The Maneater

MU hosts political science methodology conference for the first time

The conference cost $18,000 to put on, and funding came entirely from sources within MU and the UM System.

Most years, the St. Louis Area Methods Meeting, an annual conference that focuses on political science methodology, is held at Washington University in St. Louis or another venue in the St. Louis area. But this year, on April 21-22, MU will host the conference for the first time.

“It is a methodological conference, meaning its theme is developing methods to answer political science questions more effectively,” political science professor Laron Williams said.

To bring the conference, which will feature presentations from faculty and graduate students from across the country, to MU, Williams and political science professor Jay Dow had to first secure all the funding for it.

SLAMM is funded completely by the host university. Williams and Dow were able to raise the $18,000 to put on the conference from various sources around campus and the UM System, including the Office of the Provost, the College of Arts and Science and the departments of political science and economics at MU, UM-Kansas City and UM-St. Louis.

“Not too many universities can do it, especially in these times of budget cuts, because there’s no outside money to put this on,” Williams said. “We’re very fortunate that we were able to locate a number of sources within the university, and I don’t think other universities would be able to do that right now.”

Faculty from Penn State University, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Louisiana State University will present at the conference, according to an MU College of Arts and Science news release. Six graduate students, including MU economics student Zhiyang “David” You, will also present their research.

“When you’re [presenting] in front of faculty and students from other schools you really be careful about what you’re going to talk about,” You said. “You take everything more seriously and they ask meaningful questions.”

Fifty faculty and graduate students will attend the conference, including 15 graduate students from MU.

“We think it’s a great opportunity for those grad students to get feedback from faculty, get detailed discussion points from a discussant and really improve their research in that way,” Williams said. “There aren’t too many opportunities to have graduate students be able to present in front of 50-some people in a methodological setting in the Midwest.”

Williams and You said that hosting this conference at MU is helpful for graduate students who might not have other opportunities to attend or present at similar events.

“With the economics departments at top schools, those students study the same things that we study over here, but they have more students and more interest,” You said. “Another advantage is that they have lots of seminars and symposiums, so they are exposed to this kind of information and people talk about the new methods and interesting topics out there and we kind of lack that opportunity. We have to reach out, which is hard, with geography, or financially.”

You also said that his participation in the conference encouraged him to work to finish writing research papers faster. When he applied to the conference, he hadn’t yet completed a paper, but he said the motivation from the conference actually sped up his path to graduation.

Participation in conferences like SLAMM could also help graduate students find employment after graduation.

“It enhanced my capability to speak in public and make a good presentation,” You said. “It also makes me more serious about my paper. When [potential employers] are looking at my work, they’ll see that it’s high quality work, probably just because I attended this meeting and put more effort into the paper.”

At the conference this month, presenters will be discussing subjects such as eye-tracking technology and automated ways to conduct text analysis.

“We’ve been publicizing this conference pretty heavily among the political methodology community in the U. S. and globally, so it’s really nice to see the University of Missouri host something that has some of the best faculty presenters coming here,” Williams said. “It’s nice to have Mizzou’s name attached to something that is at the forefront of political methodology.”

Edited by Kyle LaHucik | klahucik@themaneater.com

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