In my opinion, teaching students requires an ability to impart knowledge in a clear and concise manner, but also to make the information accessible and interesting. A myriad of scholarly theories, studies and findings must be structured in a way that is comprehensible and meaningful. In the social sciences, it also requires that scholarship be presented and interpreted against a backdrop of developments that are relevant to students and to the society of which they are a part. Students should be made to understand the logical structure of the knowledge they are asked to master, and they also should understand the bridges that link the theoretical and practical worlds.
Comparative politics lends itself well to my instructional philosophy. Making research and theories “relevant” in terms of political events and their social ramifications keeps students interested and engaged. Teaching proceeds on two connected tracks: (1) students learn in depth how and why other countries’ political systems function as they do, expanding their ability to function as global citizens, and, (2) they are exposed to the methods and standards of professional scholarship in a way that is meaningful and accessible.
Outside the classroom, students are inundated with instant information, ranging from television sounds bites to up-to-the-minute internet news; they are bombarded with a cacophony of international news broadcasts. I believe my job is to give them the intellectual tools with which to sift through this relatively unstructured morass of international information: to think their way toward interpretations that are intelligent and informed. In short, I am teaching students to be connoisseurs of information. My aim is to educate students to how to grasp and interpret comparative politics in an increasingly interdependent world. What I want students to take away from my class are developed analytical tools and a critical appreciation of politics and society.
Not every student goes on to graduate school to become a political scientist or Asian scholar. Most students have a wide variety of goals and professional interests. As a professor, it is important to support student’s international interests and endeavors, regardless of the specific professional or personal uses to which they may be applied. Since I have been at the University of Kansas, I have been approached by a multitude of students regarding questions about study abroad, international careers and graduate school. I have held extensive office hours to address student questions, write letters of recommendation, and proofread applications to study abroad programs, international internships and graduate schools. An instructor must show sincere interest in a student’s performance in class, as well as a concern and involvement in the student’s academic development in general.
I believe advising means helping undergraduates students identify their interests and goals, and providing them with the individual guidance to achieve their goals. I teach classes on politics in the developing world and China. Therefore, I have a large number of students who come to me to seek advice about comparative politics as a field, graduate schools and international careers. Some students have clear goals in mind, but they are unsure how to move forward, while others have no general plan, but they are looking for opportunities to gain academic or professional experience. I feel it is my responsibility to help students make informed choices, and to assist them as they navigate through the information on international internships and graduate programs. I assist students in three ways. First is to help students identify their passion and interests so they can create meaningful career path. Second is to help students to develop short-term plans that can be achieved within a few years or months (i.e. life management skills). Third is to provide concrete information and help the student find the right graduate school or internship. For me, this means providing lists of respectable and relatively safe international internships and advice on particular graduate programs. This also means taking the time to read statements of purpose write letters of recommendation and make phone calls when necessary to help students achieve their career goals.
Graduate Advising and Mentoring
Graduates students are potential colleagues, and I believe that it is important to mentor students in the areas of research and teaching. I also mentor my Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs). Most of GTAs I work with are planning to teach in the future. Beyond grading and managing discussion sections, I believe it is important to provide direction and advice on how to run an undergraduate class, prepare for lecture and encourage students. In my graduate courses, the intellectual goal for research that I set for masters and doctoral students is the ability to articulate, verbally and in writing, positions on different theories and approaches to comparative politics.
The practical matters I emphasize relate to academic socialization and the development of skills and abilities to conduct original research. Many graduate students in my field need to collect data and conduct fieldwork in other countries especially developing nations. I advise and help students through the five stage process. First, I work with students to apply for research funding. Second, I counsel students on how to deal with general and specific problems they typically will run into when conducting fieldwork especially in non-democracies. Third, I provide direction on how to develop long-term collaborative relationships during their fieldwork overseas. Graduate students, who travel overseas, need to be reminded that their academic skills and education are highly valued outside (as well as inside) Denmark. Sharing research approaches and theories with colleagues in their host country can help establish relations that will last far beyond their graduate careers. Fourth, I work closely with students when they return, so we can organize the data into a cohesive outline and thesis. Finally, I encourage my students (both graduate and undergraduate honors thesis) to attend conferences and submit their papers to journals for publication.