Daniel W. Drezner

Diversifying academia

At Inside Higher Ed today, Scott Jaschik follows up on my FP colleague Marc Lynch’s excellent post regarding the expected influx of Iraq and Afghan veterans into Middle East Studies.  The obvious benefit of this migration of talent is the local knowledge about Iraq or Afghanistan that such veterans would bring to the table.  Thinking ...

At Inside Higher Ed today, Scott Jaschik follows up on my FP colleague Marc Lynch’s excellent post regarding the expected influx of Iraq and Afghan veterans into Middle East Studies. 

The obvious benefit of this migration of talent is the local knowledge about Iraq or Afghanistan that such veterans would bring to the table.  Thinking about academia more generally, however, there’s another massive benefit that’s overlooked. 

To put it bluntly, most top political scientists don’t have a lot of experience beyond being political scientists.  That is to say, the top Ph.D. students often enter graduate school straight from undergraduate programs.  They might have interesting summer internships, but otherwise have limited hands-on experience with politics or international relations. 

Now, this isn’t always a bad thing.  I’m guessing most patients would prefer a doctor who is single-mindedly focused on medicine rather than a doctor who has taken "time out" to travel the globe.  I know plenty of IR scholars who have produced outstanding work without, say, ever serving a day in government. 

The problem comes when everyone in a profession pursues the identical career track — to the point where those who deviate from the career track are thought of as strange or different.  At that point, the profession loses something ineffable. 

So, former members of the military should be ecouraged to enter Ph.D. programs — as should those who worked on the ground for NGOs and civil affairs branches of the government.  I can’t guarantee that it will lead to better scholarship.  At a minimum, however, it improves the quality of the teaching and the conversations that take place between colleagues.  And I’m pretty confident that that leads to better research.   

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