DR. BRETT ASHLEY LEEDS
APRIL MEMBER OF THE MONTH
Member since 1993
WHY DID YOU BECOME A POLITICAL SCIENTIST?
In high school I wanted to be a journalist, specifically a Washington correspondent. I was always interested in understanding how the world works, and journalists were the ones who explained that. My guess is that the fact that there were prominent women in these positions in the 1980’s also influenced me; it was a job that seemed open to people like me. I saw Lesley Stahl on the CBS Evening News, and I wanted her job. So I applied to college thinking I would double major in journalism and political science. In college I learned that I was much more interested in research than reporting, and I discovered social science.
WHY DID YOU JOIN APSA AND WHY DO YOU CONTINUE TO STAY INVOLVED?
I joined APSA as a graduate student to attend the annual meeting and learn about current research. This was in the days of the paper room, when we couldn’t just download working papers from the internet. I stay involved today because I believe professional associations play very important roles. Not only do they help us solve collective action problems and facilitate the sharing of research and pedagogical innovation, but they are also a venue in which we promote best practices and norms.
WHAT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT OF BEING A POLITICAL SCIENTIST? HOW?
What is most challenging for me currently about being a political scientist, and a social scientist more broadly, is the recognition that our profession is limited by the problem of access. The questions we ask in our research and the ways we approach those questions are influenced by our own lived experiences. The questions we ask in turn influence who benefits from social science research. And yet, professional political scientists are largely drawn from a sample of the world’s population with strikingly similar backgrounds. While lots of people are working for increased diversity and inclusion in our profession, the structural impediments are strong.
IF YOU COULD GIVE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE TO SOMEONE IN THEIR GRADUATE/UNDERGRADUATE YEARS, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
Make a commitment to pay-it-forward. I hope that many times in your life and career you will benefit from assistance, support, and mentoring. Sometimes you will be able to reciprocate, but often you will feel that you can’t pay back the kindness, inspiration, and good advice that you have received. You will always get a chance to pay-it-forward, though. On an individual level, making this commitment makes it easier to ask for and accept help without guilt, and on a community level, it ensures that we become better over time.
OUTSIDE OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, TELL US SOMETHING INTERESTING ABOUT YOURSELF.
In 1988, during a 2.5 year break from college, I was “Rookie of the Year” in listings, sales, and total production for the northeast zone of REALTY WORLD (a 14 state area with 305 real estate offices). I learned a lot about leadership, self-motivation, and discipline working in sales. I also learned that it was not what I wanted to do forever.