“It’s a great privilege to be able to spend your life learning,” said a BYU graduate about her future in academia. Liz McGuire is a current PhD student of political science at Yale, after earning a bachelor’s degree in international relations at BYU. A commitment to learning has always driven McGuire, but academia wasn’t always her goal.
McGuire developed an interest in the American political system in her high school government class, but chose international relations as her major during her freshman year at BYU.
While she was not a student of political science, McGuire found her niche at BYU under the tutelage of two department faculty members: Dan Nielsen and Michael Findley. She heard about a mentored research program in one of her classes and decided to learn more by talking to them directly about the program.
“BYU professors are very approachable and I was very lucky to find the mentors that I found,” McGuire said of the two. “ And I just went to class and took advantage of their office hours.”
Without BYU’s extensive undergraduate research programs, McGuire would likely never have found her way to Yale or even political science.
“When people think political science they think politics. But political science has a lot more to do with research as opposed to just U.S. parties and elections,” McGuire said about general perceptions of the discipline. She too shared similar conceptions before she began researching.
Studying with Nielsen and Findley exposed McGuire to the career opportunities available for researchers. She participated in the mentored research program in Uganda the summer before her senior year at BYU, where she learned both how to direct research, and that even well-informed hypotheses can be proven wrong during experiments. Years after she conducted her initial study, McGuire is looking for another opportunity to run the same study a second time to validate her first results.
“We are hoping to do it again to publish. I know it seems crazy to still be doing a write-up three years after the research is over, but we need to bolster the findings because they are counterintuitive,” she said of her results. “But the surprises are some of the great things about research.”
Shortly after she graduated, McGuire caught wind of an opening at Oxford University, for which she was uniquely qualified because of her experience in Uganda. She directed research in Tanzania for several months, before returning briefly to BYU.
McGuire says those months back at BYU were indispensable, as she took the time to learn from female mentors while preparing for graduate school.
“I was fortunate to find some really good mentors, some really good female professors to talk me about [what family life would look like] and also being a woman in academia and a woman in the Church, and how all of those things are worthy goals and can be pursued simultaneously.”
Now, as a PhD student of political science at Yale, McGuire is pursuing those goals. While not even she could have predicted her future, she is grateful for the unique and rewarding path to academia that BYU provided. She will continue to pave her way, with the help of the opportunities she encounters.
“That’s the real truth of life. All of us are just making it up as we go.”