism and terrorists. In light of these examples, a narrow definition of terrorism would be a truly bold approach to counterterrorism."

Arabic language resources: The BBC Xtra Podcast

When I was an undergraduate, my French teacher Zoe Petropoulou pushed me to listen to 15 minutes of radio in French every day. She said that just by listening to the sounds of French, even passively while doing something else, my language skills would improve.

When I became an Arabic student, it was several years before I stumbled upon the BBC Xtra Podcast, but when I did, I applied the lesson I learned in French and began listening to the podcast regularly. Usually, I download it to my phone and listen to it when I am walking or driving somewhere. It is the easiest way to practice listening to Arabic every day.

Rules for a Successful Research Leave: Create Artificial Structure

One of the most important choices that I have made during my research leave was to create artificial structure in what was otherwise an open canvas of time. I call it artificial because I do not technically have to be anywhere at any particular time. Because I am completing my research leave in a different city than where I live and teach full-time, I have literally no commitments here besides to my writing, and my relationships. In order to create structure in my day, I instituted a strict 8:30am "leave the house" rule which I have kept nearly every working day of my leave.

Many people may not need to leave the house in order to write, but I have found that it is easy for the day to never officially "start" when I stay home. For others, it may just make sense to institute a start time that one attempts to meet each day, even if one works at home.

Reasons why I find it useful to LEAVE THE HOUSE first thing in the morning:

1. I write when my mind is the freshest and has done the fewest other tasks.

2. I prioritize the writing by doing it first; it does not get crowded out by other activities.

3. The deadline has implications for many other activities. With my self-inflicted start time, I know by when I must get up, take a shower, get ready, eat breakfast and leave. This also protects me from the "I never got out of my pajamas" syndrome that so many suffer from during one's leave. Does one write the same in a button down shirt that one writes in pajamas? I don't know, but just in case, I chose the former.

4. I remove distractions. I have two cats, both of which desire constant attention. When I leave the house, I avoid any wasted time from playing with them. My partner and I do have a set time when we play with them every day though. By setting a specific time, I do not feel guilty at other times when I have to tell them that they need to occupy themselves.

5. The deadline is an arbitrary measure of success. Sometimes, the writing does not go well, but if I have left the house at 8:30, I can still claim that I had a minor success that day. This may sound silly to someone who is not on leave, but I find it to be true. If you have only one goal, and you struggle to meet it, you may want something else (anything else!) to be proud of as you struggle through the writing.

Where do you go?

I chose to do my writing at a local coffee shop. I did not chose the shop with the best coffee, I chose the one with the best combination of location and working environment (and rewards program!). I have found a stool that faces a wall (again, limit distractions) near a plug that I sit in virtually every day. The space has different energetic properties for me. When I arrive to my writing spot I do not face the same kinds of online distractions that I face at home because I have trained myself that that stool is where I work on the book. After I get my drink, I sit down and immediately begin working - no email, no Twitter, no anything else. I tend to stay for between two and three hours.

(Etiquette alert: My rule is to buy a coffee at least every 90 minutes, though I end up getting one every hour or so. With the reduced price of refills, this is not as expensive as it may sound. But even if it was, my book would still be worth it, and so is yours).

Intimidation of Moroccan activist (and longtime friend) Maâti Monjib

Today while sorting through my Google News alerts, neglected over Columbus Day weekend, I came across a concerning story published in the New York Times. The article details the continued repression of Moroccan journalists that is well documented elsewhere. In particular, it highlighted the plight of my longtime friend Maâti Monjib (bio here), who is currently 'wanted for undermining state security.' This situation builds on increased harassment of Monjib and other human rights groups as reported in November of last year.

I wrote to Monjib to find out more details of the situation. He responded today at 12:50pm EST, "Thank you Ann Marie I'm on my eighth day of hunger strike...to protest against the travel ban..and the defamation campain lead by the intelligence agencies against me...My life has become hellish...Please disseminate the information, there is facebook page and an international committee to support me incmuding Abdellah Hammoudi (Princeton) and Naom Chomsky..."

I have since located this statement of solidarity, and petition in support of Maâti. Please make his situation and the general closing of political space in Morocco known.

Monjib and I many moons ago, in 2008, on a trip to visit his mother.

Monjib and I many moons ago, in 2008, on a trip to visit his mother.

Review of Language Schools in Morocco

Today I received an email asking me which school I prefer in Morocco: Qalam wa Lawh or ALIF. As I receive many questions about language schools, I've decided to publish my response here. The student is coming from a security studies background, so the response is in some ways tailored to him.

***

It’s nice to hear from you. I’m glad that you found the blog insightful. You are writing at a good time, because I am currently a student at Qalam wa Lawh so my thoughts on the two schools are fresh!

First, I’ll say that either school will meet your needs. I have studied at ALIF four or five times, and at Qalam just this past summer. In general, Qalam is better at administration, answering emails quickly and thinking of small useful things (like a shuttle from student residences to the school), while ALIF has more experienced language instructors and a longer pedigree of working with American students. Qalam has some fun programming elements that are included in the hours of classes, so some of your time will be spent in journalism club, Islamic club, etc. This has pros and cons. Sometimes it allows for learning  interesting vocabulary and sometimes it is a waste of time as speakers are late or you are stuck listening to a student with less language experience than you struggle to make a comment.  

Additionally, ALIF gives classes two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon. The break tends to make each class more well-organized, in my opinion. At Qalam, all four hours are right in a row and teachers and students fatigue. I find that at Qalam we frequently spend more time on activities than we need to, in part trying to fill the time. Add to that that the teachers are a bit better at ALIF, and I think the quality of instruction there is better. Nevertheless, Qalam has some unique elements that make it a fun place to study. There are lectures from guest speakers given in Modern Standard Arabic, and field trips and tours given also in MSA. ALIF also has speakers and field trips, but they are less consistent in the use of MSA in these extracurriculars.

Despite the differences in these schools, in my opinion the most important thing to do to assure a successful time here in Morocco is not to pick a particular school but to start with six weeks of Moroccan Colloquial Arabic, darija, before you continue your studies of Fusha or Modern Standard Arabic. Dialect is indispensable and necessary for all of your interactions throughout the year. Then you can continue with either language as your needs determine.

Second, I’d say that since both schools offer excellent quality instruction, you may want to pick your location based on your research interests. In this regard, it may make sense to spend your first six weeks in Fez studying MCA at ALIF, and then the rest of your time in Rabat at Qalam where you will be closer to government offices and be better situated to work on your research.

I’d also recommend that during the first six weeks you live with a host family in the old city of Fez, and that you request to have a host family that knows no French or Fusha, to force you to learn as much colloquial as possible. Then, when you move to Rabat, I recommend that you either stay in one of the student residences offered by Qalam in Agdal or that you rent your own apartment. It is wonderful living with a family, but it does distract from research, and gives your days a degree of unpredictability that could harm your productivity. This is why I recommend an intensive period of interaction in your first six weeks living with a family, and then a more controlled environment once you come to Rabat.

These are my general thoughts. Let me know if you find this approach useful. I am happy to answer any other questions that you have. Just let me know what they are.

Cordially,
Ann

Graduation advice: be willing to fail

In the last 24 hours, I have had three reminders that we are in graduation season. The first was an email from an old friend of mine, who has just finished a masters degree. We knew each other years ago. She found my blog through Facebook and found herself wandering around my website, reading my CV and seeing where life had taken me. She wrote to me about how she felt like she had gotten a bit disconnected from her own interests, and her passions, and how seeing what I have done with my life reminded her of them and inspired her to get back to the basics.

It was a kind gesture of her to share these thoughts with me. I struggle with knowing whether or not to publicize my rather bizarre but certainly busy life. I know I have a number of privileges. I've made some good decisions, but I've also benefited from certain structural opportunities and in some cases been just down right blessed. I sometimes worry that sharing my experiences with other people could be alienating or frustrating to some who don't have the opportunities that I have. Her email suggested the opposite, that being more open with others about my own life can assist rather than discourage. This was an encouragement to me.

The second reminder was an op-ed in the NYT this morning, the graduation speech that a former professor would give if given the chance. He had four pieces of advice: 1. "Earn Everything" 2. "Don't be a 'city doll" or in other words, don't be jealous of those who can ignore step one and land a sweet gig right after graduation, 3. Actively attempt to help the poor, and 4. "Think for yourself."

Many people feel they are situated to give advice to college graduates, but few offer something new. Although these points aren't all that radical, they struck me as unusual and well-timed graduation advice. Who is not jealous of the friend who lands a sweet job right out of school, and begins earning huge sums of money to do relatively meaningless work? It is appealing at some level to have work that stays in the office, and lots of money to play with after hours, and real weekends and evenings where you are not always working. Nevertheless, now that I have, in a sense, "arrived" at the job I have been headed towards for a decade, I can say with honesty that I'm glad I had no money in my twenties, that I traveled and consumed huge amounts of information and that I did not find myself in my first real job until the age of twenty-nine. Now I have a job that sends me to Morocco for my summers, and allows me to counsel students in a critical moment of decision making, and pursue my intellectual interests. In sum, I'm starting to be far enough from graduate school poverty to feel like it was a good decision.

This position seems confirmed by a third article from VOX "How Wall Street recruits so many insecure Ivy League grads." The article looks at a variation of the city doll, the investment banker who has come out of an Ivy League school. The article is an interview between Ezra Klein and Kevin Roose, the author of a new book about investment bankers. Roose suggests that people who take jobs as investment bankers are people who fear taking risks and want economic stability above all else. Becoming investment bankers for a few years allows them to postpone making the difficult decisions about what to do next.

(The article also talks about people for whom investment banking is a good thing: those who have a reason to be there, or those who just love the industry. I'm interested more in the people who go for reasons to avoid risk. The article argues that the industry can really destroy these people by eliminating their ability to think creatively).

Back to the idea that some people become bankers to postpone difficult decisions, though. This argument interested me a lot because I am frequently concerned that undergraduates go to graduate school (or law school) for exactly this same reason: they want to delay making a decision about what next. They want someone to hand them a checklist that says what the next step is (study for the GRE, take the LSAT). They are afraid to fail. What the NYT op-ed was saying though, was exactly that. Go and fail! Try a few different things. You will be a much better human being, and long term you may even be more likely to be successful because of what you learn through failure.

Putting these three things together, I'd say that it can really feel like you are headed in the wrong direction when you are in the midst of failure. I considered leaving graduate school on multiple occasions. Many of you know the many other life paths that I have considered. So I guess I'd say, in conclusion, if you are very concerned that you have taken a risk that didn't pay off, you may be in a better position than you thought you were. And if you have taken the easy way out, avoiding making adult decisions while seeking the privileges of adulthood, you may find that you are very unhappy. Both are difficult roads, but the light seems brighter at the end of the first tunnel. I'm glad that I took the path of risk.

 

Morocco Day 2: Reflections + a funny story

Most things are familiar.

  • The Nass al Ghiwane playing "Fein ghadi biya khoya" on the radio. The song translates to "Where are you taking us brother?" It was a protest song in the 1970s, questioning the direction then king Hassan II was taking the country.
  • The lengthy greetings. "Peace be upon you." "And upon you peace." "How are you?" "I'm fine, praise Allah. And you?" "I'm fine, praise Allah." "And your family, how are they?" "They're fine, praise Allah. And yours?" It goes on.
  • The spread of the muezzin's call to prayer from the central mosque to outlying mosques.

Some things are new:

  • The development on the other side of the Bouregreg river. The modern buildings look like they might be luxury housing units.
  • The price of Telquel is now 20 dirhams. A big price increase from only three years ago.
  • Having two little Moroccan brothers. One is two years old, and cute as a button and mischievous as hell. The other is seven and shy, and very involved with watching cartoons on tv. (Something else new, Cartoon Network "Arabiyya")
  • The Qalam wa Lawh language school is really lovely, and chock full of students. The staff is gracious and kind, and everyone speaks Fusha all the time.
  • Wifi is everywhere! OMG wifi in my house!

I met my host family today. Said, the father of the family, picked me up from the language school. In the car, I asked what he did. He said, "I work for the Ministry of the Interior." The Ministry of the Interior is the government agency that monitors the activities of citizens (and foreigners). I asked him what he did for the Ministry. "I'm in the accountability office," he said in stumbling English. It's a good thing I was sitting down or I might have fallen over laughing. How is it that an agency know for the torture and disappearance of Moroccan citizens has an accountability office! Do they have an obudsmen too? It was just too much.

Later that day, I asked Said how to say accountability in Arabic. Then I asked him where the root of the word came from. "Ha Sa Ba, to count," he explained. "Oh, so you're an accountant?" I asked. "Yes. Numbers all day," he replied.

A recap. Said, eager to practice his English, said "accountability" when what he meant was "accounting." In the context of the Ministry of the Interior, the faux pas was magnified. Just to be clear, there is no accountability office in the Ministry of the Interior. At least not yet ;)

Study Skills: Focus

Today, the Diane Rehm Show featured the work of Daniel Goleman. His latest book is titled "Focus." On the show, Goleman discussed the parts of the brain that allow for focus, and how they can be trained to function better.

Undergraduate students are faced with much higher workloads than ever before, at the same time that they have access to a myriad of distractions. Goleman's work offers strategies for using your time wisely, for getting "into the zone" faster. These strategies include a daily meditation practice (even as little as 15 minutes a day!) and the development of a "creative cocoon." By setting aside a part of your day as sacred and dedicated to your most important projects, where you will not check email nor answer the phone, one can achieve higher levels of focus and production over the course of a year. 

Can we meet?

I'm getting a lot of questions from UF students wanting to meet to make plans about the future.  I accepted a position at St. Louis University so I no longer live in Gainesville. I can, however, talk to you by phone. My office hours this year are:

M 1-2pm
MW 11-11:50am

My phone number is 314-977-3006. Please feel free to call with your questions. Leave a message if I don't answer. I also am responding to emails at the old address or the new one: wainscottam@slu.edu.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you!


 

Should I Apply to Graduate School?

I get a lot of questions about the when/how/why of applying to Graduate School.  Here are some preliminary thoughts:

1. Why do you want to go to graduate school? 

Take some time to think about this question. If the answer is "I don't know what else to do," "I have no marketable skills," or "I want someone to give me step by step instructions on what to do each step of the way" then I think you should reconsider. The first answer implies a lack of self-knowledge which is completely natural at the age most people are graduating from college. I'd recommend joining the Peace Corps or entering the job market first. Students who go directly to graduate school from their BAs (as I did) frequently flounder as they try to determine their interests. Plus, having "real world experience" to supplement the theories that graduate school focuses on improves one's own experience and makes a contribution to the classroom. 

The second answer, "I have no marketable skills" is similar to the first. In most cases, you do not need to add more content/experiences/education, you need to learn to market yourself. Spend some time crafting a resume and an online personality. Build a website. Brand thyself. If you need help learning how to talk about yourself, I suggest using the book The Perfect Interview.  It contains a number of exercises to learn how to speak about yourself, and to market your unique skills and experiences.

The third answer, "I want someone to give me step by step instructions" is a natural response to the many choices that young people face. Students have very few choices in high school on what classes to take. Their choices expand somewhat at the undergraduate level, but they are still given a rubric by the college of requirements. After the BA, students are frequently overwhelmed by the options they face. This is natural, and not at all a sign that one needs to go to graduate school. One needs to develop preferences, and this is better done by following the advice given above: get a job, join the Peace Corps or Americorps, read the newspaper. When you start getting really angry about something, that will probably illuminate your future.


2. What skills do you want to develop in graduate school? How will you market them? 

If you've decided that you need to develop a skill or knowledge base in order to pursue your career goals, then it makes sense to go to graduate school. This is particularly true when you want to perfect language skills or develop a skill such as statistical analysis, GIS, or develop analytical writing skills. The real issue, similar to the above suggestions, is that you have to be able to demonstrate these skills (or market them) upon graduation.  This requires products. You need evidence.  How will you demonstrate that you have acquired these skills? Begin thinking about this process as you apply for graduate school. It should guide your choice of institution and program. 

 

3. When should I go to graduate school?

Suppose you've chosen that you want to develop Arabic language skills. Then there are obvious institutions that would be ideal to attend. One must be honest with oneself in assessing whether or not one is going to be competitive in the admissions process for these top institutions. If not, then STOP APPLYING FOR GRADUATE SCHOOL and start seeking out opportunities that will make one's application more competitive. THERE IS NO RUSH TO GO TO GRADUATE SCHOOL. The worst choice you could make is to go into debt pursuing a degree you're not sure you even want or need simply because you didn't do your homework. SLOW DOWN, think about what you want, and think about how you are going to get there. Most students would benefit from getting a job, studying language abroad, or doing a fellowship of some sort BEFORE applying so that their application will be more competitive. 

4. How do I write a Statement of Interest?

I have never been on a graduate admissions committee, so I am not qualified to answer this question. However, after ten years of higher education, this is my sense: your statement of interest needs to communicate how the graduate program will get you what you want at the same time that you communicate to the graduate school that IT WILL GET WHAT IT WANTS. What are you bringing to the table? How will you make them look good? Did you get outside funding? Have you had past fellowships that look prestigious? Do you bring interesting work experience to the table? If you cannot write this essay, then think about the sorts of things that you wish you could write in it, and then go out and do them! Get a job! Live abroad! Become deeply involved with a charity that is doing meaningful work! 

Disclaimer: This post may make it seem that I am hostile to graduate school.  I am not. But I do think some people use graduate school to postpone decisions that they really just need to make. Being an adult means making choices, often in situations of imperfect information. Its ok to change one's mind later, but in the moment, I think the best thing that someone applying for graduate school can do is MAKE SOME DECISIONS. Who are you? What do you want? What can you offer a graduate program? What can it offer you? Until you know the answers to these questions, you haven't done your homework. Stop comparing yourself with your neighbors and start doing some honest self assessment.

Grants for PhD Candidates

A friend of mine, we'll call her "C", asked my opinion of the grants that she should apply for over the next few years. She's beginning a PhD program this fall. Since this is pretty broad information, I decided to post my advice.

First, read this guidance on writing grant applications:

Second, find out what grants are available through your: 

  • Department
  • College
  • University

In some cases, you will be competing with fewer applicants to these grants then to those open to graduate students (and in some cases faculty) from every university in America.  Be sure to find out if there is an institution at your university that does matching grants! Do not assume that you will hear about this. YOU MUST ASK!

Third, speak with a few faculty ahead of time and ask if they would be willing to look at a few drafts of your proposals. 

With that being said, here is a partial list of some of the grants out there for political scientists: 

Pre-Dissertation Grants  (Apply for these once you know the general topic for the dissertation. I recommend the research be done during the summer of your first or second year, depending on your exam/study schedule, so you would apply during the fall of your first or second year).

Dissertation Grants  (Apply for most of these during the fall of the year prior to which you would like to do research)

Writing Grants  (Apply for these the Fall that you will be in the field)

Early Career Grants  (Apply for these according to the rules of the individual grant)

Today in the Times... The Community Model

An article in today's NYT highlighted the Community Model of education currently embraced by some schools in Cincinnati, Ohio. The model, based on the idea of the local school as a "community learning center" where all people from the community can come to learn about finances, health or other issues, is a stark contrast to the national model that revolves around standardized testing. The model is in place at 34 of the city's 55 public schools.

While the model has invigorated teachers and brought a host of new volunteers to city schools, the NYT reports that  student academic performance is still low compared to the state average, as measured by standardized testing. Nevertheless, the scores it is achieving are a marked improvement from past years.

It is refreshing to learn that there is a model for elementary education that takes into account students physical and emotional needs. It's too bad others are still judging it by its test scores. 

 

Recently in the Times: the social sciences

Yesterday, Savage Minds Backup  (SMB) posted an excellent response to Nicholas Cristakis's recent op-ed in the NYT on the need to "shake up"  the social sciences. In it, he countered Cristakis's argument that we need less of the traditional social sciences and more cross-disciplinary work with the argument that in fact we need more, much more,  of the traditional social sciences. SMB marshaled some horrifying stats on the funding of the social sciences. We all knew they were low, but we didn't know they were that   low.

SMB uses the NSF as an example case. Of the organization's 5.5 billion USD to spend on research, the social sciences and behavioral sciences split  242 million USD, or four percent. Of that, the social sciences receive just 92 million USD (less than 2 percent of the NSFs budget). SMB concludes that for more innovative social science, we need much more funding. Beyond that, he barely mentioned that the discipline of Political Science has been deemed "not a science" by Congress and therefore no longer can receive NSF funds (95 percent of the discipline's federal funds).

SMB's point is well taken, and the lack of funding is certainly the greatest challenge facing the social sciences in the twenty-first century. But there are aspects not considered by Cristakis why individual social scientists may not want to risk inter-disciplinary work, as he suggests. I would ask him the following questions,

1. Are the natural sciences under attack from their own universities? A huge number of social science positions have been transitioned to adjunct, assuming that their only duty is to teach students, not do research. 

A 2007 article from the NYT reported: "Three decades ago, adjuncts — both part-timers and full-timers not on a tenure track — represented only 43 percent of professors, according to the professors association, which has studied data reported to the federal Education Department. Currently, the association says, they account for nearly 70 percent of professors at colleges and universities, both public and private. " Today, post financial crisis, the numbers are surely higher.

Scholars who are not neatly situated in their discipline risk losing their positions to adjuncts. 

2. Are there more opportunities for natural scientists who cross disciplinary boundaries? Certainly it is the opposite for social scientists. Despite the lip service to inter-disciplinary work, those scholars who do it will struggle to find venues to publish, and will therefore struggle in their tenure and promotion processes.

3. Are the teaching loads similar for social and natural scientists? I'd like to meet a biologist who does research at the same time as teaching a 4-4 course load with no TAs. Most natural science courses at universities at the undergraduate level are massive affairs, stocked with TAs and multiple choice exams. The professor need only show up and give a lecture he has given many times before and manage his TAs. He probably never grades a page in his life. I'm sure working with graduate students is more hands on, but still, it highlights the very different daily responsibilities that detract from work beyond just the course load.  

There are other questions to ask, but a blog post is not the place to do it. SMB's main conclusion, that Cristakis really doesn't know the history of social science nor understand the current conditions is certainly evident, but what does that say about social science's efforts at PR for themselves? We have to find a way to make our contributions and challenges  better understood by others both inside and outside of the academy or the situation will certainly not improve.

Undergraduate Education and the Prestige Economy

This article from Policymic discusses the relationship between the recent ruling on internships in a federal court and the "prestige economy." The article highlights a set of tweets that summarize the issue written by Sarah Kendzior, a popular writer at al-Jazeera English.

One tweet in particular "Tell young people they have no skills" highlights an issue that I deal with frequently among undergraduate students. Kendzior suggests that students are taught that they have no skills and that they need fancy unpaid internships as evidence that they have skills. I remember feeling this way, and it is one of the reasons that I chose to do a PhD instead of joining the Peace Corps. It felt like I did not have tangible skills to offer and that doing a PhD would be developing a set of research skills that would be marketable.

The students I work with frequently have a similar mindset. They suggest to me they have no skills when really what they have is NO TANGIBLE EVIDENCE OF THEIR SKILLS. There is a significant difference between not having skills and not being able to prove  to someone that you have skills. Of course, grades and research papers are evidence of skills, but if students would just take one step beyond doing the bare minimum, they would have much more to market.

Faculty and mentors need to encourage students to have TANGIBLE EVIDENCE OF THEIR SKILLS . There are a host of undergraduate journals, newspapers, and lower level policy journals that would accept contributions from undergraduate students. Many students are waiting for someone to confirm legitimacy on them.  This is why I take every possible opportunity to say to my top students "you should publish this" and to help them find outlets to do so. At the end of the day, however, students need to take more initiative and get things out there. Over the next year I'll be compiling a list of places for students to publish their work. Let me know any that I'm missing.