#CGAat15 Faculty Interview Series: John Kane

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This year, The Center for Global Affairs (CGA) celebrates its 15th Anniversary. To mark this occasion, the Global Affairs Review (GAR) sat down with Professor John Kane, to discuss his CGA journey and experience. Professor Kane’s primary research interests include political psychology and behavior, and experimental research methodology. His research has been published in a variety of peer-reviewed journals, including the American Journal of Political Science, the British Journal of Political Science, Public Opinion Quarterly, Presidential Studies Quarterly, and Social Science Quarterly. He has taught undergraduate courses on human rights and global environmental politics, political ideology and foreign policy, as well as graduate courses covering research methods, statistics and data analysis.

Global Affairs Review: Can you share with us how your journey at CGA began?

Professor Kane: I became a full-time faculty member only two years ago. However, my actual beginning at the CGA was when I took noncredit classes here at the end of 2005.

I got a postcard in the mail from the CGA talking about this master’s program and I went to an information session about it. I was always very interested in U.S. foreign policy and Latin America – but I was concerned that this was a master’s about global affairs and I wasn’t particularly well versed in everything going on in the world. I first took two noncredit classes. One was with Professor Carolyn Kissane (CGA’s current Academic Director) and then another on International Political Economy. It was very interesting to me. I applied for the program and enrolled in the fall of 2006, graduating in January 2009. I really enjoyed it.

After graduating from the CGA, I started teaching as an adjunct professor at the college where I did my undergraduate studies. I did that for a couple of years and then started a Ph.D. in 2012. Around 2015-2016, I got in touch with Professor Kissane again about potentially teaching a course at CGA in Research Methods or Applied Statistics; she had mentioned there was an interest in that and that they did not have anyone who taught that kind of material. I started teaching as an adjunct professor at CGA around then and became a full-time faculty member in 2017.

It seems like you had the full experience at CGA – both as a student and professor.

I did. I saw it grow and change from what it was when I first started in 2006 when the program was only around a year and a half old. I don’t even know if there were any alumni yet at that time; everyone was still in the middle of the program. It is really interesting to see it from what it was then to what it is now.

What have the last 4 years as a Professor at the CGA meant to you?

 To be honest, it is the greatest job in the world. Since having this transformation of becoming a better researcher and thinker, teaching has become a way for me to pass on knowledge to students about ideas and concepts that are often very difficult to grasp. For example, statistics and research methods—these are not easy topics that you can just learn from reading a Foreign Affairs magazine. They are complicated and sometimes contradictory. You read different things and they don’t seem to make sense together. Teaching at CGA is a way for me to take this knowledge that I have gained about doing research and investigating the questions in the world that we care about, and teach it to students in a way that makes sense. Many students find learning about these topics to be confusing, daunting, or scary. I see it as my mission to try to make it much more approachable… and, dare I say, fun. It is not the easiest content and the readings are not necessarily the most fun and exciting. But once you do get a handle on the material and learn the importance of it, it becomes difficult to think of doing research in any other way.

What do you think is distinctive about the CGA community? 

Having gotten some inside knowledge about a few different social science departments, I have seen that sometimes they are very narrow, where different faculty members are experts on the same thing and use similar methodology. Or, some are departments are very disconnected, where it is as if everyone is on their own island. Qualitative researchers might just work in their silo, and never talk with other people; political scientists will do political theory, and never talk to quantitative people that are studying data, and so on. Everything is very disconnected.

This department is very different from that. We all work on our own, but we all have a mutual appreciation and respect for what everyone else is doing. We also understand that what we do is very much connected to each other’s specializations. There is a lot of collegiality at the CGA that does not exist in a lot of other places.

Related to that, the diversity in the department and the student body is distinctive. Both the faculty and students are from different backgrounds, upbringings, and have a ton of different passions. It is kind of amazing that it all works somehow. Again, I think it is because everyone realizes how interconnected things are. Eventually, students have to pick an area to focus on, but that is not to say that what they are studying is completely separate from all the other concentrations that we teach and learn about here.

What three words would you use to describe the CGA?  

Passionate: Everyone is passionate about global affairs matters and cares in a way that is not very common, especially in the United States where relatively few care about what is going on in the world. It is very nice to see this passion at the CGA.

Diverse: The range of where students and faculty come from, their lived experiences, interests and their professional training vary widely.

Multidisciplinary: There is an emphasis on helping students understand how the area they are interested in can very much overlap with other fields. Students and faculty take multidisciplinary approaches. Methodologically, we are open to different approaches to studying things as well and that comes through.

What do you envision for CGA in the next 15 years?

Compared to when I was a student here, the CGA today has more emphasis on gaining hard skills to complement the theoretical, historical, topical information students are learning here.

I see a greater emphasis on asking what practical and concrete skills can help students make a difference in the world. In the past, it ended when you gained motivation, interest, passion, and background knowledge. But now, it is where it begins. Now, students are starting to have a greater appreciation for gaining skills to help them better investigate global issues for themselves and to potentially land a job where they can work in this field. To accomplish that, employers are not going to only want passion and knowledge, but also some sort of skill that you can contribute to their NGO, department, or whatever it might be.

Over the next 15 years, I hope we continue on that trajectory, where we have a mix of history, knowledge, theory, but also hard skills that can be applied to the topics and research questions students care about.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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