Work in progress

The course that I am teaching this summer session -- "Introduction to International Relations Research" -- has a special place in my teaching repertoire. It was the first course I got to design and execute by myself as a professional academic. Oh, I'd taught courses before that, but in the minor leagues, so to speak: I was in the farm system for both New York University and Columbia University, playing AAA ball as an adjunct instructor (at NYU) and a preceptor (at Columbia). In both cases I was supervised, to some extent, and partly constrained as to what I could teach by the need to gain the approval of some other faculty-member.

When I first came down here, I negotiated the opportunity to teach summer classes; otherwise I wouldn't have been paid until September, which would have made paying my mortgage somewhat difficult. They gave me two courses: "World Politics," for which I was mandated to use a textbook about which I had some serious reservations (and about which I still have serious reservations, but because I have tenure now I am simply not going to use it in the future -- what are they going to do, fire me? Well, they can't, because of a little thing called "academic freedom"), and "Introduction to International Relations Research." Since then I've taught this course more than any other; this is my eleventh time doing so.

My first real major-league game, so to speak: there were existing syllabi for the course, but I basically ripped them all up and went in a different direction. I remember sketching the initial course outline on a napkin one day at lunch with a fellow minor-leaguer at Columbia; we'd both just gotten called up to the majors for the fall, and both were faced with the prospect of teaching courses that we'd never taught. So I quickly drew a diagram contrasting different styles of social science research, and that was the foundation of the syllabus that I produced a few weeks later. The point of the course, then as now, was that there are a number of different approaches to producing valid empirical research in the social sciences; I wanted a course that would introduce students to several of them, and drive home the point about methodological diversity. Not a bad debut in the majors, I thought.

206 is an odd course for me because -- to continue with the somewhat strained baseball metaphor that I like to use when thinking about these things -- as a player-manager [academia is like old-fashioned baseball in that players can manage, something that you never see any more except in odd circumstances such as the day when Joe Torre handed Roger Clemens the line-up card and let him manage the Yankees game during what was supposed to be his last professional season a couple of years ago] I pencilled myself into the line-up as both a pitcher and a hitter. Pitcher: I would lecture sometimes, both because there was no single source that could cover all of these methodologies adequately and because I wanted to communicate a series of points myself. Hitter: we'd also have workshops in which my role was to critique, to question, to raise possible objections and thus to help people improve their projects by giving them something to react to. And sometimes we might even have full-blown discussions. Most of my courses, then as now, had purer hitting roles for me, so this was something of a change. It remains so, because I still don't do a lot of pitching in the classroom if I can help it.

I've taught the course eleven times, but it's never been quite the same course. This year is the biggest change in a while, both because I've completely gone to assigning articles (no books at all -- no books to purchase) and because I've moved some material around so that what used to be a three-part division between statistical, interpretive, and relational research is now a four-part division along two philosophical axes (monism vs. dualism, and descriptive vs. causal). It means that I have to remake a lot of slide presentations, but I think that the new arrangement works well. I doubt it will be the last arrangement, but for the moment it's the best one I can think of and the one that seems to make the most sense. But check with me in a decade and I'll bet that I'm still tinkering with it -- that's the nature of the game, after all.



After three-and-a-half weeks on the DL with a horrible sinus infection (bad enough that they had to put me on Cipro -- yes, that Cipro -- in order to knock it out), I finally started running again this week. [And I finally finished a number of tasks lingering from the Spring semester…I've been really out of it for most of May.] It's amazing how quickly one loses lung capacity and endurance when not regularly working out -- I ran route 2 this morning, which is a longer course than my route 1, and where I can normally run the whole thing in about an hour with one stretch-break in the middle, today I had to add in a walking break and also cut the end of the course short in order to get home in a reasonable length of time (other things besides running to do today, after all).

So today I was slower and weaker. Fun. It was good to get back to morning runs, but a little disheartening to experience that kind of decline.

While running today I once again ran into Cowboy X. That's my name for him, after the famous cartoon sketch that used to run on Sesame Street quite a bit; I don;t know his name for himself, since all we ever do is to exchange waves and the occasional "hey" or "good morning." Cowboy X is this extremely tall, muscled guy who is constantly in motion around the neighborhood, during warm or moderately warm weather wearing nothing but sneakers, a pair of shorts, and a cowboy hat; in the winter I see him in sweatpants, a sweatshirt, and still the cowboy hat. This is obviously a guy who Works Out in the serious sense, although I only ever see him walking briskly -- never running, never even jogging. Anyway, very fit gentleman, always in motion, and our schedules seem to overlap quite often so I see him sometime during my morning run.

I bring up Cowboy X because I always have the same three-part reaction when I see him: 1) wow, he's in shape, wish I were that in shape; 2) wonder how often he has to work out to get and keep himself in that kind of shape; 3) wonder if it would be worth it to spend that kind of time and effort, and in particular wonder whether it would be worth it for me to spend that kind of time and effort. And I go through those same three thoughts basically every time I run into him.

I am becoming increasingly aware of the fact that there simply isn't enough time to do everything. Trivial insight, but it's a cliche for a reason -- because it captures something of a widely-shared experience. Cowboy X reminds me of a path not taken, a counterfactual course where i am more of an athlete but, perhaps, less of an academic [and I have no idea what Cowboy X's day job is -- for all I know he's a Secret Service clone trooper agent who spends his time protecting the Emperor and other Imperial officials, but then again, maybe he's a professor of literature someplace]. And encountering him always, always makes me ponder once again whether the course that I am running is the course that I want to be running.

Of course, about five minutes later I'm rather tired, and my thoughts generally turn to my breathing, my legs, the music or podcasts I'm listening to, or something else. Still, a little morning reflexive introspection is a healthy thing -- thanks, Cowboy X.



It's the end of the semester so pretty much by definition the academic part of the blogosphere falls silent until everyone's grading is done. But in the past week or two I have officially received two awards, and I thought I'd share:

1) "Teaching with Technology Award Recipient. For his creative and innovative use of technology in the classroom, Patrick Thaddeus Jackson is this year’s recipient of the Teaching with Technology Award. Professor Jackson incorporates new technology into nearly every contact he has with students. His primary purpose in using these methods is to enhance student-teacher interaction and to encourage greater student empowerment and control in their own educations. Professor Jackson will be honored at a luncheon in the fall. He will also demonstrate his applications of technology in the classroom during the Center for Teaching Excellence’s annual technology workshops this August. Congratulations, Professor Jackson. "


2) TENURE. The big one. I am now an Associate Professor (scary) and get to work on whatever I want to without fear of being dismissed (even scarier -- although for whom remains a matter of some controversy :-) I do have a couple of post-tenure projects cooking; more on those and why they are post-tenure projects in a subsequent post.

After the &^*%$ grading is done.