Short Course: Unlocking Success with Failure

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Unlocking Success with Failure
Jennifer Diascro, Susan Sterett, Lee Walker, Erik Herron, and Judith Grant

9:00 am – 1:00 pm

Despite decades of thoughtful, creative, and painstaking effort, the discipline of political science continues to struggle to achieve the diversity and equal treatment for its members that it has long sought. It is a well-worn problem we seek to address, yet again: the difficulties that women and men of color, parents and adjuncts, and students, faculty and practitioners, face as they seek success as political scientists. Our pursuit of diversity on campus and in the academy continues to rely on changes in knowledge and power structures. However, we address these difficulties from a different perspective, one that calls for reflection on failures as the key to success. We now know enough about how institutions work to frame questions about failures that can provoke stories we all can learn from. Academics are like most people and institutions, preferring to focus on our strengths, highlighting our achievements, elaborating on our good fortune. We do so with good reason. Our individual and collective accomplishments are worthy of great pride, and sharing them may provide others with tools to realize their own goals. But there is a sinister side to the attention that we – as individuals and as institutions – bestow on our successes. We’ve learned to be fearful of not knowing, regretful of mistakes, ashamed of error. We are self-conscious of our shortcomings, embarrassed by our flaws, ashamed of our inadequacies. They make us feel unworthy. They make us afraid. And so we hide from view significant pieces of professional biographies. And that is not all. To add insult to injury, we diminish much of the work that is required individual and institutional survival. We take for granted the time – arguably, our most valuable resource – we invest in providing informal and formal feedback on research and manuscripts, in serving on committees, panels, and boards, and in supporting our students and colleagues in so many ways, every single day. As a result, much of what we do is invisible. The result, we argue, is devastating, not only to ourselves, but to others who depend on a true account of the paths to professional success. In our effort to be good citizens, we have skewed the telling of our own stories, and distorted the dialogue that shapes the discipline. Numerous interdisciplinary intellectual frameworks illuminate institutional failure, among them, (1) hiring and promoting preferences in the face of organizational uncertainty (e.g Elizabeth Gorman); (2) failures of institutional processes (e.g. Lauren Edelman); (3) narrowing definitions of scholarship and teaching (e.g. Erin Leahey); (4) cognitive biases including risk aversion (e.g. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky); (5) survivorship bias; (6) invisible work (e.g. Sara Mitchell and Vicki Hesli); and, (7)unequal responsibilities for care work. This half-day short course will take a first step toward unlocking our success – as individuals and institutions – by exploring the inevitable failures in our personal and disciplinary stories. We invite faculty, students, and administrators to participate through discussing and writing about the variety of their individual and institutional academic experiences.

**All Short Courses will take place on Wednesday, August 31 at the APSA 2016 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, PA.

1 Comment

  1. I would like to thank very much the organizers of the short course on failure and success. I will not be able to attend. But as an adjunct who has known both conventional “successes” (two books and the like) and failures (offered today lower salary (in adjusted for inflation dollars) than when I was first hired in 2001) I resonate with the theme and I am grateful that others will be able to benefit from this short course. Thanks also for the references indicated in your announcement. My university’s colleagues (U of MN, TC) are trying to bring into a union tenure-track, tenured and adjunct faculty. Quite a challenge.

    Best wishes,

    Catherine Guisan

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