School of Social Sciences


April, 03, 2008 12:36 Age: 10 yrs

Dr Rae Nicholl – Political events shape sabbatical leave

Category: SSS News

For an academic working in the Division of Politics and International Affairs, my sabbatical leave could not have been more exciting or fulfilling. Thanks to funding from the University of the South Pacific, I was able to use an around-the-world ticket to fly to New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom and Norway.

In each destination, I met political scientists; political researchers and students; and political activists including a few elected politicians. Everywhere, I visited libraries and collected materials.

In New Zealand, I met with colleagues from Victoria University of Wellington; talked to current and former Members of Parliament (MPs); flew south to visit a researcher and former MP in Christchurch; and visited my former employer, the Office of the Clerk in the New Zealand Parliament.

In early May, I travelled to Washington DC to attend an intensive seminar in Political Leadership. I was delighted when USP gave me the opportunity to attend the seminar because, from 2001-2002, I was the Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence at the Women & Politics Institute, School of Public Policy, at American University. The Director of the Women & Politics Institute, Professor Karen O’Connor, welcomed me back and discussed the expanded programmes offered to young women planning to embark on political careers, either as elected politicians or else in support positions or lobbying organisations.

The five-day seminar was coordinated by Dr Sarah Brewer, Associate Director of the Women & Politics Institute, and was designed to give young people (15 women and two men attended) hands-on training in political leadership skills. Sarah is a highly energetic young academic with the ability to use her excellent networking skills to draw in a large number of unpaid trainers – I counted 28 individuals - to take the various sessions. The trainers, mostly women, came from various organisations working in the political arena. These included academics; practising politicians; staffers on Capitol Hill; and professionals from lobby groups and non-governmental organisations. I presented a paper entitled Women and Politics – an International Perspective, which was well received.

By the end of the week, the comments I heard indicated that the students were exhilarated by the seminar and felt they had gained a sound grounding in campaign techniques and strategies that they could use themselves in the future.

Besides the seminar, I was able to monitor the run-up to the 2008 elections. Election fever was running high in the United States even though the next presidential election was 18 months away. With Hillary Clinton as the front runner for selection to become the Democratic candidate, this proved to be an excellent time to attend a seminar in leadership skills designed to equip young women for a political career – every session and conversation ended with a discussion on whether or not the American people are ready to elect a woman president.

Late in May, I travelled on to the United Kingdom. My academic interest was to observe the long-anticipated handover of power from Prime Minister Tony Blair to Chancellor Gordon Brown. Like everyone else, I had to rely on the media for information as it was impossible to gain access to politicians or Parliament during this time. Consequently, I have returned to USP with a collection of newspaper articles and DVDs of BBC programmes broadcast in the weeks before and after the change of leader.

The last of my travels took me to Oslo where a dream was realised when I was able to attend a session of the Storting, the Norwegian Parliament. Feminist research has long centred on the success of women politicians in the Nordic countries and the experience of being in a chamber where the percentage of women is close to parity with men - and seeing how the Norwegian proportional representation system works - was an exhilarating episode during my visit.

Looking back over my sabbatical, the time away from teaching allowed me to complete and submit three articles and to start on several others. Also, I have been asked to write other articles and chapters, mainly on feminist politics. I bring back to USP enhanced knowledge and a collection of new teaching materials. Additionally, I will be adapting the interactive techniques I observed in the Political Leadership seminar for my classes in Media Politics; Political Leadership; and Women, Politics and Society.

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