Political Science as a Vocation, by Robert O. Keohane

Robert O. Keohane, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University

Teacher Explaining Something to StudentsThis lecture was presented at the University of Sheffield on October 22, 2008, inaugurating the Graduate School of Politics; and at Oxford University on October 16, 2008. I have retained the lecture style for this publication, only making minor changes and additions in the text.

Most of this lecture will be devoted to an explication of how, in my view, political science should be carried out: that is, the processes of thinking and research that yield insights about politics. But I want to begin by talking about teaching. Teaching is sometimes disparaged. Colleagues bargain to reduce their “teaching loads.” The language is revealing, since we speak of “research opportunities” but of “teaching loads.” National and global  reputations are built principally on written work, not on teaching. But when we look around, we see that virtually all top-ranked political scientists in the world today are active teachers. Few of them have spent their careers at research institutes or think tanks. In my view, there is a reason for this. Teaching undergraduates compels one to put arguments into ordinary language, accessible to undergraduates—and therefore to people who have not absorbed the arcane language of social science. Teaching graduate students exposes one to new ideas from younger and more supple minds—as long as the students are sufficiently critical of the professor’s views. [Read more.]

Political Science as a VocationPS: Political Science & Politics Virtual Issue / Volume 42 / Issue 02 / April 2009, pp 359-363