Dr. Melissa Miller

Poli sci prof’s life stories are the last word on getting things done

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Every year the Mortar Board honor society at Bowling Green State University selects a professor to deliver a “last lecture,” a speech to culminate the university experience. The speaker should be an “accomplished professor” distinguished for scholarship, leadership and service. That’s what the email that Melissa Miller, professor in political science, received early one January morning said. She accepted the honor with little thought, or the assistance of her morning coffee. She was, she said, “putty in the hands” of Mortar Board. It was only after some questions from her husband and political science department colleague Neal Englehart that the magnitude of the task at hand dawned on her – probably about the same time the sun dawned on her Perrysburg home. He wondered: How long should lecture be? What is the lecture supposed to be about? “I’ve got nothing,” Miller realized. She related this dilemma to those attending her “last lecture” recently. “Nine Lives Later: What I Learned about How to Get Things Done” encapsulated what she would say if this was the last lecture she’d ever give. In the end, Miller addressed this challenge the way she had so many others in her life and career dating back to her undergraduate years at Cornell University. Those challenges could be finishing her doctoral dissertation or making a Halloween costume for her 3-year-old. They occurred while competing on a college forensics team and climbing a mountain in Alaska. “I always find a way,” she said. “I always come through. I have a pretty good grasp of how to get things done.” When faced with daunting tasks, Miller explained in her lecture that she relies on three basic techniques – use what’s at hand; start the caffeine drip; and call a friend. When she was on the speech team at Cornell she found herself competing in impromptu speaking for the first time. She failed miserably in her first attempt. Then her coach explained that all she needed was a list of topics, whether drawn from her studies of politics or her adolescent TV viewing, that she could talk about for 90 seconds. Doing this, she found success. On the camping trip with her family, it was a soggy kid’s boot that proved to be the object at hand needed to accomplish the task at hand – flying the pack to keep the family’s food out of reach of bears. On another outdoor adventure, she and her sister were climbing a peak in Mount Denali National Park in Alaska. Once they got above the tree line, Miller found herself panicking, “I suddenly had the distinct sensation that I was about to fall off. I was in no danger, but my stomach wasn’t buying it.” She told her sister, who urged her to continue. “I’m going to…


Battle of the sexes – do men really know more than women about politics?

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The battle of the sexes has many combat zones – with political knowledge being one of the battlefields. For decades women have scored lower than their male counterparts on political knowledge surveys. That trend irked Bowling Green State University political science professor Dr. Melissa Miller enough that she decided to study that “pesky gender gap.” Miller shared her thoughts on the political battle of the sexes recently during at talk at BGSU. Since 1960, national surveys ranking political knowledge asked basically the same questions: Which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives? Who is the vice president? Which branch rules on the Constitutionality of an issue? What majority is required to override a presidential veto? Which is the more conservative political party? “Men on average are more likely to get the answer right,” Miller said. “This is troubling.” For years, the gender gap was blamed on women spending more time at home, being less likely to discuss the topic at work, and being less interested in politics than men. However, those trends just no longer hold true, Miller said. Women in the U.S. are currently more educated, spend less time at home on housekeeping, are more likely to share child-rearing chores, and are much more likely to have jobs outside the home. “So why hasn’t the gender gap disappeared?” she asked. Miller has some ideas. “Maybe it’s the way we measure political knowledge,” she said. Upon looking closer at the way the surveys were conducted, Miller noticed that the political surveys included multiple choice answers – with one of those answers being “I don’t know.” And whether conducted by phone or in person, those taking the surveys were always advised that many people don’t know the correct answer, so they can pick “I don’t know.” Seems insignificant? Not so, Miller said. Women are far more likely to take the bait and say “I don’t know.” Men are more likely to risk a wrong answer, and less likely to say they don’t know. Miller used BGSU mascots Freddie and Frieda Falcon to explain. “Frieda is more likely to say ‘I don’t know.’ Freddie has a higher propensity to guess,” she said. “A lot of men have a higher propensity to guess. A lot of women have a decreased propensity to guess.” So Miller suspected the “don’t know” option was inflating men’s scores while deflating women’s scores. To see if her suspicions were accurate, Miller conducted a campus political knowledge study in 2006, in which she sampled more than 900 undergraduates. Randomly, half of the students got surveys with the “don’t know” response option, while the other half did not have that option. The “don’t know” surveys showed the same gap between men’s and women’s political knowledge. But when that option didn’t exist, the…