I did a BA in Political Science because I was quite involved in politics. I had (sic) my bold and intransigent ideas and a clear narrative of the world. What was right and wrong was crystalline to me, and I wanted to make changes. Well, then I discovered the scientific part of Political Science. How facts and data can be collected. How we can find patterns, we can test our ideas (or hypotheses). I experienced the great excitement to challenge urban myths and explore the counterintuitive. And I found great to conclude that we can be wrong! I study war, human rights abuses and violence. I still want to resolve conflicts and stop human right violations, but I have learnt how difficult can be to analyse and interpret facts. I embrace Harry Callahan ‘s epistemology on opinions without data. Hence, theories are great, but how would you know if you were wrong?
I never liked being asked "What do you want to do when you grow up?" because I wanted to do everything. As it turns out, as a political scientist it seems I get to do almost everything -- some math, some stats, some history, some philosophy, even some literature. I came to my PhD in political science in a circuitous way (through a BA in history and an MA in economics) and I continue to do work in a variety of areas -- corruption/accountability, electoral systems, British political development, methodology. I love the process of thinking hard about a problem, making progress on it, and communicating what I have learned. I also love writing code and watching the computer do my bidding. Outside of work I like running, playing music (especially fiddle), and going walking in the countryside.
As an economics major during my undergraduate study in the United States, I assumed my career options were Wall Street or management consulting. I chose the latter, and quickly found myself on a project with the State of Texas prison system working to overhaul its information system. My first week on the job, the prison executed the first woman in Texas in over 100 years and the first female in the United States in over a decade. Out of this eye opening, formidable experience came a thirst to understand the politics underlying crime control as well as an interest in conducting rigorous, policy-relevant research that could be used to aid sound policy formation. That led me to Washington, DC, and eventually to the University of Chicago for my Ph.D. In my research, I apply experimental and quasi-experimental methods to research questions related to crime, education, and government institutions.
As a teenager I didn’t like maths. What I did like was Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, the source of many bodacious quotes, including:
Bill: [reading from their history textbook] "Socrates; The only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing."
Ted: [gasps] That’s us, dude!
One of the many things that Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan taught me is that, death and taxes aside, we can’t be all that certain about anything. If they had been social scientists, they would have been into numbers. Not only do quantitative methods accept this uncertainty, they also help us to think about it systematically. I had to cross an ocean to figure this out for myself, but after 6 years in NYC and a couple more in Rochester, I’m back home. In my own research I apply quantitative methods to questions in African politics, where uncertainty abounds. Some years ago a colleague and I had the good fortune to interview Kenneth Kaunda, the former president of Zambia who re-introduced multiparty elections in 1991, and lost the presidency in the process. When asked why he had decided to hold the elections, given that he went on to win less than 25% of the votes, he looked at us and said, “God told me to do it. And, I thought I would win.” He should’ve called Nate Silver. The numbers matter, of that I’m quite certain.
I still don’t know why I decided to study political science. Although I always had an interest in politics, I believe that the primary reason was that it did not involve any mathematics. For my ignorance as a teenager I am now condemned to teach statistics to political scientists. I do more things, however. For example, I think that we do not know enough about how democracy works so I spend most of my time thinking and researching electoral accountability across time and nations. Recently, I undertook –with some audacity- the task to quantify emotion in political rhetoric and model when and how political parties use affect in their discourse. In my free time I study political persuasion and campaign effects. My dream is to have all the data I need with the press of a button. I think we are getting there.