My savior from unstructured time this summer has been teaching Intro to IR three mornings a week. The students have all been genuinely curious, asking perceptive questions and helping each other in discussions. Because UC Irvine has such an ethnically diverse student population, several of the students have been helpful to me and the rest of the class by giving context from regions of the world that I am less familiar with (including East and Southeast Asia, but lots of other knowledge too!).
Explaining new theoretical concepts has also helped me finish up my dissertation. I remind students to always remember what is at the center of the main theories we're studying: power-seeking is central to realism, cooperation is the essence of liberalism, economy is the core of Marxism, etc. Yet when I'm writing, I lose focus, getting lost in the context of West Africa.
After a conversation with my advisor when I was in the weeds, she reminded me to always relate it back to the WPS agenda, the object of my study, to remember how whatever I am writing about at any moment relates to—explains, questions, nuances—the agenda and its implementation. And I remembered this as what I'm telling my own students to focus on when they become overwhelmed with the details.
I've often heard that teaching a subject helps you master it. And it's true that reviewing material for the class has reminded me of concepts that I've never used once I learned them (appeasement, anyone?). But I didn't expect to reinforce my own learning processes and to remember what it's like to be an amateur.
All through grad school we surround ourselves with experts, ideal examples of scholars and scholarship, to model ourselves after and to show us what we should be working toward. Yet at this moment, near the very end of my own student-ness, it is my students, most of whom are new to politics and international relations, who are re-teaching me how to accept the contingency of my knowledge and what it means to grow as an academic.
I realize that I'm fortunate with this group of students as well as to be teaching a class that I am familiar with, so I don't expect every class to be like this every term. But if my next year at Pomona College and the (inshallah) years of teaching after that are similar, I'll be very thankful indeed. Now back to writing.
Travel and research notes
Fieldwork and travel in Côte d'Ivoire, Senegal, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Mali, as well as Burkina Faso, Morocco, Tanzania, South Africa, and wherever else I end up. Plus occasional research-related thoughts.