Who are you and what are you doing here

Perhaps an advantage of not speaking the language is that I feel little obligation to attempt to meet the other people that work in my building but whom I have yet to meet. Luckily I’ve already met all of the people who would most directly be termed my coworkers, but ours is a large department filled with unfamiliar faces. I’m hoping that my inability to recognize these people despite being here for three weeks means that they also do not recognize me and that such failure of recognition is sufficiently common that they don’t worry that I’m trying to rob the place.

No one has yet stopped me to ask what I’m doing, but that does seem to be a big question for people back home and for the people that Heather and I have met here in Aarhus. While I sometimes struggle to relate the career of an academic to those outside the foreign world inside the ivory tower, a conversation today solidified for me precisely what is that’s expected of me. In short, very little. Professors of political science – or at least future professors – are on the wonderful treadmill known as ‘publish or perish’. My obligations here, despite being at a university in a position that requires me to teach (eventually), is to research and to publish. And, in contrast to so many alternative positions I could have accepted elsewhere in the academic world, this position comes with almost absolute freedom to pursue my own interests at my own pace and occasionally collaborate with my coworkers on other research endeavors.

So what am I doing here? For the past few weeks, I’ve mainly been working on papers begun during graduate school. I’ve resubmitted two papers that were previously offered R&R’s (revise and resubmit) at journals and sent out another paper for review today. I’ve also written some new software, updated some older software I’ve been working on, and written a short article about that software for an academic newsletter. The plan for the coming weeks is to turn to data I collected at the expense of the American taxpayer last fall, which will hopefully reveal some insights into how people think about government spending, how interest groups shape public attitudes, and how people react to foreign policy news. Those three topics are all proto-papers that I have lingering deadlines to finish before the end of the year, and I guess will be out for review at journals at some point.

The major objective, aside from those tasks, is to start new research projects which will eventually help be get tenure back in the United States. My position here is funded by a grant from the Danish National Science Foundation (Grundforskningsfond) to learn about how political parties operate, compete, and shape public preferences. My new research will fall somewhere in the vicinity of that larger project, but what it will be exactly is yet to be seen.

And, finally, given that I will start teaching one master’s seminar in the fall, in English, for about 20 students, my other big objective is to design my first course. More likely than not, it will be on the topic of public opinion or political communication. Another course I’ve been asked to eventually design and teach is a general survey course on American politics, which should come together relatively simply; there might also be a course on experimental design eventually, which I would find particularly enjoyable.

So, while I sometimes arrive in the morning puzzling over how I got such a fortunate opportunity to have complete academic freedom and worrying that there is some secret and terrible obligation that attends that freedom, I think the next few months should be a fantastic chance to grow as a scholar and set a firm foundation for our glorious return to America.

-Thomas

PS. I also sometimes look out this window.

IMAG0872

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2 thoughts on “Who are you and what are you doing here

  1. Not that I don’t like hearing from you – trust me, this post was great and I am quite curious how your “An American Teaching American Politics In Denmark 101” course turns out – I think you need to nudge Heather to the computer for a counter – post! Let’s see her window! And when can we start the countdown to the glorious Leeper-Lane return? (I may have already started. FYI, you may want to check-in with Orbitz for preferred seating.)

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