Teaching Research and Researching Teaching: The Impactful Career of John Ishiyama

This article was featured in the August 2021 issue of Political Science Today, a new member magazine of the American Political Science Association. To read the full article in Political Science Today, click here.

Teaching Research and Researching Teaching: The Impactful Career of John Ishiyama

by Marijke Breuning, University of North Texas

John Ishiyama sees things differently. In an academic environment that often values research over teaching, he has always seen these two as inextricably linked. In his mind, teaching requires research and research requires teaching. Teaching depends on having something to say, which requires the acquisition of new knowledge. Research has little value if it is not shared, which requires the clear communication skills honed through teaching.

John’s refusal to take sides led him to endeavor to be both a productive scholar and an excellent teacher and mentor. He has succeeded at both, charting his own course through the profession. This assessment is underscored by Ryan Kennedy, now an associate professor of political science at the University of Houston, who notes that John’s career demonstrates that teaching and research can truly be two sides of the same coin. He first sought out John as a freshman at Truman State University, knowing only that this was the professor who had a poster on his office door for a study abroad opportunity in Russia, something that interested him. Ryan’s first conversation with John, he says, changed the course of his life. After talking over an hour, he walked away with a paper John had just written with another undergraduate student (Ishiyama and Velten 1998). Ryan was hooked, studied the paper intently, and still uses it in his research methods class as an example of how to structure a research paper.

Ryan’s story is not unusual. Holley Hansen, now a teaching assistant professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies at Oklahoma State University, found herself working as John’s research assistant during her sophomore year at Truman. As a first-generation college student, she found this experience transformative—not just because of the skills she acquired, but most importantly because she gained confidence in herself and her abilities.

John Ishiyama, University of North Texas

John has always enjoyed talking with anyone interested in the things he cares about. His interests are broad and he has just as much fun talking with undergraduate students as with colleagues in the profession. He loves talking about Russian politics and history—the subjects that first got him interested in academia. He has studied communist and post-communist regimes globally. He has a well-developed research agenda in party politics, including the transformation of authoritarian governments and one-party systems into democracies and, more recently, the transformation of rebel groups into political parties after civil wars.

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Less widely known is that John has been intrigued with North Korea since his undergraduate days, often calling that interest a “hobby” because the lack of data made it a difficult fit with his preference for systematic and quantitative analysis. Somehow, John has managed to figure out how to turn this interest into a productive research agenda as well.

In addition to the above interests, John has examined the value of student participation in undergraduate research. In doing so, he was one of the first to use the same research skills he used in the rest of his work to investigate systematically whether undergraduate research did indeed yield positive learning outcomes for students in political science (and the social sciences and humanities more broadly). Of course, once he embarked on the scholarship of teaching and learning, he found there were many topics besides undergraduate research that were worthy of examination.

Conversations with students and colleagues about all these research interests have led to many productive coauthorships over the years. But John is not all business. He is happy to talk about music, fishing, and sports. Depending on the season, he is happy to chat about baseball, basketball, or football and his favorite Cleveland teams that hardly ever win.

Political Science Today  is a new member magazine of the American Political Science Association. The magazine includes news about the discipline, member spotlights, association updates, and other content previously featured in PS: Political Science & Politics. Political Science Today is released quarterly in February, May, August, and November in print and online. All APSA members will receive a print copy of the first issue in February 2021.