APSA Member of the Month: Dr. Sara McLaughlin Mitchell, Professor of Political Science at the University of Iowa

Sara McLaughlin Mitchell is the F. Wendell Miller Professor of Political Science at the University of Iowa. She received her Ph.D. in Political Science at Michigan State University in 1997 and her B.S degree in Economics and Political Science at Iowa State University in 1991. She is author of Domestic Law Goes Global: Legal Traditions and International Courts (Cambridge University Press, 2011), Guide to the Scientific Study of International Processes (Wiley-Blackwell 2012), Conflict, War, and Peace: An Introduction to Scientific Research (CQ Press/Sage 2013), The Triumph of Democracy and the Eclipse of the West (Palgrave Macmillan 2014), and What Do We Know About Civil Wars? (Rowman Littlfield 2016), she has edited several special journal issues, and she has published more than forty journal articles and book chapters.

She is the recipient of several major research awards from the Department of Defense, National Science Foundation, and the United States Agency for International Development. Her areas of expertise include international conflict, political methodology, and gender issues in academia. Professor Mitchell is co-founder of the Journeys in World Politics workshop, a mentoring workshop for junior women studying international relations. She received the Faculty Scholar Award (2007-2010), Collegiate Scholar Award (2011), and the Graduate College Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award (2012) from the University of Iowa, the Quincy Wright Distinguished Scholar Award (2015) from the International Studies Association, a distinguished alumni award from Iowa State University, and she served as President of the Peace Science Society.

Why did you become a political scientist?

As an undergraduate student at Iowa State University, I started as an economics major. I took an “Introduction to World Politics” class with Prof. Ellen Pirro that was terrific and encouraged me to enroll in other political science classes. I took several classes with Professors Richard Mansbach and Jim McCormick in international relations and American foreign policy that solidified my interests in the field. My boyfriend at the time was deployed to the Middle East during the Gulf War, thus real-world events were also getting me more interested in the study of interstate war. I thought about going to law school like many political science majors, but my professors opened up the possibility of pursuing a PhD. I applied to Michigan State University because Prof. McCormick was an alumnus and I was fortunate to select this terrific graduate program and work with many amazing faculty (Gates, Granato, Hower, Abramson, etc.).

Why did you join APSA and why do you continue to stay involved?

Faculty at Michigan State encouraged me to become an APSA Member as a graduate student and attend the annual conference. I first attended a meeting in my third or fourth year in graduate school. The APSA job market was very helpful for me as a student and I continued to stay involved because of the useful professional networking that occurs through the organization and the terrific resources that APSA provides to members. I also regularly submit papers for publication consideration to APSA sponsored journals and read the content of these publications frequently.

Get out there and network! Find the central nodes and make connections to them (…) Those ties that I made early on became very important in my career and I still rely on this broader network today.

What is the most challenging aspect of being a political scientist?

Being asked when I’m running for office! Or having non-political scientists think they know as much about politics as I do!  I study some very serious subject matters (e.g. civil wars, interstate wars, climate change) and it can be difficult at times to stay optimistic when studying these topics. It’s also challenging to present these “heavy” topics to students in a way that engages them but doesn’t depress them.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone in their graduate/undergraduate years, what would it be and why?

Get out there and network! Find the central nodes and make connections to them. I did this early in my graduate education by meeting people through my advisors, meeting people at conferences, and networking with folks in summer programs (e.g. ICPSR). Those ties that I made early on became very important in my career and I still rely on this broader network today.

Outside of political science, tell us something interesting about yourself.

I am the youngest of six girls and I was raised on a farm in Iowa. The donor of my named chair (F. Wendell Miller) was an Iowa farmer which seems like a good fit. I am also a first-generation college student and this has been influential in encouraging me to support underrepresented groups in our field and study things like gender biases in academia.

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