Teaching Theory & Inference (aka “Science”) to 1st Year PhD Students

Most political science PhD programs have a semester course for first year students titled something like “Scope & Methods,” “Political Inquiry,” “Research Design,” “Political Science Research,” or a smattering of other types of monikers.[1]  I am teaching that course here at ASU this fall after sitting it out for the past 10-12 years.

Rather than eyeball my old syllabus I decided to start from scratch.  A conversation with Nate Monroe led to a collaboration where we bounced ideas off one another and designed a new course from first principles.  The outcome is a rather different course than anyone has yet put together.

The overarching goal was to kill and bury, without ceremony, the path dependency that dominates instruction.  Tracing the path by which political science has arrived at the community practices of 2016 is of considerable sociology of knowledge interest, but teaching  a course that has a long memoried (auto-regressive, path dependent)  relationship to the syllabus you learned from in graduate school, etc. is not pedagogically sound: it can be understood well as a cost minimizing strategy for the faculty member designing the course, conditional upon ensuring that the students get their “union card” (can signal their membership to professors in the field).

Both Nate and I wanted to narrow the scope of the course to scientific inquiry, which we demarcate in week three, but can roughly demarcate as the pursuit of knowledge claims about the causes of  political outcomes.  Lots of political science research falls outside that scope, and we explain that to the students, and in weeks three and four have some Additional Recommended Readings that help make students aware of the existence of terrain we do not cover.[2]

We set a macro-goal that the course should achieve: to provide the basic training first year PhD students who want to join the scientific community require.  We got together for a couple of days in July and hammered out a sketch of what we need to cover.  This was the outcome.


Over the coming weeks I will (briefly!) explain what and why I am teaching, putting flesh on that skeletal structure.  I hope you’ll find it interesting, and perhaps, even compelling.


[1] The absence of standardization led me to start calling this grouping of course as “Welcome to Political Science” or “The First Course in Political Science”  but nobody seems to find either intuitive.

[2]  During seminar I (have thus far, and will continue to) warn against the unwarranted hubris most who identify scientists (hey, I’m a conflict scholar–you should have expected some peace building).   But that’s a long story, and you should not read this as suggesting that I   The Victim/Perpetrator narrative is ubiquitous to humans on both sides of status hierarchies, and I work my tail off to pull my thinking out of that framing, which assigns “black hats” to “them,”  “white hats” to “us,” and stimulating the all too predictable “lots of smoke, little fire” sniping.


About Will H. Moore

I am a political science professor who also contributes to Political Violence @ a Glance and sometimes to Mobilizing Ideas . Twitter: @WilHMoo
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6 Responses to Teaching Theory & Inference (aka “Science”) to 1st Year PhD Students

  1. Pingback: Week 1: How to Succeed in Grad School | Will Opines

  2. Pingback: Week 2: Reality, Perception & Human Knowledge | Will Opines

  3. Pingback: Week 3: What is Science? | Will Opines

  4. Pingback: How to be a Political Scientist in 10 Easy Steps | Will Opines

  5. Pingback: Week 4: Why Theorize? | Will Opines

  6. Pingback: Want Ye Some Building Blocks for Theorizing? | Will Opines

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