In this series, we are highlighting the experience of past winners of the Hayes Graduate Research Forum, which will take place virtually this year on April 9, 2021.

In our first installment of the series, Political Science PhD student John Harden discusses his research journey, his Hayes Forum experience, and offers advice to other student researchers. To learn more about John’s research you can visit his website. John welcomes anyone interested in connecting with him about his research or graduate school experience to email him.

I am a Political Scientist interested in International Relations. I focus on the human factor in International Relations. More specifically, my research agenda analyzes the role that grandiose narcissism, a personality trait, plays in preference formation and subsequently foreign policy decision-making. In other words, I think that while Donald Trump is unique, he is certainly more like a Richard Nixon rather than a Gerald Ford. I want to understand how Trump and Nixon’s desires and behaviors are similar. So far, I have found that more narcissistic presidents showboat on the international stage by eschewing allied assistance and unilaterally engaging in Great Power conflict. Some have wryly mentioned that they hear echoes of Trump insulting US allies and constantly discussing China when I present my findings. The data speaks!

Picture of President Richard Nixon

The path to completing this research has been a long one, and graduate school has not always come naturally. Nearly 45% of students who complete their PhD have at least one parent with a graduate degree. Meanwhile, under 15% of Americans have a graduate degree. I was raised by a single mother for the first few years of my life. She dropped out of college to work and care for me. My (step)-father is the only member of my entire family who had completed his Bachelor’s Degree. I attended community college as an undergrad and found myself relatively lost when first navigating graduate school. It was a dauting task. I wager that other graduate students, especially those from similar backgrounds, share this experience.

My advice to student researchers looking to get involved in research at Ohio State is to practice being assertive and resourceful. Like most things in life, collaborative research opportunities will rarely fall in your lap. You often must take initiative by finding those opportunities and asking to be involved. You should build relationships with faculty conducting research you find interesting. I recommend helping a faculty member with their research for a semester or two before diving head-first into your own projects. Additionally, it’s important to find an advisor who is supportive enough of your research and success to provide strong critiques of your work.

My dissertation committee members are simultaneously a source of morale support and pointed critique. When forming my dissertation committee, I kept my mind on recruiting faculty with competing opinions on the big questions in our field. I have strengthened my dissertation project by navigating their disagreement, finding compromise where possible, and accepting that I cannot resolve some decades-long theoretical disputes (despite my early idealism). I want to thank Christopher Gelpi, Randall Schweller, and Amy Brunell for their support over the past few years. I give special thanks to Richard Herrmann, my dissertation chair, who has dedicated an immense amount of time and effort into molding me into a successful researcher and academic contributor.

I participated in the 2020 Hayes Forum because I wanted a chance to both share and strengthen my research. I thought that my research would be interesting to researchers in other fields. Presenting at the Hayes Forum strengthened my research by helping me figure out how to drop the language of my field to speak to a wider audience. While shifting language may sound like a relatively easy endeavor, PhD students are trained to use technical language for years. It can take some mindfulness and conscious work to briefly reverse this training for more diverse audiences.

Picture of John Harding receiving Hayes Forum award.

Edward F. Hayes Graduate Research Forum Friday February 28, 2020 (Jim Bowling – The Ohio State University Office of Student Life Photo Credit)

I was surprised and humbled to win first prize in my division at the Hayes Forum. My advice for others participating in the forum is to practice your presentation by translating your field’s technical language to everyday language. Do not drop the technical language entirely! Instead, first say what you did in technical language, and then immediately translate it to everyday language. This is something I noticed all the prize winners in my division did.

In the future, I will continue to work in academia so that I can engage with my research interests while helping younger scholars explore their ideas. My experience with the Hayes Forum has taught me the importance of presenting my research to wider audiences. I will continue to ask questions that wider audiences care about. I hope to use my talents as a researcher to help work towards a better future.