William & Mary

Matt Ribar: International Relations Scholar

Matt Ribar

by Kate Hoving

The threat of “publish or perish” is usually the bane of graduate students and tenure-seeking scholars. You can argue its merit for producing the best faculty, but there’s not much argument over its value when an undergraduate gets an article published. The word remarkable comes to mind.

Matthew Ribar ’17 is the author of “Keeping Up with the Times: How the Discipline of International Relations Responds to Benchmark Events,” which appears in the International Studies Perspectives, published by Oxford University Press, published online in August 2016.

In the article, Ribar analyzes journal articles from 1980 to 2012 (from the Teaching, Research and International Policy or TRIP project at W&M) and interviews to try to desmonstrate if four major world events – or benchmark events—influenced the discipline of international relations. The benchmarks he selected are: the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in 1989; the proliferation of regional integration in 1992; the September 11, 2001 attacks; and the global financial crisis in 2008. The question Ribar poses at the outset is: “If scholars do not respond to benchmark events, then one can say the discipline is not policy relevant: How can the discipline claim to be policy relevant if it does not respond to the events that spur the creation of policy? As such, answering whether scholars respond to benchmark events is a small component of answering whether scholarship is policy relevant, but it is a crucial one nonetheless.”

Ribar is thorough, careful but assertive, and non-judgmental as he examines and explains his findings. He makes an interesting observation, too, by considering the impact of the benchmark events on graduate students as well as on scholars, at different points in their careers and therefore with slightly different goals. Ribar concludes that his analysis of the data and interviews indicate that the discipline of international affairs is responsive to world events and therefore is policy relevant. Ribar is also clear that this conclusion does not address the question of whether or not the academic discipline is actually engaged in the policy process, inviting further research and investigation.

The Journey towards Publication

The publication itself is noteworthy, but it is also a testament to Ribar’s commitment to his research and willingness to work until it became publish-quality.

A first version of the paper was originally presented in 2014 at the International Studies Association-South Conference in Richmond, Virginia, in collaboration with Professors Sue Peterson, Mike Tierney, and Dan Maliniak. Rather than considering the project finished after the successful presentation, however, Ribar invited comments and opinions and continued to improve and revise his work, ultimately culminating in a well-conceived, well-written scholarly article, solo-published in a highly esteemed peer-reviewed journal.

Ribar is a student of the Joint Degree Programme between William & Mary and the University of St Andrews. The Joint Degree Programme is one of only a few international undergraduate joint degrees offered with a U.S. university. Students complete two years at each institution but earn a single diploma –Bachelor of Arts (International Honours) – bearing the insignias of both institutions.

Applicants to the Joint Degree Programme  must commit to one academic content area: Economics, English, History, or International Relations (The class entering Fall 2017 will also have the option to select Classical Studies and Film Studies.)
As one can imagine, the programme is very competitive, and students must be accepted at both institutions. Also, the minimum number of credits required for the major in the Joint Programme is greater than the maximum number of credits allowed in the standard William & Mary one.

Ribar is an International Relations major and the son of William & Mary alumni. It was his mother, in fact, who learned about the St Andrews program when Ribar was thinking about colleges and suggested it to him. Both parents also “raved about St Andrews” him and encouraged him to apply.

Ribar began his research with Tierney and Peterson as a freshman, and then spent his sophomore and junior years at St Andrews. He returned to William & Mary this fall to complete his senior year.

Ribar found the experience in Scotland challenging but rewarding and offered him two different perspectives on the study of International Relations. “In the U.S. the focus is qualitative. For example, does poverty cause war? In the U.K. the emphasis is more on critical theory and philosophy.”
Another difference with W&M is that, “At St Andrews, the first two years are of college are general and then the second two are specialized, so I had had a mix of both by spending the second and third years there.”

Although Ribar found that to him St Andrews doesn’t have as much of a culture of independent undergraduate research as at W&M, it didn’t interfere with his finishing up his article nor did it dampen his enthusiasm for research now that he has returned to Williamsburg. He’s already back working at TRIP, coding a database of journal articles. He’s also working on his senior thesis with Assistant Professor Jeff Kaplow, investigating if the method by which an insurgent group acquires small arms can point to the likelihood of the group’s future fragmentation. It’s a topic he became interested in working at an NGO in Australia over the summer.

We can look forward to more articles in the future.