“Deal with a problem without knowing the answer or the solution yet!”

26. Juli 2021

Where do you get most of the inspiration for your research?

I am inspired by fieldwork, by exchanging views with different scholars, and by collecting new data. For instance, the project on re-election I am working on at the moment originated with a simple lack of data. Having read the literature, I knew that there was a lack of data about poor countries and thus a lack of evidence about re-elections rates in these countries. That sparked my curiousity, and thus I initiated the project to address this research gap. Collecting new data for over 100 developing countries, we found a clear pattern that mainly contradicted conventional wisdom on the topic. Good research questions arise not only out of inspiration but also about by taking advantage of intellectual opportunities and identifying fundamental problems worth examining.

During your academic career, you made a number of research stays at different universities such as Stanford, Harvard, Yale or Oxford. In how far did these stays impact you academically?

In my opinion, it is very important to „go outside“ in order to get new ideas. Every university is different and thus the ideas and approaches used by its schoalrs are different, too. If you always stay in one institution, you are mostly exposed to the same ideas and risk getting stuck. It is important to get a broader overview of your research field and thus it is definitely worth visiting other universities. Collaborating with other scholars from different universities can be very enriching and stimulating! Moreover, I feel it is very fulfilling to meet and engage with students from different universities in different countries and to learn from them. They are the future and will shape academia in a few years! All in all, all my research stays have influenced my research agenda in multiple ways and they were each special in their own way.

Do you follow a certain strategy when writing a paper?

Frankly speaking, I do not have a secret or a certain writing strategy I follow. To put it in brief: It just takes a lot of hard work and sometimes it can also be boring and unpleasant. The key is to find a way to keep yourself interested in your own paper or your own book. In this sense, it is useful to start writing and dealing with a problem without knowing the answer or the solution yet. I would also recommend looking for a research project or problem that is real and that you really care about. Overall, writing an academic piece is mostly about communicating! Highlighting the contribution of your work right up front and offering a perspective or an approach that has not been presented yet are crucial ingredients in this process.

You are not only a very successful professor, but also a mother of two, in particular a single mother. How did you manage both academia and family?

To put it simply: I just kept going! It has been challenging but you need to find a way to keep on working and to keep on contributing to academia, i.e. you have to manage to keep yourself interested in your own research and keep on asking important questions. Moreover, I think that children are a parent’s temporary residents and will have their own lives in the future. In this sense, raising them in a way that allows them to become independent and sensible people is crucial. Unfortunately, in the USA, there is a lot of social pressure on women that makes them feel that they have to give up everything in order to be a good mum. But this has to be called into question! By a certain age, children prefer to be with other children and do not need to be looked after 24/7. Besides, one should not forget that mothers are often seen as role models, especially by their daughters. I always liked working and wanted to show that one can be both: a professor and a mum that loves her kids. If you are happy, your kids are happy, too.

Which was one of the greatest lessons you learned during your academic career? And which advice would you give young female scholars?

There was not really one great lesson but rather a number of lessons I learned. When I was in graduate school, one third of my class was female. However, within a few years, most of them did not enter academia with fulltime tenure track positions, and I think this was not often a conscious choice. There was a certain amount of discrimination resulting in this so-called „leaky pipeline“. To overcome this, success in this profession requires a lot of inner drive and a high commitment to research and teaching. It is a very fulfilling but not a nine to five job! Moreover, you are part of a larger academic community that you can continue contributing to and that provides ongoing support and inspiration.