Leave it to renown elections researcher Dr. André Blais to find value in the study of something like the papal election. As the Canada Research Chair in Electoral Studies, Dr. Blais is at the centre of a number of innovative projects that ask some very key questions about democratic governance, and the election of the next pope is not immune to such scrutiny, although the context of a papal election is used to determine the effect of different vote procedures (see voteforpope.net). This is part of a greater – and far more international – project, Making Electoral Democracy Work, led by Dr. Blais, the latest in a long list of his accomplishment, noted by 25 books, way more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles, and a good number of prizes and awards.
But Dr. Blais is not just a successful and prolific academic. He also ranks among Canada’s top academic mentors, having supervised a sizable number of scholars and researchers who now occupy positions in academia, government and elsewhere. His Canada Research Chair, since its founding in 2001, has accommodated more than 30 graduate and post-doctoral students, with about 10 currently holding some active association. He was my supervisor at both the master’s and doctoral level. I could not have asked for a more patient and thoughtful mentor, who continues to provide me with useful advice. It is, therefore, with great interest that I received his emailed responses to the following interview questions.
I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career
If you want your work to be read, you have to publish in English.
The individual I admire the most academically
There are MANY people I admire in the profession. I owe special debt to Vincent Lemieux, who inspired me early in my career, Richard Johnston, with whom I had extraordinary conversations about how the Canadian Election should be conducted, Elisabeth Gidengil, with whom I have collaborated on so many projects and whose advice has proven to be sound (almost!) all the time, and finally to my PhD students, who have energized me with their enthusiasm.
My best research project during my career
To Vote or not to Vote? Because this is a great question. Because I look at the question from all sides. A great project, in which another long term collaborator, Robert Young, played a crucial role.
My worst research project during my career
None! Thanks to my collaborators!
The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research
Designing the Canadian Election Study questionnaires. Intense conversations with a small group of bright scholars. You have to argue your points, listen carefully to counter-arguments, insist sometime, accept defeat at other times. On top of this, designing the English and French versions at the same time under intense time pressure. Listening to the pre-tests and realizing that your pet question does not work. I will never forget these moments.
The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance
I can’t think of any. I talk a lot…
A research project I wish I had done
The politics of taxation. How citizens view and react to taxation. Always being fascinated by taxation. My dream was to keep on doing research on both elections and public policy, and on the policy side taxation is where the game is.
If I wasn't doing this, I would be
If not a political scientist I would be a (quantitative) anthropologist or demographer, doing research on parents’ choice of names for their children. If not a researcher, I would teach maths.
The biggest challenge in Canadian politics in the next 10 years will be
The environment (my former colleague and friend Stéphane Dion is right!).
The biggest challenge in Canadian political science in the next 10 years will be
Developing closer links with psychology.
My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is...
Keep in mind that doing research is fun! Enjoy it fully!