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Tag: "academia"

Slow Learning

[ 3 ] November 16, 2011 |

I observe with some degree of pride that Captain Andrew Betson, a student of mine at the Patterson School, has an article in the latest Armed Forces Journal. The article began life as a seminar paper in last spring’s Counter-Insurgency course.  It’s excellent work; check it out.

The Ph.D.

[ 133 ] November 13, 2011 |

Larry Cebula offers an argument we hear frequently: that no one should go on for a Ph.D. because there aren’t jobs. Cebula covers the basic points: delayed income earnings that will never pay off, massive debt, living in horrible parts of the country, etc.

It’s hard to argue against him. Like Paul’s many excellent posts on the problems with law schools that you have read here over the last few months, which I am going to force any student of mine who wants a letter for law school to read in exchange for the letter, it is probably a very bad idea to go for a Ph.D. in history.

But I hesitate a bit. I am a graduate of the University of New Mexico. This is not an elite institution. It is marginally a top-50 Ph.D. program. It has strengths in certain areas (Latin America, U.S. West, U.S.-Mexico borderlands) but you wouldn’t want to go there for anything else. Theoretically, it should be really hard to get a job with a UNM Ph.D.

However, every single person I know who was a serious student at UNM and who wanted to go into academia has a job. Every single one. Without exception (at least on the U.S. side of things). Almost all of these are tenure-track jobs with a few newer scholars presently in very fine visiting positions. And I know people from several other less-than-elite institutions who are doing very well for themselves too (Arizona, UNLV, and Nebraska come to mind). Those who chose to do something else other than academia have also succeeded in their chosen fields. So what’s the deal with this?

Just thinking out loud here because I’m almost positive no one has done any studies on this, I am wondering if there are not certain Ph.D. programs that are preparing people for the realities of the modern market more effectively than more traditionally elite programs. You might need that Yale Ph.D. to get that job at Brown or Vassar, but that’s not a lot of jobs. And people coming out of New Mexico, who have been forced to engage in public history just to pay their way through the last years of graduate school (I did historic preservation work at Los Alamos National Laboratory), probably aren’t going to get that Brown job. But we are getting positions of quality, including myself.

I don’t mean this to brag on my Ph.D. program (well, maybe a little bit). I do indeed think it’s a terrible idea to go get the Ph.D. in 2011, wherever it may be. But I’m also wondering if there are not better ways to train historians (and presumably students in other disciplines) that will make them more competitive on the job market as it now stands. Because I don’t think just writing a great dissertation and having letters from big-name professors and a big fellowship is enough anymore. I think you need to have real teaching experience, be able to teach online, have experiences that will resonate with the average undergraduate at your directional state school. You need to be flexible, do a lot of different things, and prepare for a world outside the academy. You’ll probably need those skills because you probably aren’t getting that academic job.

On the other hand, those very skills that have prepared you to do something else may also separate you from the pack in a traditional academic job search, as they have with me three times, and as they did with other people I know. In my case, that meant blogging, creating historical markers, doing some consulting work, etc.

No conclusions here, just some random thoughts. I’m not saying that less elite programs are by and large placing students at a greater rate than more elite schools. That’s probably not the case. I will say though that any Ph.D. students needs to be as flexible and multifaceted as possible and I’m not sure that traditionally elite Ph.D. programs are prepared to train their students in this way.

…..To ground this in a bit more hard evidence, 4 UNM Ph.D’s received tenure-track jobs in last year’s job cycle. That is more than some much higher ranked departments have placed in the last 5 years combined.

…..Roger Whitson has a really intelligent reply to Cebula, with specific recommendations to both graduate students and departments on ways to improve job prospects outside of the collapsing tenure-track market.

Looks Like a Game of Concentration…

[ 12 ] August 12, 2011 |

So, the College of Arts and Sciences at my beloved institution has decided that students require visual aids in order to find their departmental website.  On the one hand, it’s kind of cool; the department name lights up when the mouse scrolls over, etc.  On the other hand, I gotta wonder how they came up with some of the pics.  Dark Side of the Moon for Physics? Globes for both History and Environmental Science? And I’m flummoxed as to what the difference between Social Theory and Sociology is supposed to be…

 

Professional Education in Foreign Affairs

[ 21 ] August 11, 2011 |

Andrew Exum and Charlie Simpson wrote a post a few days ago on how wannabe policy professionals should approach Ph.D. education.  The post was written in response to a series of tweets that defined the parameters of the problem, but the absence of context led to a bit of misunderstanding. Let this be a lesson: Not everyone reads your twitter feed religiously, and as such a bit of context is helpful.

Although I have some issues with the general argument that Exum and Simpson make, the last paragraph really irked me:

A note on Master’s degrees: Charlie went straight through to a PhD program, skipping the MA. Abu Muqawama got his master’s degree at American University of Beirut, which he loved, but mainly because he was just out of the U.S. Army and was basically a sponge, intellectually speaking. (He thought it was really cool — and continues to think it is really cool — that he could just walk into Tarif Khalidi’s office hours and chat about the medieval Islamic world or about Beirut during the war.) He spent a lot of time on his Arabic and graduated a semester early so he could concentrate full-time on his language training. (He also learned French during this period, which has been really useful as a research language.) Perhaps then it’s not a surprise that neither of us are huge fans of the IR / Security Studies MA racket. Frankly, we just don’t think the training is that good. (If the training was good, maybe there’d be less demand for PhDs in Washington!) Look for MAs that give specific training – language + regional studies, focused research + analysis, or similar. Else, go to a PhD program for 2 years, complete your coursework, ask for the master’s, and get out of Dodge.

Ok. That’s not a breezy dismissal so much as a slap in the face.  Over twitter, Exum has defended the post with the argument that it was intended only for those committed to getting a Ph.D.  Were that true, the explicit denigration of the terminal international relations MA would have been unnecessary.

But there are also a few other things wrong with the paragraph.  Let’s start with the acknowledgement that, in fact, Ph.Ds from policy oriented schools will be better prepared for inside-the-beltway analytical positions that most MAs.  The Ph.D takes longer, is more rigorous, requires original research, and forces the analyst to get used to plotting out her own projects.  Note the caveat “policy oriented”; I’m actually very skeptical that doctorates from non-policy oriented schools leave the candidate better prepared for a policy position than a policy oriented MA.

But, before anything else, you have to take into account that doing a Ph.D. rather than an MA means you’re four years closer to dead. This sounds trivial, but think of it this way; the four year difference between a 2 year MA and a 6 year Ph.D. constitutes roughly 10% of your entire expected professional career. If you’ve served in the military, or taken a couple years off, or worked another job, the math gets considerably worse.  If you choose to pursue the Ph.D rather than the MA, here’s what you’re not going to do in those four years: Learn how government works from the inside, build a bevy of professional contacts within the bureaucracy, and (not least) make money.

Ph.D. programs also, invariably, experience a considerable amount of attrition.  Some of this comes at the beginning, some at the second year mark, and some along the long and winding road to a dissertation.  The sad story of the ABD is that until the dissertation is finished, you have an MA, and generally not a particularly useful MA.  More on that in a second.  What this means is that if you make it to year 3, 4, 5, or 6 of your Ph.D and then, for whatever reason, can’t finish the dissertation, you’ve wasted years that could have been put to good use in a professional setting.

That’s pretty bad, but it’s actually worse that all that; a MA that was acquired as part of a failed Ph.D effort is, contra Exum and Simpson, considerably less valuable than a terminal MA.  The latter is structured to create a professional, and faculty tasked to support the project of training an international relations professional capable of undertaking a variety of different jobs in the foreign policy universe.  The former is structured to create the foundation for an academic.  These are two very different things, and the terminal policy MA leaves you in a much better professional position than the “failed on your way to a Ph.D” MA.  As Exum and Simpson suggest, faculty in many Ph.D programs can be somewhat less than helpful in the pursuit of non-academic jobs; this goes double for students they regard as failures.  Faculty at a terminal MA program, on the other hand, have different expectations of their students, and different understandings of the role they’re supposed to play in helping students get public policy jobs. Moreover, graduates of terminal MA programs in foreign affairs can almost always rely on an extensive network of alumni, working in policy positions both inside and outside of government, for assistance in job hunting.  And from experience with my own students looking for work, most of these jobs aren’t limited to getting coffee and handling administrative duties. That said, no MA program can guarantee a good, interesting job, even for its very best students.

The bottom line is this:  Exum and Simpson include ample warning about the difficulties of pursuing a Ph.D. for professional reasons, but miss a couple of the most important problems.  The time consuming nature of a Ph.D., combined with the very real threat of attrition, makes the Ph.D. an extremely sketchy choice for someone who aspires to write about policy inside the Beltway.  Contra Exum and Simpson, terminal, policy oriented MA programs do offer a genuine alternative to pursuing a Ph.D., an alternative that is in many ways superior.  Of course, some people will successfully pursue Ph.Ds, find jobs in DC, and lead happy, productive lives.  Many will not, so be very careful when thinking about how you want to spend the next six years of your life.

See also Drezner

Why do people read papers at academic conferences?

[ 61 ] July 22, 2011 |

boring

I mean literally read them when giving a “talk.” This practice gives unfortunate credence to Alfred North Whitehead’s remark that the university has been obsolete since the invention of the printing press. Hearing someone read a paper is a far less efficient communication process than just reading it yourself. (This is especially aggravating when the paper has been distributed beforehand).

I’ve heard the practice defended by people who point out that not everyone is a good extemporaneous speaker, which is true, but it makes me wonder what such people do in their classes. How are they adding value exactly? Of course some people are skilled at mixing reading from a prepared text with apt interpolations, expansions, digressions, etc., which is a different thing. But too often in recent years especially I’ve run into the faithful oral transmission of written text (often accompanied by the dreaded Powerpoint “enhancement” of key paragraphs).

Conferencing (Chicago edition: MPSA)

[ 0 ] March 31, 2011 |

I’m sitting in an airport bar waiting to board my PDX-ORD flight, with an outside shot at an upgrade.  I’m off to Chicago to present a paper, co-authored with my (one) Ph.D. student, on turnout.  Entitled “Salience and Turnout in Second Order Elections: The Role of EU Regional Funding” we examine the role of salience in explaining electoral turnout to the European Union Parliament (EUP).  Recent work on turnout has examined the question of participation from the benefit side of the classic calculus of voting, rather than the cost side (I’d list the citations, but I’m one of them).  Rather than placing the onus on the individual (or demand side) and her ability to overcome the associated cost hurdles, attention is instead focused upon the electoral context (or the supply side) to which potential voters respond.

We argue that one form the benefit term can take is that as the perceived salience of an election increases, the benefits of participation likewise increase.  Elections to the European Union Parliament are correctly considered largely irrelevant: the body doesn’t really matter, so people don’t bother voting for it.  However, we suggest that the presence of Objective I regional funding in an EUP constituency serves to increase the visibility of the EU as a whole, which in turn increases the perceived salience of the one direct manner in which the European citizen can participate politically in the EU through traditional means.

Our N is 1601, based on a level of analysis at the NUTS2 “region”.  Yes, it’s called NUTS, which is French for nomenclature d’unités territoriales statistiques, which is the primary EU statistical region.  There are three levels.  Our data are derived from 11 of the member states, going back to the first direct elections in 1979 where appropriate (as some member states in our data joined after 1979).  In other words, all of the original EU-12, save for Greece, because . . . neither of us could make out Greek.  The data were hand gathered from various official sources on the web, nearly exclusively in the native language of the country.  Hence, Greece lost its chance at the fame that this paper would have conveyed upon it.

In a multivariate model, we find that the presence of Objective I funding increases turnout roughly two percentage points (from an intercept of 34%).  As Objective 1 regions, by definition, enjoy less than 75 per cent of EU average GDP,  this finding appears incongruous when one considers the long standing relationship between SES and turnout.

This finding is interesting from two perspectives.  Theoretically, as variance in Objective I funding has no logical effect on lowering the costs of voting, it’s a good measure of the salience of the institution (and hence elections to that institution), and supports the notion that increasing the salience of an election has an observable effect on turnout.  Second, our findings suggest that increasing the visibility of the EU (ideally in a positive manner) engages a greater number of citizens in what is, for all intents and purposes, an election with little potential impact on policy.

And we’ve got some pretty color maps as well.  So, this is what I’m doing in Chicago for the next two nights.  That and, erm, drinking beer.

Random Airport Blogging, LHR Edition

[ 9 ] March 29, 2011 |

I’m sitting in the Star Alliance lounge in Terminal 1, awaiting the beginning of my LHR-SFO-PDX journey, having been awake since 0400 (to catch the 4.5 hour bus journey from Plymouth* to Heathrow), drinking for free.  At least the last part is a good thing.

British academics, specifically those who rely on the Arts and Humanities Research Council for their grant income, are somewhat disgruntled.  The government is directing them to “research” on David Cameron’s Big Idea, the “Big Society“.  To wit:

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) will spend a “significant” amount of its funding on the prime minister’s vision for the country, after a government “clarification” of the Haldane principle – a convention that for 90 years has protected the right of academics to decide where research funds should be spent.

By “clarification”, they mean “you want money?  Do what we tell you.”  This is diabolical on so many levels.  I’m an empiricist by training — I try to study the way things are, not how they ought to be.  However, my first reaction is that this proposal is better suited for fiction writers.  It’s never been terribly clear just what Cameron means by the Big Society, and he had a notoriously difficult time explaining it last month, but a consensus seems to be settling on one pernicious observation: that the Big Society is a Mad Men-esque re-branding of privatization: replacing public services with a volunteer ethos.  He ill-logically argues that as Big Government failed to address poverty, the state must get out of the way and allow the private sector and volunteerism to equally fail, if not worse.

Returning to the requirement that research grants in the arts and humanities “study” the Big Society — while I’m an empiricist, I have respect for solidly done normative work: it’s predicated on a logic, can be constructed with rigour, and is often articulate (certainly more so than my work; there’s only so many ways one can make a “Data, Methods, and Measures” section of a paper sexy.)  However, the Big Society is an ill-formed vague idea that doesn’t yet exist.  What is there to study?  I suppose my colleagues in the humanities can construct equally rigorous normative work on how the Big Society ought to be, or one can conduct a comparative study examining how the Big Society operates in other settings (e.g. the US), but first the object of the research question requires definition.  This has been lacking.

Oh yeah, there’s also the whole bit where a sitting Government is pushing its ideology on the academy.  That’s mediocre as well.

What isn’t mediocre is drinking in an airport for free, and there’s a decent wine selection here.  Having just finished my first glass, it’s probably a good idea to cease blogging.

[*] Plymouth’s slogan is “the spirit of discovery”.  One thing I’ve discovered by living in Plymouth for 7.5 years is that it’s difficult to get anywhere from Plymouth.  It’s little wonder that the pilgrims are so mythologized in the US, and I often feel that in terms of logistics, little has changed since 1620.

Workers of the World Unite!

[ 27 ] March 24, 2011 |

Or, at least, “tens of thousands” of middle-class ivory tower academics across the United Kingdom.  Judging by the comments to this BBC article about the one-day walkout, it’s not a universally popular position.

For what it’s worth, I didn’t support the strike action, but would find it abhorrent to cross a picket line.  Hence, I’m at home today . . . working.  I get an unscheduled research day that I’m using to finish up my conference paper for the MPSA and progress on my paper for the WPSA next month (as well as an unplanned and un-budgeted day of unpaid leave).

Which, of course, is ironic, opens the question: is the nature of work as an academic compatible with the idea of withholding one’s labor through strike action?  I know several of my colleagues here at LGM experienced first-hand the organizing of graduate student TAs at the University of Washington, which I just missed out on due to having the temerity to graduate.  Unionizing graduate students and adjunct lecturers makes sense to me.  Here in the UK, we don’t have the benefit of a tenure system, and aside from those who have achieved the rank of full professor, we’re all on the same nationally negotiated pay scale (and poof, there goes my 0.4% pay increase this year) so I am somewhat swayed by the suggestion that a union can be beneficial in this context.  Yet, here I am working regardless, although I’m not giving the two lectures I was scheduled to deliver today.

Discuss.

Mapping Intellectual Heritage

[ 9 ] February 11, 2011 |

PTJ has an interesting idea:

I did a little digging and thus far have been completely unable to locate something that I would have thought that someone would have already assembled: an online searchable database that mapped adviser-advisee relationships in IR. So far as I know, there is no such thing. Not yet.

I think that a map like this would be a very useful tool for all kinds of research on the sociology of the field, besides all the ways it would serve as fodder for intriguing hallway and bar conversations at conferences (“I never knew that X was your grand-adviser; did you ever meet her? What was she like?”) It would also be a tool for a certain amount of reflexive self-discovery; I recently learned that my grand-adviser was a labor historian named Henry Pelling, and that my PhD adviser Ira Katznelson’s undergraduate thesis was supervised by none other than the brilliant American historian Richard Hofstadter (which makes Hofstadter what, exactly — a “grand-influence” on me? We may need a whole new vocabulary for this map). I can think of dozens of interesting questions one might productively ask if this data were available to help produce answers…

I want to keep this simple, so I am thinking of only asking people maybe three things: who was your PhD adviser, which institution granted your PhD, and (to capture “grand-influences” and other such people) which 2-3 contemporaries other than your formal adviser would you cite as important intellectual influences. [The phrasing of that last one is a little awkward, but what I mean is “don’t mention classic or canonical authors, mention people who were actually productive during your lifetime but are members of a previous academic generation.”

I think that this would be an exceedingly useful project; would also help track the influence of particular graduate programs across the discipline. There’s a good discussion in the comments of Duck about how the project might move forward. For my part:

Advisor: Jonathan Mercer (makes Robert Jervis my “grand influence”)
Institution: University of Washington
Influences: Elizabeth Kier (also served on my committee), Alastair Iain Johnston, Stephen Biddle

We’re Just Firing You — The Course is Safe!

[ 27 ] January 29, 2011 |

This attack on academic freedom — an adjunct hired to teach a course was fired by Brooklyn College administration after a state assemblyman sent a letter arguing that the syllabus and instructor were too critical of Israel — is depressing. First of all, there’s assemblyman Hikind:

Hikind, who said he earned his master’s degree in political science from Brooklyn College, told Inside Higher Ed that he reached these conclusions after spending “countless hours” reading the newly hired adjunct’s work. This included, chiefly, his unpublished paper, “Inventing the Martyr: Struggle, Sacrifice and the Signification of Palestinian National Identity,” in which he examines martyrdom as it “embodies ideals of struggle and sacrifice” in the context of national identity. Hikind said such works reflect an effort to “understand” suicide bombers. “There’s nothing to understand about someone who murders women and children,” he said. “You condemn.”

Great — BC is outsourcing its hiring decisions to someone who thinks there shouldn’t be any difference between academic work and Weekly Standard editorials.  (Wait until he finds out about the criminology department!) But there’s only so much I can blame Hikind; he didn’t, after all, make the final call. So how does the administration justify this? Well, it argued that Petersen-Overton was “unqualified,” but (as the fact that he was hired by the people best situated to evaluate his credentials reflects) the “requirement” that more than an MA and doctoral work at the grad center is required to teach at CUNY is entirely fictitious. Perhaps sensing that this won’t fly, the College offered another non-explanation that’s comic in its disingenuousness:

“There’s a lot of factors at play that seem to be connected, but aren’t,” he said. The issue isn’t one of academic freedom; in fact, Thompson said, the course will continue under a different faculty member.

Right — it’s not a violation of academic freedom to fire someone for political reasons, because…the college will still offer the same course, taught by a different instructor with a different syllabus (that will presumably be constructed with the knowledge that there will be a political veto over its content.) I guess is that what we’ll all have to look forward to in the post-tenure utopia…

…UPDATE.  Petersen-Overton with his own response:

Jok­ing aside, there are a num­ber of issues at stake here that clearly res­onate far beyond my own case and affect all stu­dent pro­fes­sors. An attack on aca­d­e­mic free­dom and depart­men­tal inde­pen­dence is trou­bling enough, espe­cially con­sid­er­ing the clumsy way I was denied due process by the admin­is­tra­tion in this instance. But the prac­ti­cal con­se­quences of the college’s deci­sion under­score the pre­car­i­ous posi­tion that adjuncts hold at CUNY. In the blink of an eye, I have been denied tuition remis­sion, access to sub­si­dized health care for my fam­ily and finan­cial com­pen­sa­tion for the spring semes­ter in a time of seri­ous eco­nomic uncer­tainty. If the college’s deci­sion stands, it should send a chill through­out the entire adjunct community.

Gender Inequality in Academia

[ 15 ] January 26, 2011 |

Still very much exists. [via]

APSA Panel on Political Science and Journalism

[ 7 ] September 4, 2010 |

I was in the audience for the APSA panel that Scott refers to below, although to maintain my anti-establishment cred* I sat in the back, away from the front row seats reserved for “major” political science bloggers.  I live-tweeted the proceedings, and unlike Dan Drezner managed to avoid comments about Ezra Klein’s hair.  The panel consisted of Marc Ambinder, Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, Mark Schmitt, and Mark Blumenthal.  Some impressions:

While Barry Pump is being a touch over-snarky, he’s right to note that the enterprise had a bit of the lecture to it, in the sense that the blogger/journalists were telling the political scientists what we needed to do in order to be relevant.  On questions of blogging, journalism, and political science I am very rarely stirred to defense of institutional academic polisci, but I nevertheless felt myself stirring.  “This is what you need to do in order to make us pay attention to you” was a regular refrain from the panel, and while there is some utility to that message, it can come in shapes and sizes that provoke more or less irritation.

In part because of the constitution of the panel, discussion was weighted very heavily towards quantitative work in American politics.  I found this very interesting, especially given that half or more of the blogging political scientists in the room worked in other subfields, using qualitative methodologies.  I asked a question on the topic, and got some interesting answers, especially from Matt Yglesias.  Yglesias noted that it was curious that quantitative Americanist polisci received the most attention, given that this subfield/methodology tends to produce work that is virtually impenetrable to outsiders.  In addition to the fact, however, that voting behavior data is near and dear to the hearts of the Beltway journalist community, Yglesias suggested that what many journalists were looking for from polisci was a “men in white coats bearing Truth” effect.  Voting behavior articles impenetrable to anyone not having four semesters of methodology under their belt were, once explained to journalists in single syllable words, quite useful because they allowed the journalist to write in terms of a Conclusive Study that Totally Determined the Veracity of Some Point Beyond Further Question.

This was both very interesting and quite troubling.  It was interesting because I get the sense that it’s true; journalistic depictions of political science work often take the character of “studies have shown” which is a way of making a Truth claim.  Qualitative work is more difficult to fit into the Scientific Truth framework, in addition to being more difficult to summarize.  It’s troubling because while most political scientists tend to realize how tenuous claims to social science “Truth” are, it’s unclear that journalists have the same sense.  Political scientists know that, even apart from the brutal quantitative-qualitative battle, there are serious methodological fault lines within quantitative political science that bring the delivery of Scientific Truth into question.  All of the battles over proper treatment of variables and the appropriate characterization of causal claims kind of disappear when a journalist wants to know what “studies have shown.”

The question of subfield prominence also bears more attention.  By and large, IR and comparative haven’t had the same impact on the journalist community in either their quantitative or qualitative forms.  I think that several major concepts/grand theories from both comparative and IR have found their way into the general policy conversation (deterrence theory, for example) but it’s more difficult to find uses of clear, sound political science research.  IPE might be an exception to this.  The immense political science literature on ethnic conflict seems utterly detached from the way that ethnic conflict is treated in the popular media.

I’m tempted to say that the boundaries between good journalism on international affairs and qualitative political science in comparative and international relations are relatively thin, but years of experience selecting books for the Patterson Summer Reading List tells me that this isn’t true.  An academic book and a journalistic account really are very different, even when they tackle vaguely the same subject.  The former includes a clear theoretical perspective, and the presentation of information is provided with some methodological structure.  Journalistic accounts operate according to different (although not necessarily better or worse) structures.  Moreover, I can certainly appreciate why journalists don’t have the time to delve into full investigations of the area studies and comparative literature, or even to read some of the longer academic books in the field; I’m an academic, and I barely have time to read books anymore.

What the panel didn’t really touch on, and what I’m interested in for obvious reasons, is the phenomenon of political scientists using the tools they’ve been given to speak to the audiences that journalists normally command.  I suppose that this gets back to the first point; why should political scientists really bother making their work accessible to journalists, when they could just make their work accessible to the audiences that journalists have?  While I am convinced that the current preferred model of political science interaction with the public (none) is untenable, I’m not certain that making ourselves relevant to a profession that’s dying faster than our own is the right way to go.

*Dr. Farley does not now and has not ever possessed “anti-establishment cred”.  He simply arrived late and didn’t want to look like more of a doofus by pushing his way to the front.

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