What am I studying? My research interests

2nd post of the day because I am behind again 🙂

As you likely know if you’ve read any of my previous posts, I’m a graduate student studying political science. But, a “PhD in political science” can mean various things, so I thought I would discuss in greater detail what my research interests are. (Please note that I do not have, nor am I (yet) anywhere near having a PhD.)

I always kind of knew that I would study politics in college. I’ve mentioned this before, but I spent 4/5 of my life “knowing” that I was going to attend law school, so that combined with my interest in politics made it the natural choice for a major in college. Luckily, I developed great relationships with a few of my college professors, and it is probably no coincidence that I adopted some of their research interests as a result. As of now, my research interests are still somewhat broad and subject to change– I’m only entering my second year of grad school, but I hope to narrow that down a bit this year.

During college, I was a research assistant for one of my professors who was doing a project on media coverage of the Affordable Care Act. My work consisted mainly of coding news statements in accordance with several predominant frames that mainstream media were using in discussions of the ACA. Although the work itself was somewhat tedious, I found the overall topic and approach to be extremely interesting. It was crazy to me how distinct the primary frames used seemed to be (i.e., certain news networks adopted visibly more conservative/ liberal approaches to discussing the issue, and this was evident not through overt statements but through the use of certain, essentially “coded,” language). Having taken a media and politics course with the same professor, this experience cemented my interest in the media and political communication. In short, I find it really interesting to study the institution that is primarily responsible for informing citizens, because the opinions that they form are a consequence of the information that they take in.

Another topic I am interested in is gender & politics– less because of the issue of the gender disparity in politics (although that is a real issue!) but more because I find it particularly important to look at how our institutions work in terms of representing groups that have been historically disenfranchised. I also have taken various classes at this point relating to women and politics, have written several papers about it, and my current research assistantship involves that topic as well, so I’ve kind of naturally begun to focus on that area. There are, of course, other minority groups and groups that have been disenfranchised from the political politics, so it is likely that in the long term my interests will extend to studying more than just women and politics.

Those are the particular topics I am interested in, but in terms of the approach I’d like to take to better understanding them, I am leaning more toward an individual behavior/ psychological approach rather than an institutional approach. The way I see it, our political outcomes are the consequence of vote choice, and vote choice is the consequence of individual opinions, which are the consequence of various things– socialization, personal experience, the information one consumes (hence my interest in the news/ media), etc. So I am interested in finding some unexplored areas in the literature to examine further when it comes to why people believe the things that they do, particularly when individuals are under false impressions about reality, or hold political preferences that are counter to their own advancement, and so on. I am interested in making sense of the opinions people hold that don’t make sense. When it comes time to decide on a dissertation topic, I’ll probably try to combine these interests in some way that also involves applicable current events.

I tend to think of politics as a problem waiting to be solved. If individual behavior and institutional outcomes made perfect sense, there would probably be no political scientists to study them. But there are, because puzzles and problems exist, and we want to make sense of them. I am an Americanist (I probably should have mentioned this earlier), and in our system– in case it isn’t obvious– there are lots of problems. People aren’t always represented, outcomes aren’t always beneficial to the majority, people don’t always hold opinions that make sense. I think resolving this last issue would have a positive impact on outcomes, as preferences would be more aligned with actual individual needs and desires. I’m not naive enough to believe that my research alone could actually resolve this problem, but I do believe that political scientists studying individual behavior play an important role in demonstrating empirically that these problems do exist, and there is a need to take action to solve them.