ERIC C. VORST
APRIL MEMBER OF THE MONTH
University of Missouri – St. Louis
Department of Political Science
Member since 2012
WHY DID YOU BECOME A POLITICAL SCIENTIST?
My path towards becoming a political scientist has been guided by a number of influences. One of the strongest influences has come from my interest in better understanding how paradigmatic shifts in technology are reshaping the way we communicate. This interest was sparked at a young age, when my parents bought our first Apple ][+ computer and modem in the early 1980’s. Even as a youngster, I could tell that people interacted differently on “bulletin board systems” than they did in “real life”; this is a curiosity that has stayed with me for decades.
The introduction of the Internet has amplified these differences immensely, while the spread of social media as a primary form of communication has altered the way we share and receive information. These developments have consequences, as the malleable nature of social media network architectures enables individuals to shape their own information realities. Being a political scientist provides me with opportunities to investigate how these changes influence political participation, civic engagement, and deliberative democracy.
Last, I became a political scientist due to the incredible support and encouragement from my family, who has made countless sacrifices to help me achieve this goal. I also owe a great deal of gratitude to Dr. Dave Robertson, Dr. David Kimball, and Dr. Kenny Thomas (University of Missouri – St. Louis), who shepherded me along from my first undergraduate political science courses in 2010 through the completion of my dissertation in 2017.
WHY DID YOU JOIN APSA AND WHY DO YOU CONTINUE TO STAY INVOLVED?
The American Political Science Association provides a wealth of resources and opportunities for political scientists at every stage of their career. For example, as a graduate student completing my dissertation, I have been able to connect with a number of experts in the field of political communication. In turn, this has helped me to fine tune many of the research questions I am pursuing while constantly refining the methods I use to answer them. APSA also offers excellent career resources, including an active job search board and a growing catalogue of supplemental material I can draw upon to help me become a more effective educator.
WHAT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT OF BEING A POLITICAL SCIENTIST? HOW?
Political science is a fascinating discipline because it uses a systematic and objective approach to glean truths from political environments frequented by actors dealing in the currency of subjectivity and spin. Politics can be a nasty and brutish environment, often marked by intense disagreements over important issues with deep societal ramifications. Given these conditions, it can be challenging to put aside one’s personal beliefs and expectations when examining a research question.
Understanding this, I approach my research with an emphasis on being a scientist first: I want to observe and test phenomena in a manner that is as objective and pragmatic as possible. In this respect, I suppose the biggest challenge of being a political scientist lies in the willingness to accept that evidence in my findings may contradict what I previously expected or believed – and the readiness to adjust my methodology when needed.
IF YOU COULD GIVE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE TO SOMEONE IN THEIR GRADUATE/UNDERGRADUATE YEARS, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
Work hard, be creative, and keep things in perspective! I strongly believe there is no substitute for hard work, and that a combination of hard work and persistence always pays off in the end. I also believe it’s important to be creative when problem solving. As an undergraduate or graduate student, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking the experts have already answered all the questions. However, for every answer, there is a different way of asking the question. Last, I believe it’s important to remind ourselves why we are pursuing a degree in political science. Part of this includes thinking about how our hard work today will lead to positive contributions tomorrow, whether those contributions impact our broader communities or our families close to home.
OUTSIDE OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, TELL US SOMETHING INTERESTING ABOUT YOURSELF.
I am a passionate music lover and have been a cellist since I was 8 years old, as well as being a classically trained vocalist. In high school, I spent the first half of every day in choir (as a baritone/bass), orchestra (as a cellist), and band (as a member of the drum line … Go Ritenour Huskies!). As an undergraduate, I was a few courses short of earning a degree in Music Education instead of English Literature and Philosophy and, interestingly enough, nearly pursued a PhD in Music instead of Political Science. I still enjoy composing my own music, playing in quartets, and performing in community orchestras and choirs. One of my life goals is to perform the full Bach Unaccompanied Suites for Cello.
My wife and I have two amazing children, aged four and six. Family is the most important thing in my life and it’s a major source of motivation for me in all I do. I hope someday our children can look at how hard Daddy worked and use it as an inspiration to do great things.