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Grace Pittman Reveals What is “Better Left Unsaid”

Grace Pittman with her mentor, Dr. Joshua Kennedy.

Grace Pittman (political science ’19) had the opportunity to present her honors research at the Southern Political Science Association (SPSA) in Austin, TX. Her thesis, “Better Left Unsaid: The Connection between Members of Congress, the President, and Political Ambiguity,” examines the lack of direct support from politicians for specific programs or views.

“My thesis concerns the ambiguity demonstrated by members of Congress based on the president’s popularity. Ambiguity, simply defined, is a deliberate refusal to be clear about what it is one supports. It is a political tool for members of Congress. Remaining silent about their position on political issues, especially ‘hot-button’ issues, allows congressional members to maintain the support of their voting bloc and potentially win over more voters,” she said.

Pittman discovered that there was little to no research on potential candidate’s ambiguity. Her research is adding to the scholarly discussion for political science. She was able to provide a new lens of analysis for candidate behavior research.

“Finding a topic that had never been researched mattered because I was starting from scratch. My argument had to be sound to justify my choice in topic. It is easy to flip on or scroll through the news to see and hear examples of politicians using vague statements or dodging questions when pressed by reporters on political issues. However, the challenge lied in proving it and explaining why they would do it. Therefore, my argument, represented by my theory and literature review, became central to my research,” she said.

She worked with her research mentor, Dr. Joshua Kennedy, during the writing process to develop and to refine her work. Dr. Kennedy praised Pittman’s work ethic and dedication to the process of research. “She has demonstrated extraordinary ability and drive in tackling a very ambitious research project, and her sterling presentation at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science Association highlights this,” he said. “Her presentation was professional, polished, and won her praise from advanced scholars. She continues to exemplify everything that is great about Georgia Southern University.”

The mentor’s role is to provide guidance for the student who is taking on an intensive research project. “My thesis was my responsibility, and I am independent by nature, so I anticipated writing, developing, and carrying out my research. However, I quickly learned that there were aspects of this process that I could not figure out and do alone,” Pittman said. “So, in many ways, I have learned to ask questions and seek help from my advisor as this thesis progresses. My goal is to submit a sound thesis, and Dr. Kennedy has offered great advice and encouragement to ensure that I achieve that goal.”

SPSA was Pittman’s second conference. Last year, she presented at the Georgia Political Science Association (GPSA). Both experiences allowed her to gain experience in the professional world of academia. Pittman presented her findings to a room full of scholars with graduate degrees, whose specializations were related to researching politicians’ behavior.

“My audience, in comparison to GPSA, was slightly larger, and I feel almost certain that everyone in the room had a Master’s or Doctoral degree. It was intimidating. Everyone in the room knew the ins and outs of what I was discussing. However, midway through the presentation, my nerves seemed to dissipate a bit, and I was pleased with my execution at this conference,” Pittman said.

Conferences give students the opportunity to expand their professional connections through engaging conversations with scholars in their field.  Students are putting their ideas, thoughts, and analysis into the discussion. The reward is the advice, suggestions, and support that follows.

Pittman said, “One of the unspoken benefits of the Honors Program is the opportunity to develop public speaking skills by presenting research. I cannot stress enough how much I loathe speaking in front of others, and this process has forced me to confront my fear. Another benefit to be gained by presenting research is constructive criticism. Out of habit, I take and keep any notes audience members suggest when they are given the opportunity to express their opinions. An audience offers fresh eyes and ears, and as a result, they can offer valuable advice and new perspective to students writing their theses.”

Her experience with the University Honors Program has allowed her to challenge and to grow her academic skills in the classroom, with her research, and at conferences. “The program requires a commitment to give 100% to your thesis and studies. Yes, there are good and bad days, but the attitude you manifest is the one that determines your likelihood for success. Honors is similar to a long-term investment. The payoffs are greatest for those who are serious and passionate about their work. Suddenly, your work, whatever it may be, speaks for itself, and there is satisfaction in that,” Pittman said.


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