An Effort to Increase Women’s Participation: The Visions in Methodology Initiative

The following post is written by Michelle Dion, Associate Professor of Political Science at McMaster University. Dion is the principal investigator and developer of OPPOSEM: A Web 2.0 Approach to Improving Methodological Training in Political Science. She is also the host of the 2014 Visions in Methodology (VIM) meeting in Ontario, Canada.

Over the last year, several high-profile popular press articles and books by both academics and business executives have addressed the experiences of professional women, offering analysis and advice related to career advancement and work-life balance (Sandberg 2013; Slaughter 2012; Kantor 2013). Meanwhile, women have not fully closed the gender gap in academia in the US or Canada, despite gains in the proportion of women pursuing university and advanced degrees (Baker 2012). About 40% of Canadian and 32% of American political scientists are women (CPSA Diversity Task Force 2012, 6; Breuning and Sanders 2007, 348). Meanwhile, the role of women in American political science was the subject of both a roundtable at the American Political Science Association (APSA) 2013 Annual Meeting (McMurtrie 2013; Economist 2013) and virtual symposium hosted by The Monkey Cage at The Washington Post (Voeten 2013).

While female academics have made progress and constitute a larger proportion of faculty in the humanities and social sciences, they continue to be particularly underrepresented in math-intensive fields  (Ceci and Williams 2010, 275; in Canada, see Acker, Webber, and Smyth 2012, 746). Further, the concentration of women tends to be higher in lower ranks, lower status institutions or in contingent or part-time positions (Halse 2011, 567-8; Baker 2010, 324; in Canada, see Acker, Webber, and Smyth 2012, 746; Doucet, Smith, and Durand 2012, 54; in political science or international relations, see APSA 2005; Henehan and Sarkees 2009, 432–3; Hesli, Lee, and Mitchell 2012; Bates, Jenkins, and Pflaeger 2012, 141-4; Maliniak et al. 2008). During the same period during which women have expanded their representation in the social sciences, research in sociology, economics, political science, public administration and international relations has become increasingly quantitative (Hunter and Leahey 2008, 299; Hudson 1996, 154–7; Corley and Sabharwal 2010, 639–40; Breuning and Sanders 2007, 349–50; Kadera 2013, 2–3). The quantitative turn in American and Canadian political science dates back to the rise of behavioralism in the 1950s and 1960s (Dahl 1961; Easton 1969). Political methodology, as a distinct field of political science, can be traced back to the initial publication of Political Methodology (precursor to Political Analysis) by the Society for Political Methodology, or Polmeth (Beck 2000, 651). However, methodology differs from other fields in political science because it is more likely to be a researcher’s second, rather than primary field, which tends to be a substantive area (e.g., American politics, international relations, etc.). Even those critical of the emphasis on research design and methods in political science admit that methods has become a highly prestigious field which increasingly “censors … the discipline, criticizing past research and setting standards for others” (Mead 2010, 454).

At the same time, in political science, women are less likely to use quantitative methods (Breuning and Sanders 2007, 349–50). In 2004, the Political Methodology Organized Section of the APSA had only 20% women, compared to 32 percent in the APSA overall (Breuning and Sanders 2007, 348). Since 1984, Polmeth has hosted annual summer conferences, and over the last decade, only about 10-20% of all paper authors or co-authors have been women (Dion and Mitchell 2012). Nor have many women achieved high visibility status within the political methodology community. For example, no women made the list of the top 20 most cited political methodologists (Masuoka, Grofman, and Feld 2007, 140), and Polmeth has only one woman Fellow, out of 29 total.

Since 2008, the Visions in Methodology (VIM) program, supported by an NSF grant to Polmeth, has developed a range of activities designed to provide networking and career development opportunities for women developing and applying advanced statistical and experimental methods in political science. The centerpiece of the VIM program are workshops that adopt the format of similar workshops organized by the American Economic Association (CeMENT, see Blau et al. 2010) and Journeys in World Politics (Kadera 2013, 9–10; see also VIM workshops are small events (30-40 participants) that bring together women of all academic ranks who use quantitative methods in political science to present their research and discuss career issues. The workshops include research presentations, opportunities for mentoring, discussion of career development, and networking with peers and more senior female researchers.

Such mentoring is particularly important for women and underrepresented minorities who are less likely to find suitable mentors on their own campuses (Bennion 2004, 111), and women frequently express a desire for more access to mentors and advice (Baker 2009, 41). In economics, a mentoring experiment similar to the VIM workshops had positive impacts on publications and research funding (Blau et al. 2010, 350–1). In 2014, The 2014 VIM workshop will be held at McMaster University on May 20-22, 2014, with support from the National Science Foundation (SES#1120976, administered by the Society for Political Methodology at the University of Michigan), the McMaster University Faculty of Social Sciences, the University of Western Ontario Faculty of Social Science, and the Canadian Opinion Research Archive (housed at the Queen’s University School of Public Policy). Michelle Dion (McMaster) and Laura Stephenson (University of Western Ontario) will co-host the meeting.

For the 2014 VIM meeting at McMaster, we have combined targeted invitations for senior (Associate or Professor ranks) scholars, who will serve as discussants at the meeting, with open calls for participation for junior (graduate student, non-tenure track PhDs, and Assistant rank) scholars, who will present their research, serve as discussants, and participate in discussions throughout the workshop. The 2014 Workshop will begin with a participant dinner Tuesday evening, followed by a discussion of work-life balance and career development and the presentation of oral biographies from this year’s two featured senior scholars: Professors Elisabeth Gidengil (McGill) and Saundra Schneider (Michigan State). The program on Wednesday and Thursday will combine research presentations with facilitated discussions related to career advancement. The extended commentary and discussion with peers and more senior colleagues is a core feature of the meetings, during which participants often share advice and information about methodological innovations or applications from different fields of political science or cognate disciplines.

As at previous VIM meetings, each day of the workshop, there will also be two or three discussions during an extended coffee-break, lunch, or hour-long session, during which senior participants facilitate a focused discussion on particular career issues, for which a suggested reading list is circulated in advance. In 2014, these discussions will cover the following topics: work-life balance (Mayer and Tikka 2008, 370–2; Baker 2012); networking means and ends (Abramo, D’Angelo, and Murgia 2013, 812–3; Bartol and Zhang 2007; Lewis, Ross, and Holden 2012, 705–6); collaboration (Corley and Sabharwal 2010, 639–40; McDermott and Hatemi 2010); meaningful service (Acker and Feuerverger 1996, 403–4; Mitchell and Hesli 2013); specialization and its impact (Leahey 2007, 548–9; Leahey, Crockett, and Hunter 2008, 23–4, 26); and implicit gender-bias (Dion 2008 and Madera, Hebl, and Martin 2009). There will also be a discussion facilitated by two junior scholars to identify the mentoring needs of junior scholars and enumerate a list of actionable priorities for the future development of the VIM program and that doctoral advisers/supervisors and departments might develop.

In addition to the workshops, VIM sponsors a number of activities to provide opportunities for scholarly progress, networking, and professional mentoring in research and teaching in order to support women in the political methodology community. For example, with the support of the Society’s NSF funding and in coordination with Polmeth’s Diversity Committee, VIM has hosted networking events, such as dinners or lunches, at both the Summer Meeting of Polmeth and Annual Meeting of the APSA, where junior women have the opportunity to informally meet and discuss research peers and senior members of the methods community. VIM also offers a mentor-matching service, through which junior women can request to be matched with a senior methodologist as a resource to be a sounding board or to provide feedback on research or career issues. Megan Shannon is the mentoring program contact.

VIM also maintains a web presence that hosts all previous conference programs and papers presented at conferences since 2012. The site also provides publicly available information and links to professional opportunities (funding, related organizations) and a bibliography of research articles and books related to gender and career-development. It provides a comprehensive list of participants of VIM conferences, with links to each participant’s personal or departmental web site. This increases the visibility of these women within the political methodology community. VIM also has a moderated email list that has grown from a listserv started by Caroline Tolbert at the University of Iowa. Anyone can request to join the list, and messages can be sent by anyone (including non-members) to

The goals of VIM are to support female scholars in the specialized field of political methodology. This initiative, based on the proven strategies used in similar programs in economics and international relations, brings together women at the forefront of political methodology to discuss methodological innovations that cut across all empirical fields of political science. In addition, the program explicitly addresses the challenges faced by women in academia and provides a forum for mentoring and discussion of strategies that maximize professional success. All this occurs in an inclusive, supportive environment that incorporates women of all ranks and backgrounds in political science.


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About Megan Shannon

Assistant professor of political science at Florida State University
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