With an intellectually vibrant annual conference, an increasing number of regional conferences around the globe, access to top-tiered academic journals, and growing intellectual networks, ICA has much to offer its members. However, supporting members is not one-size-fits-all, particularly as younger scholars attempt to navigate potential professional paths.
The diversity of needs and interests was quite evident earlier this month during the Political Communication Division’s weeklong summer-school program. Held every two years at the U of Milan and organized by Gianpietro Mazzoleni, Mauro Barisione, Luigi Curini, and Marco Maraffi, as well as immediate-past Division Chair Peter Van Aelst (U of Antwerp), the program is competitive and open to doctoral students from all over the world. This year, the two dozen students hailed from as near as Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and Turkey, to as far away as Australia, China, India, and Argentina. While doctoral students in a given subdiscipline naturally differ in their topics of study and methodological expertise, it became very apparent early on that many other differences exist and that students are shaped by a host of individual and institutional considerations. Consider a few of the key issues raised throughout the week:
How important is publishing during one’s doctoral program?
Many doctoral students view publications during graduate school as the figurative icing on the cake: Publications allow them to be more competitive as they enter an academic job market. Of course, for those who choose to work in primarily teaching institutions, research publications are less of a priority. And those who choose to work outside the academy may eschew publishing altogether. Across these scenarios, the student earns a doctorate with or without publications. In some institutions, however, the granting of the doctoral degree hinges on having published a certain number of articles. Whenever students unveil this nontrivial requirement, many gasp in surprise and others breathe a sigh of relief that they’re studying at another institution. And, everyone is relieved that there is no single magic number of publications to have on one’s CV when entering the job market.
How important is research when one is considering a nonacademic career?
The summer-school program has been fortunate to attract applicants with a wide range of intellectual interests, and inherent in this diversity is the motivation for graduate studies. Some students enter graduate school after having spent time in commercial, nonprofit, or government sector and having identified a problem or concern they would like to address with advanced training. Others know they want to do research but not teach, and therefore aspire to leave the academy after their doctoral work. I’ve seen extremely inclusive discussions involving different camps, and it is quite heartening to have individuals with different career goals converge upon the same ideas. In the end, students agree research and publishing are critical elements of their doctoral training, even if they leave the academy. Expertise fuels research, and vice versa, and publishing certainly signals that expertise.
How does one find a “hot” research topic? And does one’s dissertation topic determine the rest of one’s academic life?
In one sense, perhaps the starkest differences emerge when students talk about how they landed upon their dissertation topic. For some, the topic is part of a larger collaborative effort at their institution or a funded project that allows for multiple studies to be crafted. For others, the topic stems from an issue about which they feel quite passionate, but finding a communication question that is “good enough” remains a challenge. Still others decide upon topics only to rework them due to funding or time constraints. Regardless of the scenario that best describes a student, sharing their experiences with others was cathartic for many. And some realized that a “hot” topic might matter less than the communication question that undergirds it or the resources at one’s disposal.
How does one define success?
For many researchers, success is deeply intertwined with publications in certain journals. For others, it is making a difference outside the ivory tower – eradicating a disease, effecting institutional change, or making inroads to undo a social injustice. For yet another group, it’s about mentoring the next generation of colleagues in a given area. Students may or may not know early on the metrics of success against which they’ll be judged later in their careers, but they need to know about different metrics and the various options available to them.
In many respects, the summer school was a microcosm of ICA. Although the program was held under the auspices of the Political Communication Division, the students shared work that dealt with a broad swath of topics, theories, and methodological approaches. Presentations on digital politics, populism, and polarization were interspersed with presentations related to counter-hegemonic new-media platforms, journalistic innovations, political marketing, and culture. Questions about the latest theories and writing style were juxtaposed against questions related to gender issues, international collaborations, and how to deal with editorial rejections.
Most notably, the summer school exemplified ICA’s efforts to bolster professional development opportunities for those who might need it. Whether it’s the research/publication workshop in Africa last year or the recent growth of student-oriented preconferences, ICA’s efforts to mentor the next generation of communication researchers continue. If you have ideas you’d like to see implemented, please contact me or Past President Amy Jordan (Rutgers U), who is chairing a task force on professional development.