Is participating in academic conferences worth the time and money?

van LeeuwenBy Anouk van Leeuwen / Reading Time: 4 minutes

Academic conferences are costly and time consuming. So, sometimes I wonder: Are they worth it? Or should I just continue to write my dissertation instead? After all, writing is time consuming, especially on days like this:

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Conferencing costs loads of time. Not only do we have to travel to the conference venue, and attend it, but we also have to prepare for it. Especially the latter takes a lot of time. In my experience, I spend at least a month working on a conference paper, and at least some days on a power point presentation or a hand-out.

Money

The reason that conferences are expensive is because they usually require us to travel. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but travelling isn’t cheap. For instance, in the last two years I went to conferences in New York and San Francisco. Buying a ticket here (during peak season!), staying in hotel, paying the conference fee, and going out to dinner requires you to bring a bag of money.

What you get back for your time and money

In my opinion, there are at least four benefits of attending academic conferences:

  1. Preparing for your presentation will help you to structure your thoughts. After all, you usually don’t have much time (or space) to present your work. And of course, you don’t only want your story to be concise, but also clear. So, complicated theories have to be simplified and long results sections have to be cut to the bone.
  1. At the conference you are bound to get some (hopefully good) comments on your work, which will tell you how far it has developed. Is your research relevant? Are your research questions clear? And is your dataset suited for the question posed? These are general, but important questions that are often addressed. Knowing whether other scholars understand and appreciate your work will help you to determine what remains to be done.
  1. Learning what your peers are up to may stimulate your creativity and provide you with new research tools. After all, interesting new topics and innovative research methods are often presented at these conferences. Besides, knowing where your research field is headed is important as it will help you to position your own work.
  1. Getting to know peers on a more personal level is not only fun, but may also lead to new opportunities. Future cooperation, publication possibilities and even job offers may result from participating in these events.

So, the answer to my question of whether academic conferences are worth the time and money is: Yes. This is because conferencing provides you with new insights. These insights are likely to improve your work. For instance, having prepared a short presentation on your research, you may be able to write a more concise paper. Peers may suggest new theories that sharpen your insights, or methods that are more applicable to your data and research question. So, in a nutshell, conferencing helps to you to solve your academic puzzle, and to write down what is in your head. Just give it a go and find out for yourself.

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Anouk van Leeuwen is a PhD candidate in the Sociology Department. Her PhD research is on the (perceived) atmosphere of street demonstrations. The project is integrated in the international collaborative research project called ‘Caught in the act of protest: Contextualizing Contestation’ (CCC)

Doubting with the stars – why doubt is actually constructive for your project

Thijs WillemsBy Thijs Willems / Reading Time: 8 minutes

 

It is on rainy days like today that I tend to dream away and drown in memories of past summer. While the leaves are dramatically glowing red and yellow, and I slowly but surely replace the shorts and shirts in my wardrobe with shawls and sweaters, I still see beaches, sun and cocktails. This summer was a special one for me, as I had the chance to visit a symposium in Rhodes, Greece, and a summer school in Warwick, England. These two work trips were partially funded by the VU Graduate School of Social Sciences (VU-GSSS) and offered me the great opportunity to get up close and personal with my academic ‘heroes’. You can call me naïve, but I found it very intriguing to learn that these scholars you usually only refer to in the papers you write, actually are real human beings, with a face and a personality.

I noticed one common character trait while meeting my heroes in both Rhodes and Warwick that might seem unexpected for renowned academics: They doubt a lot! This observation was particularly noteworthy in light of their academic work in peer-reviewed journals, where they appear to argue with strong convinction to the highest degree. In real life, however, they seriously dare to doubt. This revelation was a bit troubling for me. For how can we claim to be ‘doing science’ if even those scholars who are cited a mere 10,000+ times tend to doubt about their concepts and theories? However, having carefully observed my heroes during these two events I had to conclude that an attitude of doubt might actually be at the very core of academic research. Related topics have already been raised, here on Socializingscience  and other popular media, as well as by scholars critically reflecting on the status of the field of management and organization studies (Alvesson & Sandberg, 2012; Hambrick, 2007). The article by Locke, Golden-Biddle and Feldman (2008) put things in perspective by discussing three strategic principles how we scholars can 1) recognize doubt, and 2) how we can use it constructively in a research project.

jjjj  Principle 1: Embrace not knowing

 We work in an environment where, in trying to get published, we are forced  to convince readers, to rationalize and legitimize our research process, and to strip away our text from any insecurity or imperfections that are in fact part and parcel of engaging in a PhD project. We thus have to unlearn how we typically respond to doubt in the first place: instead of resisting not knowing, embrace it; instead of turning away from doubt, turn towards it. In fact, doubt can be generative as long as you interpret it as a signal there is some work to do!

 

Principle 2: Nurture hunches

Hunches are unscientific. A hunch is a vague feeling or intuition about something that cannot be clearly discriminated or put into words. As such, they are of little scientific relevance or value. Although a hunch often makes no sense at this point in time, it might make a lot of sense in retrospect. Hunches sometimes constitute the beginnings of a great scientific discovery! More often than not, however, hunches are more like blind alleys. Typically, we try to avoid wasting time and, so we argue, hunches are unproductive. Blind alleys as well as great discoveries are inherent to doing research. Even Albert Einstein himself, perhaps the greatest hero of modern science, prioritized imagination over knowledge, and mistakes over success.

Principle 3: Disrupt the order

Once you know how to embrace not knowing and nurture your hunches, doubting is not automatically and potentially generative. A natural human reaction is to solve doubts and puzzles. However, this often implies that we start explaining things through rationalization, attempting to ‘box’ the problem in the categories of facts we already know or understand. In this way, puzzles or doubts rarely stimulate discoveries or stir up academic debate, as more often than not you end up with what you already knew in the first place. Order can even be disrupted on purpose, so the authors explain, in order to stimulate doubt; for example, by haphazardly rearranging your data set to foster doubt and, perhaps, come up with creative new solutions and understandings.

There you have it: three strategic principles, obviously extremely simplified, to foster doubt and to make it potentially generative. I have to admit that I myself doubted a great deal whether I should write this blog for an academic audience. I do not know if scientists are open to the non-factual. I have the hunch this blog might be an interesting read, but I do not know. But perhaps, at least I tickle the order of my audience a little bit, by showing how ‘unscientific’ doubting might in fact help our scientific work.

Good luck and lots of doubt!

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Reference:

Alvesson, M. and Sandberg, J. (2012), Has Management Studies Lost Its Way? Ideas for More Imaginative and Innovative Research. Journal of Management Studies, 50 (1), 128-152.

Hambrick, D.C., “The field of management’s devotion to theory: Too much of a good thing?”, Academy of Management Journal, 2007, 50 (6), 1346-1352.

Locke, K., Golden-Biddle, K., Feldman, M. S. (2008). Making doubt generative: Rethinking the role of doubt in the research process. Organization Science, 19(6), 907-918.

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Thijs Willems is a Phd candidate in the Organizational Science department. His research projects focuses on ‘The role of collaborative routines during disruptions in the Dutch railway system’. 

 

 

 

How a summer school made me even more confused

Arjen De WitBy Arjen de Wit / Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

As every motivated PhD I’m happy to attend conferences and courses every once in a while. Thanks to a grant from the VU-Graduate School of Social Sciences I was able to attend a four-week seminar on quantitative methods by the ICPSR Summer Program in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I hoped that this program would solve the causality issues I had in my research question. The contrary is true: it raised even more questions.

  1. You should use panel data! When using survey data it is better to study the same respondents over time in order to test whether changes in X are followed by changes in Y.This can make you a bit more certain of causal relations. So I used data from the Giving in the Netherlands Panel Study (GINPS) including 1,902 people surveyed over multiple years. In this study participants report their donations to 17 of the largest charities in the Netherlands, like World Nature Fund or the Salvation Army. From annual reports we know how much those organizations receive from different governmental subsidies. This allows me to compute how subsidies to an organization in a certain year are correlated with private donations in the following year.

But then the confusion came in. These are only 17 charities, are my results the same when I exclude one of these organizations? Can we expect effects to be the same for international aid organizations as for charities working in the field of health care?

  1. You should include fixed effects! Fixed effects account for variables that don’t change over time, which allows you to look only at the effect of variables that do change over time. For example, some organizations receive both more subsidies and more donations just because they are bigger organizations. An analysis that includes fixed effects for organizations rules out the effect of organization size.

But there is the confusion again. Should I use fixed effects for individuals or for organizations? A person’s gender or other individual characteristics can disturb the effect, as well as an organization’s size, sector or age. Or should I use fixed effects for each unique combination of individual and organization?

  1. You should do Tobit regression! Because most people don’t donate to all 17 organizations in the sample there are a lot of cases scoring 0 on the dependent variable. Linear regression is not appropriate in that case. Tobit regression, I was told, includes both the likelihood of scoring higher than 0 and the linear distribution of valid donations in one estimation.

Confusion! Are the decision whether or not you donate and the decision on how much you donate the same thing? Are non-donors motivated by the same considerations as donors?

  1. You shouldn’t do Tobit with fixed effects! The ‘incidental parameters problem’ means that fixed effects can make the estimation of a binary outcome variable (donating or not donating) biased. In other words, Tobit and fixed effects are not always good friends.

So shouldn’t I use Tobit? Or shouldn’t I do fixed effects? Or is there another way to account for this problem?

I went to the ICPSR summer school to get answers on the causality issues I had with my research question. Do higher government subsidies lead to lower charitable donations, is it the other way around, or is there another variable that causes both subsidies and donations? The summer school provided answers but those answers confused me even further. More difficult methods come with more difficult problems, and that’s how researchers keep on struggling with their analyses until they come up with answers that are the best they can get to.
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Arjen de Wit is a PhD candidate at the Center for Philanthropic Studies, where his research concerns the question to what extent government support affects volunteering and charitable giving. He also works for ProDemos, House for Democracy and the Rule of Law, and writes for his personal blog www.arjendewit.nl.

Attending a summer school abroad: It’s not just back to school, it’s an experience!

Celine Klemmby Celine Klemm / Reading Time: 5 minutes

 

“Ljubljana? Where is that? Slovakia?” – “No, no Slovenia.”

“Ummm…and where is that?”

This was probably one of the most common reactions I encountered when I told friends and colleagues about my plans for this summer. I was going to attend a summer school in Ljubljana to learn about interviewing and qualitative data analysis. But I came back with much more then just knowledge about scientific methods. But you will see. So, are you also still asking yourself where Ljubljana and Slovenia actually are? I certainly did. But we are in good company. It seems to be a common ignorance – David Letterman experienced the same, with painful consequences for his sidekick. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEyhdpaRuug

I fill you in: Slovenia is placed in between three popular tourist destinations, next to Italy, south of Austria and north of Croatia. If you put your finger right in the middle of the petite country, you find the capital: Ljubljana. My boyfriend drew this little map for you:

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Ljubljana is home to 272,220 people, roughly a third of Amsterdam´s population. It is also home to the yearly which is my reason for being here. The school promises “cutting-edge courses in the full span of qualitative and quantitative topics”, something I felt I was in desperate need of, and so I enrolled for 2 courses, each one going on for 1-week.

The faculty where the course takes place is situated out of town, about 3km north, but Ljubljana has (I know this simple fact alone will touch the heart of every Dutch), and you can easily bike up north. A half-an-hour ride later, I found myself in a small classroom with around 20 other students from all around the world and a self-confident Slovenian lady with an intriguing British accent. “Back in school!” I thought immediately and thoroughly enjoyed being back on the other side of the classroom; the simple unadulterated pleasure of soaking up knowledge. The course was on expert interviews and how to unravel the inner thoughts and personal opinions of experts. Usually being well-trained public speakers and used to giving interviews on professional rather than personal views, the real challenge in conducting good expert interviews is to get them to talk about their true and personal opinions, as we learned in the class. And so we discussed some useful strategies.

I couldn’t wait to get my hands stuck into some actual interviewing, though, which we could eventually on the third day. We eased into it, interviewing classmates first and then random campus people. Eventually, two students could interview a PR spokesperson of the government, in front of the classroom. In 2007, Slovenia had become the first former Communist country to join the Eurozone, and we interviewed Matjaž Kek, then responsible for the EU accession campaign. I learned a lot watching the interview, being able to observe what questions can open up a conversation – and which lead into a dead end. This interesting interview day tagged along painstaking hours of interview transcribing the next day – a good exercise but also a good reminder: Do I really want to conduct interviews? In all seriousness, it is worth thinking about the time investment needed for interviewing and considering it in your PhD planning, and if possible: hire an assistant for transcribing. All in all, the course was rather theoretical in nature though; the interview day was doubtlessly the most instructive.

In the second week, we were introduced to a French-Canadian teacher, now living in Spain, who left us all deeply impressed when she ordered her lunchtime coffee in fluent Slovenian. Her class was on ‘Qualitative Data analysis using NVivo’, and let me tell you, we really dug into it. We learned all steps from the storage of the interview data to the final data analysis and writing up for publication. We were introduced to a number of features of the NVivo software for developing a systematic and comprehensive coding scheme, and for getting a better feel for the data, such as words clouds, creating summaries of coding categories, visualizing data and analyzing relations between concepts through data matrices. It was a very hands-on class, a lot of work and preparation, but just as worth all efforts.

We (apart from those poor few whose duties commanded an immediate return home) ended summer school with food and drinks at the Friday markets, feeling that this was a good summer. I left Ljubljana with a sense of confidence for my upcoming interview study, both in how to conduct the interviews and how to conduct data analysis; even with excitement about the prospect of interviewing. Almost without noticing, I had also learned more about European history, Slovenian culture, about hypnosis during birth-giving (can’t hurt to know random facts), met students with such fascinating and courageous projects as interviewing convicted criminals in prison, and I made a friend in Helsinki, the place I was gonna go next on a research visit.

And if you know ask yourself, where Helsinki is…

… go back to the video and your geography book.

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Celine Klemm is PhD candidate at the department of Communication Science. Her research focuses on the role of media and journalists in a public health crisis.

 

A matter of social attitudes?

Snoby Tamira Sno / Reading Time: 9 minutes

 

issp

From May 23 until 28 2014, I attended the annual meeting of the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) in Tampere, Finland. The ISSP is one of the major international social sciences projects around the world and measures attitudes on a socially relevant theme. ISSP data are an important source for international comparative social scientific research. The survey has a different theme every year. This year’s theme is Citizenship. A total of 70 participants from 39 countries around the world, ranging from Australia to Canada and from Suriname to Russia, attended the meeting.

Since last year Suriname has become an associate member – ISSP-SR is incorporated in my PhD research. One of the conditions of the ISSP is conducting the survey every year, with a response of at least 1000 respondents. For Suriname I am in charge of the data collection and meeting the requirements of the ISSP.

The agenda

ISSP members meet annually. At these meetings decisions are made in a strictly democratic way (ISSP has no governing body or principal investigator). Amongst other topics, a main issue was to decide on the content of the questionnaires for the upcoming 3 years. During the conference I took part in the discussions on the content and wording of questions for the upcoming 2015 module “Work Orientation IV” and the 2016 module “Role of Government V”, as prepared by the Drafting Group. It was interesting to find out how questions could have political consequences in some countries, which questions were not relevant for all countries and how members would interpret questions. For example: in Suriname the question on left and right wings parties would not be relevant because our political system is not structured that way.  After 2 days of discussions, where members gave their comments, the questionnaire for 2015 and the list of topics for 2016 were brought to a vote and were accepted after some adjustments. With this, the members can now conduct the survey for 2015.

Also, a proposal for a theme for 2017, made by several countries, was presented and accepted by vote. The theme for 2017 will now be “Social Relations and Social networks”. This is a new theme within the ISSP.

Research session

Traditionally, the Sunday before the start of the meeting, a research session is organized, in which participants are given the opportunity to present papers that are (preferably) related to the themes of the ISSP modules. Together with my supervisor Harry Ganzeboom I prepared a presentation on “Post Stratification and Efficiency Weights in the 2012 ISSP of Suriname”. The paper describes the construction and use of post-stratification and efficiency weights in my survey on Social Mobility in Suriname that included the ISSP Social Inequality IV module.

Post stratification weights are used to correct biases, caused by selective non response. In my survey we found for example an overrepresentation of women so it seems relevant to think about using weights or not. Efficiency weights adjust for the fact that the sampling design deviates from the commonly assumed Simple Random Sampling design, but is clustered in multiple stages. In my sample, first there was a systematic sample with a random beginning, where some 60 primary sampling points were drawn; in each sampling point a cluster of 80 respondents were then selected.

The most important results and conclusions of this presentation were:

  • We found the Surinamese survey to be fairly representative with respect to district, ethnicity, age, education and occupation, but with a strong overrepresentation of women (65%), instead of an expected 50-50% distribution of men and women. This has arisen mostly from substitution within If the targeted respondent was a man and was not found at home, some interviewers immediately substituted him with a woman who appeared to be at home, despite of the instruction that substitution was not permitted in this case. The use of post-stratification weights to repair this, turned out to be of little value, because gender has a minor influence on social attitudes and usually is a control variable in the analysis.
  • Efficiency losses were found to be very strong because of the large cluster size in the sample and are reinforced because in certain areas interviewer portions were very large. These interviewers had an impact on the quality of the survey for example if they would substitute incorrectly or have made mistakes with the coding of occupations, etc. In the next survey we will use smaller clusters and smaller interviewer portions to cope with the efficiency loss.
  • In this presentation we have shown that interviewer effects can also be significantly reduced when respondents used write-in modes and thus answer questions without the intervention of an interviewer. Unfortunately, in Suriname we cannot use write-in modes on a large scale because there is a relatively high level of illiteracy in the interior, compared to the capital. Therefore we have to hire interviewers and conduct face-to-face interviews.

The construction and use of weights is currently of strong interest within the ISSP. A special working group is installed at this meeting for mapping this problem within the ISSP data and to come up with recommendations. Ganzeboom and I plan to contribute to this methodological research in future meetings.

Closing

On the last day, shortly before the closing of the conference, the representative of South-Africa showed a video to promote her country, because South Africa will be the host for the next ISSP conference in 2015. The audience reacted with approval. After some final remarks, the conference came to an end.

ISSP appeared to be indeed a matter of social attitudes.

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Tamira Sno is PhD candidate at the department of Sociology. Her research ‘Status Attainment and Social Mobility in Suriname’ focuses on studying patterns of occupational status attainment among Surinamese in Suriname and elsewhere.

 

 

Visiting conferences abroad: cherries on top of an academic cake or an absolute necessity?

Yazililtasby Demet Yazilitas / Reading Time: 8 minutes

 

Early June 2014 I attended the International Science and Mathematics Education Congress organized by the Educational Research and Publications Associations (ERPA) in Istanbul, Turkey. The visit was partially funded by the VU Graduate School of Social Sciences (VU-GSSS) to which I am very grateful. Though the main purpose of my visit was to present my own work and to meet and learn from other researchers working in similar fields, the visit turned out to be much more than that. During my visit I got acquainted with the city of Istanbul, also known as the City of Cities by Turks, in ways I did not before. This blog is essentially about the extras of doing a PhD –of which going abroad to attend conferences is an important one – and the additional learning experiences that come with those extra’s.

City of intersections – Istanbul

The last visit I made to Istanbul was 9 years ago and I was surprised to find the city even more magnificent and energetic than during my last visit. To some extent this probably relates to the combination of splendid summer weather and the neighbourhood in which the congress took place, namely Beyazit Square in the district of Fatih on the European part of Istanbul. Besides being close to the city’s main tourist attractions, the square is also adjacent to Istanbul University’s main campus where the congress took place. Established in 1453 by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II – immediately after Mehmet’s conquest of Constantinople – it’s Turkey’s oldest university.

Main entrance of Istanbul University

The history and grandeur of Beyazit Square was one of many marvels the city had to offer after my arrival. The district of Fatih is generally considered to be the heart of Old Istanbul. Some of Istanbul’s most important architectural buildings are situated here, including Topkapı Palace, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque) and Basilica Cistern. Although I had visited this particular neighbourhood before, it had changed in many important ways, of which the introduction of Marmaray was only one. In 2013, Marmaray was opened for public after years of delay. It is best described as a high-speed metro-line that partially runs under the Sea of Marmara that connects Europe to Asia in only a few minutes.

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An impression of Marmaray – connecting two continents

On the day of my arrival I called an old friend who lives in Istanbul to meet up and have a coffee. He had migrated 8 years ago from Paris to Istanbul for work and I was eager to hear his stories about life in Turkey, and Istanbul in particular. He told me to take the Marmaray and get off at the last stop at the Asian side after which he would pick me up in order for me to meet his wife and have dinner at his home. I did as he said, thinking that he probably lived near this last stop since this last stop was already quite far off from the city centre – at least that’s what I thought. To my surprise we had to drive for an hour or so before we reached his house. The city kept on going as we drove further and further away. Skyscrapers and construction sites as far as the eyes could see. At that moment I started to realize how big the city actually is. With a population of 14.1 million this is perhaps not surprising. When we arrived at this home, he and his wife, assured me that this still wasn’t the edge of the city. It was still within reasonable distance. They lived in East Ataşehir, at Eastern part of Asian side, of which you can find an impression below.

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Ataşehir – cities within the super-city

The supersized city as a magnifying glass

Besides the distance and all the skyscrapers, there was one other thing that caught my attention. When I entered my friend’s home I was introduced to someone who I thought was a family friend. Later this person turned out to be the housekeeper from Georgia who lived with my friend and his wife. This was, I have to admit, a bit of a surprise to me. In the Netherlands I personally don’t know anybody with an in-living housekeeper although outsourcing of household tasks such as cleaning has become rather normal, even among single households. Having an in-living housekeeper is therefore something I still associate with old movies and Victorian costume drama’s in particular. My surprise is also related to my upbringing in a welfare state in which social inequalities between “the haves” and “have nots” are much less visible to the ordinary eye. This is of course not to say that there are no similar manifestations between these groups in welfare states as ours. It’s that they are less visible. The scale of a super city like Istanbul in this sense probably acts like a magnifying glass for social processes of all sorts, both the positive and negative, and all at the same time.

City of intersections – history and present

Over the next days, as the congress and my stay in Istanbul progressed, I would slowly start to understand some of these processes along with the vastness of the city. In 2009, research conducted by the London School of Economics referred to Istanbul as the “City of Intersections”, which I think is a very good description of the state of the city, both in the literal meaning as in a more symbolic. Examples of the literal meaning immediately come to mind when we speak of a city stretching out over two continents. An example of the more symbolic meaning includes the sight of two women, sitting next to each other at a restaurant, and one of which is dressed in a niqab and the other in a short and bare dress. Never, at any congress, or in any other part of the world I have visited, did I witness something similar. This is I think the strength of places like Istanbul, diversity is the norm rather than the exception. And that in itself creates a kind of flexibility in attitude that we in the West, I am inclined to argue, are not used to nor completely understand.

The rootedness of diversity and the importance of the Ottoman era in today’s Turkish culture

The importance of diversity in Istanbul is probably rooted in the city’s specific historical context  as one of the most diverse and tolerant empires of all times – the Ottoman empire – and the city’s specific geo-political importance as a city connecting two continents. According to Oxford Islamic Studies Online the Ottoman Empire was one of the most powerful states in the world during the 16th and 17th with control over many of the countries around the Mediterranean, the Middle-East and North-Africa. The city’s importance as the capital and home of the Ottoman Empire as a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multinational and multilingual power is still very much engrained in the collective memory of most Turks and Istanbulites. The recent revival of the Ottoman era and it’s artistry and craftsmanship, e.g. in architecture, jewellery, fashion and interior design, are only few examples of this. Popular use of the ‘tughra’–  the Ottoman calligraphic monogram or seal – ranges from tattoo’s, t-shirts, home wall and car stickers. Other examples include multiple TV shows that are inspired on the Ottoman history and/or take place during that particular period, including the hit-show ‘Muhteşem Yüzyıl’. Translated as The Magnificent Century it is currently one of the most popular shows in Turkey. The show mainly deals with the life of Suleiman the Magnificent, the longest reigning Sultan of all the Ottoman Sultans, and his wife Hürrem Sultan, who used to be a slave girl from what we now know as the Ukraine. Moreover, since the shows first broadcast in 2011, it has reportedly gained an international audience of 200 million viewers with broadcast in 59 different countries, including USA, France, China, Russia and China. One last interesting example concerns the construction of mosques around the world based on the Ottoman style, e.g. the Nazimiye Turkish Masjid in Midrand, South-Africa that was built in 2012. The renewed interest in the Ottoman era and culture is thus not limited to Turkey but well exceeds the country borders.

To understand today’s Istanbul, and for that matter Turkey, is to understand its history as a multiethnic power. This history is of course not only limited to the Ottoman era, but starts well before that with the history of the Anatolian peninsula as one of the oldest permanently settled regions in the world that saw many different rulers throughout its long history. However, one cannot understand this history without understanding the country’s specific geographical location on the brink of two continents. This specific location is of course deeply imbedded in the region’s history and that of its neighbors. Taking into account how history and place are interconnected over time is of course not an easy task to venture on, nor something that one can do within a few days, weeks or perhaps even years. Nonetheless, this visit has inspired me to do just that. I think that places like Istanbul, where all of these things come together, are very important to visit especially for sociologists, since time, place and history are key factors that we always need to take into account in our work when we try to understand how groups of people interact in any given society.

Visits like these might be considered by many as the perks of doing a PhD – the figurative cherries on top of an academic cake –, the extras that come with hard and lonesome work of an academic but that’s not how I see it anymore, at least not for sociologists. I think that when you claim to investigate social behaviour and are interested in finding out why certain groups of people act in certain ways you cannot disengage from getting acquainted with different cultures and places. Here I thus argue that going abroad and taking time to understand differences is therefore an essential necessity for all sociologists and we should not think otherwise.

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Demet Yazilitas is a PhD candidate at the department of Sociology. Her research focuses on the influence of social, institutional and psychological factors on gender and ethnic differences in natural science choices of high school students in the Netherlands and Sweden.