Faculty and students collaborate on overseas research

Senior Laura Doolin, left, with Dr. Jeanie Bukowski ’86, middle, and junior Mikalynn Katlack at the Midwest Political Science Association conference where the trio presented their research this month.

April 17, 2013

By Emily Laidley ’13

Dr. Jeanie Bukowski ’86, an associate professor in international studies, and two undergraduate students are collaborating on research that examines how science and policy interact across nations through epistemic communities.

An epistemic community is a network of experts in a particular subject who help decision-makers define policy problems and possible solutions. When politicians write laws governing the environment, they need scientific data and knowledge in order to create the most effective regulation. They often call upon an epistemic community for advice and information, which can give the community a large degree of influence.

As a result, Dr. Bukowski and students Mikalynn Katlack and Laura Doolin are investigating how subjects that epistemic communities study become part of their own norms and values. The primary question researchers have studied in the past is how the epistemic communities influence policy. The Bradley group is asking a different question—how does science shape the epistemic community who then affects the policy?

As soon as final exams are over junior Katlack will spend two weeks in Jimena de la Frontera, Cadiz, Spain helping Dr. Bukowski conduct field interviews among members of the New Water Culture Foundation, or the FNCA, an epistemic community that influences trans-boundary water policies between Spain and Portugal.

“It’s hypothesized in the literature that in policy areas that are characterized by uncertainty and complexity, knowledge becomes a valuable commodity. This allows the epistemic community to be a transmission belt of scientific knowledge into policy,” explains Dr. Bukowski. “What is new about our research is that we’re asking a prior question: how is the science actually translated into the causal and normative beliefs of the epistemic community?” In other words, how do members of the knowledge community incorporate their research into their beliefs?

Dr. Bukowski said both students have gained valuable experience from collaborating on the project. The group hopes to submit a co-authored paper for consideration in a journal by spring or summer of 2014.

“As a Spanish major, Mikalynn will be able to use her language. That’s a huge benefit of this project,” said Dr. Bukowski.

Doolin has also greatly benefitted from having collaborated with Dr. Bukowski. “It allowed me to talk about how she is involved in a scholarly research project in letters of recommendation,” said Dr. Bukowski. “A lot of people come into graduate school without any experience in research.”

Doolin, who will graduate from Bradley this May and will likely go on to the University of Chicago for graduate studies, has been looking into theoretical literature about international regimes, which are interstate cooperations and shared beliefs about how things should operate.

Dr. Bukowski is very impressed with the success of turning research into a collaborative independent study class. When classes began in the fall, she approached the students whom she taught and asked if they would like to work with her. Katlack and Doolin both jumped at the chance and together developed the collaboration as an independent study.

“The faculty know that at this university, however much we might like to engage in research, it comes after teaching. But if you incorporate research into a class and you’re meeting every week, you have to actually do something. It’s going to move you along a lot more quickly,” Dr. Bukowski said.