Boston College students interested in the field of politics have access to an abundance of resources and opportunities to learn directly from professors, but the majority of the general public doesn’t share this privilege. There is also a lack of accessibility on professors’ end—many academics who spend years doing fieldwork often struggle to find ways to share what they’ve learned with the public.
Peter Krause, associate professor of political science, has devised a way to bridge this gap—his podcast, Stories from the Field: A Guide to Navigating Field Work in Political Science, allows those doing research in the field to talk about it in a dynamic and informal way for those interested in hearing their stories. Released beginning in January 2021, the episodes feature professors and student researchers from around the world who want to share their experiences and provide advice to budding students and researchers.
Arriving at the idea for his podcast was not a quick process, and neither was Krause’s journey into the field of political science, he said. Krause grew up in suburban Hartford, Conn. and attended public school. When he was in high school, history grabbed Krause’s attention.
“Growing up, I was always really interested in history,” Krause said. “That was my favorite topic in school. I actually didn’t take a political science class until college.”
As an undergraduate at Williams College, Krause was finally able to apply his interest in politics in an academic setting by taking political science courses.
“I think I was always really interested in politics and the context of politics, particularly international relations and foreign policy, you know, how countries relate to one another, why they choose to make peace with one another or go to war,” he said.
As he was exploring this interest, he was also uncovering his broader career aims. His devotion to political theory is not just for the sake of learning war games, but rather so he can share what is disruptive to society in order to help prevent it in the future, he said.
“And then certainly, as maybe a lot of BC students do, I also do have some interest—in the most naïve sense—in trying to make the world a better place,” Krause said.
Within the larger field of political science, Krause became particularly interested in studying the Middle East and its relation to the United States.
“The United States plays an inordinate role in the politics and lives of many people in the Middle East, but I think that a lot of the American public and even the decision-makers do not have a great understanding of that region,” Krause said.
Krause knew he was interested in teaching after college, but after his junior year he interned at an investment bank to explore the financial field.
In this role, Krause was working in the World Trade Center in August of 2001, which had a huge personal effect on his life, he said. It pushed him even further into focusing on the relationship between the United States and the Middle East after observing the repercussions of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
After discovering that he was not excited about working in investment banking, Krause switched gears after graduating from Williams College in 2002. He became a history teacher at Thornton Academy, a private boarding school in Saco, Maine.
“I could have been a high school teacher for the rest of my life and been happy—it’s a great job,” he said. “You really feel like you can impact a lot of students’ lives, and I really enjoyed it.”
Despite his affection for teaching high school, Krause realized that one of his greatest interests was pursuing research—a goal only possible at a larger university. In 2005, Krause was accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he got his Ph.D. in political science and government and learned how to conduct proper research and become a rigorous thinker and producer of knowledge along the way, he said. While at MIT, Krause applied for a job at BC.
“To be honest, BC is a dream position for me,” Krause said. “I can’t think of a school I would rather be at.”
Krause has taught a variety of classes, but said he is particularly fond of his courses on political violence and terrorism in the Middle East, which was not offered before Krause’s arrival. It has now been taught for about a decade.
Beyond trying to engage students within the classroom, Krause saw both a problem and opportunity to engage students in his political science research outside of the classroom as well.
“I think that a lot of students—and I know because I was one of them—look at methods classes as being very dry and or intimidating, and the text for them can make your eyes glaze over,” Krause said. “I wanted something that was the opposite of that.”
Stories from the Field, which was published as a book in 2020, provides an unorthodox guide to navigating political science fieldwork, Krause said. It features 44 political science professors from all around the world who share their experiences conducting research globally.
“It’s not necessarily a more dry, abstract methods book,” Krause said. “It’s more, ‘Let me tell you a story about this time that I was, you know, interviewing someone in this refugee camp, or when I was working in the archives in London or in Algeria or wherever else and stumbled upon this document.’”
Before COVID-19 hit, the idea to turn these stories into a podcast had crossed Krause’s mind, but he was much more focused on research, he said. But with the pandemic slowing down research, Krause and his colleagues considered doing more with Stories from the Field. After speaking to other professors and researchers who specialize in Middle Eastern studies, Krause saw so much knowledge in their collective experiences, but no outlet to share those stories—this is where his podcast was born.
The production team planned for 13 episodes, each featuring authors, professors, or students sharing their experiences. The podcast’s key purpose was to address broad questions about the ethical and logistical challenges of conducting field research far from home, Krause said.
Krause said that hearing stories of how other people overcome challenges within political research can be the most enlightening and valuable asset for graduate students and young faculty.
One episode, entitled “Research in China with Enze Han and Robert Ross,” discusses the structural complications within authoritarian states like China that make it almost impossible to administer in-depth field research. Other episodes range in topics from conducting research virtually to exploring the politics of Black mayors in predominantly white regions of the United States to researching violent organizations in Colombia.
The podcast initially launched as a vehicle to spread information from those featured in the book to a larger audience, but eventually the podcast expanded into interviewing BC students and faculty. BC undergraduate and graduate students were able to share their experiences writing high quality research papers, while faculty could talk about issues of methodology and research ethics in a more dynamic, free-flowing setting, Krause said.
Krause didn’t just include students as podcast guests—he also gave them opportunities to work behind the scenes. John Gehman, BC ’21, was one of several BC students who helped Krause make the podcast. With a podcast course under his belt, Gehman was able to restructure the podcast team, produce a guidebook for the various stages of the podcasting process, and train himself in sound engineering to process the audio, he said.
“Working on the podcast was a new venture for both professor Krause and the students,” Gehman said. “We all had an incredible amount of ambition but limited experience with podcasting at first.”
Although Gehman said that he was not expecting to help create a podcast when he first joined Krause’s research team, he was able to scale the learning curve. Gehman, Krause, and the rest of the team were able to pioneer one of BC’s first educational podcasts.
“It was a highly rewarding experience and still is to this day,” Gehman said. “Knowing that I not only contributed to academic thought but also influenced its accessibility to a larger public.”
The accessibility of podcasts was part of what led Krause to create Stories from the Field in the first place, and its popularity has shown its appeal to a larger audience, he said.
“There’s a podcast out there for everyone, and I personally know—as someone who lives and listens to podcasts—sometimes you’re working out at the gym or you’re doing something else, you can still listen to a podcast, whereas, you’re not always going to sit down and read a book,” Krause said.
Krause’s Stories from the Field boasts 30 guests—a tough feat to accomplish online. In order to follow social distancing protocol, all episodes were recorded virtually, which forced Krause to find the right equipment and balance between planning the episode’s conversations and making sure they sounded natural.
Although there is a possibility he will record a few more podcast episodes in the future, Krause said that he feels Stories from the Field is a complete series as is..
Whether or not someone is a political science major, Krause said that he hopes everyone will not only find Stories from the Field engaging, but will also be inspired by its self-starting nature.
“Podcasts work when they have passion, planning, and purpose,” Krause said. “If you have each of those, you’re off to a great start.”
Gehman echoed Krause’s message that despite a lack of background knowledge, undertaking such a large project is possible with a determined team.
“Above all, this should teach anyone that with the right ambition, resources, and support, innovations can become reality.”
Featured Graphic by Olivia Charbonneau / Heights Editor