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Portrait of a Successful Tenure-Track Job Search: Helen Kras, Ph.D. 2021, M.A. 2020

By Julie Wrinn

Graduate students in political science are well aware of the importance of fieldwork for their dissertation research, but for Helen Kras (Ph.D. 2021, M.A. 2020), fieldwork also became a deciding factor in her academic job search.

“Every university I had interviews with asked about fieldwork and stated they would be interested in having me teach about fieldwork in methods classes,” she said.

Kras is completing her dissertation on public opinion and gender-based violence in Latin America. In fall 2021, she will join Regis University in Denver as a tenure-track assistant professor of political science. To relieve the financial burden of research travel, private support made all the difference for Kras.

“Through the Ken and Mary Sue Coleman Award and the Research and Travel Award, I was able to conduct fieldwork in Brazil and El Salvador,” she said. “I conducted extensive interviews with police officers, sheriff’s deputies, survivors of gender-based violence, psychologists and even the Ministry of Justice from El Salvador (!). I am immensely grateful for financial support from the Political Science Alumni Board for enabling me to conduct fieldwork.”

The next phase after field work is, of course, writing the dissertation. Again, private support made a difference for Kras.

“During my time in the program, I was able to work on research projects with my adviser, Dr. Abby Córdova,” she said. “We published two articles together. I worked on these projects mostly during summers with a stipend from the Coleman Award and Research Award. Because of these awards, I did not have to find summer jobs, which allowed me to focus on research. I was asked about these articles in every interview as well.”

At the same time, it’s also crucial to gain teaching experience as preparation for a tenure-track position. Kras taught several different classes in Comparative Politics and International Relations during her time UK.

“Dr. Wedeking gave me an opportunity to teach my own class based on my research interests,” she said. “I put a whole class together on Violence in the Developing World, which was a Comparative Politics class focused on various countries’ challenges with crime, violence, civil war and criminal gangs. During my job interviews, members of the search committees asked me details about this class and whether I would be interested in teaching it at their institutions.”

Kras is deeply grateful for the support she received from alumni and donors to the department.

“My experience demonstrates the positive impact the support from the alumni board and the faculty has on the professional success of graduate students. I am forever thankful for the continued support from the Alumni Board; our Director of Graduate Studies, Dr. Justin Wedeking); my adviser, Dr. Abby Córdova; and Dr. Mark Peffley.”

Professor Justin Wedeking proved to be an especially indispensable coach and strategist during Kras’ time on the job market.

 “Dr. Wedeking helped me prepare every step of the way,” she said. “He gave me innumerous valuable insights into how to present my research, answer questions, and the questions I should ask. I cannot even count the number of emails we exchanged and the number of zoom sessions where we held mock interviews and mock job talks! I am certain that Justin’s help was invaluable for my success in finding an academic job. The job interview process was long and exhausting — but so rewarding at the end.”