MPSA Roundtable on Applying to Grad School

MPSA Roundtable on Applying to Grad School

Mackenzie H. Eason of the University of California – Los Angeles chairs this MPSA roundtable session on “Applying to Graduate School” with Coty J. Martin, West Virginia University, Joan Ricart-Huguet, Princeton University, and Jovan Milojevich, University of California-Irvine. Members of the panel discuss questions and issues related to applying to graduate programs, such as when and where to apply, and how to make yourself a more appealing and ultimately successful candidate for admission.

Additional topics discussed include:

  • Challenges faced by first-generation and international college students.
  • Financial considerations and obtaining funding for graduate study.
  • Selecting a graduate program that will be a good fit based on research interests and geographic location.
  • Writing a personal statement or statement of purpose.
  • Networking, mentoring and building relationships with faculty.

MPSA members can log in to access a variety of recordings from highlighted MPSA conference presentations.

MPSA Career Roundtable on What to Do/Not Do at a Job Talk (audio)

MPSA Roundtable: What to Do (and What Not to Do) at a Job Talk
Listen in as Elizabeth A. Bennion of Indiana University-South Bend chairs the MPSA Career Roundtable on “What to Do and What Not to Do at a Job Talk” with Mary Hallock Morris of University of Southern Indiana and David C. Wilson of University of Delaware. During the discussion, the members of the panel share their observations on how to know if the university is a good fit for you (personally and professionally) and what can make you stand out as a successful candidate.

Topics discussed also include:

  • Preparing to present and explain your research.
  • Identifying your potential audience and building rapport.
  • Tips for handling unanticipated questions and awkward scenarios.
  • Advice for successful phone interviews, teaching demonstrations, and meals.
  • A variety of questions from the audience at the April 2017 MPSA Conference.

MPSA members can log in to access a variety of recordings from highlighted MPSA conference presentations.

Making Sure the Light at the end of the Tunnel is not a Train: Securing a Faculty Position

After more than six years as a graduate student, and having survived the rigors of academic life including assignment deadlines, student teaching, qualifying exams, proposal defense and drafting my dissertation, the end was in sight. What followed in quick succession was the realization that I needed a job! Of course, not just any job but a faculty position where I could engage young minds and pursue my other academic interests.  This is a time consuming process and one requiring your attention while in the final throes of completing your dissertation. Neither can be neglected. During a five-month period, I submitted 67 applications. I received four invitations to interview which ultimately led to two job offers. Here are some salient points that will make your job search less stressful and help you land a faculty position.

  1. Start early as possible. Consult your Chair before entering the job market.
  1. Consider the following to determine the scope of your initial search:
  • Research or teaching?
  • Instructor, lecturer, adjunct, non-tenure or tenure track?
  • Size of school, department, classes?
  • Region of country?
  1. Time is precious: Based on #2, do not apply for positions you do not plan to seriously consider if contacted or to an institution in a location where you are not prepared to live. Respect your time, your committee and that of the institution.MPSA-Blog_SearchCriteria
  1. Register for job sites: com is good start and your may want to join APSA for access to ejobs. (Editor’s Note: A list of open positions is also available on the MPSA homepage.) While job alerts can be useful, I found it rewarding to personally review postings as they appeared. I, therefore, checked the job sites daily which brought to my attention other positions within my preferred framework.
  1. Prepare your resume: research an appropriate format. You need a format tailored for a new graduate on the job market. Remember that this is the first “view” the search committee has of you. A well presented resume increases the odds that your application packet is immediately put in the “consider box”.
  1. Cover letter: One crisp and clear page is preferable. Certain applications may ask you to address something specific in the cover letter so an extra half page may be appropriate. Review carefully to avoid unnecessary verbiage.
  1. Letters of References:
  • Identify at least 5 references (sometimes called referees) as early as possible. Discuss with them what your goal is and share your resume.
  • Get accurate names, address, e-mail, phone number, and work titles of each person and create a List of References.
  • Pay close attention to applications that require Letters of References along with application. Some institutions only ask for letters if you are selected for an interview. Do not send documents not requested unless the application has accommodation for “other documents”. Note, however, that some applications will specify what can be submitted in that category.
  • Check with your Chair about whether the Department has a staff member who coordinates those letters that must be sent directly to the institution.
    • Some institutions ask that you submit the letters yourself. If that is the case, then identify the portal and ensure the referees are prepared to give their respective letter to you for submission.
    • Be sure to provide your referees with the appropriate portal when necessary.
  1. Transcripts: Have all transcripts on hand. Be prepared to provide any of the following in specified format:
  • PHD coursework.
  • One version with all other tertiary transcripts.
  • One version containing all transcripts in a single document.
  1. Statement of Teaching Philosophy: Identify specific goal(s) and objectives.
  1. Statement of Research Interest: Identify your current work and topics of future interest.
  1. Teaching Evaluations: teaching evaluations by students are testaments to your skill and knowledge. Nevertheless, do not ‘edit’ out unfavorable comments.  Search Committees keep such evaluations in perspective.
  1. Create a spreadsheet to track applications:
  • Name and address of school
  • Specific point(s) of contact
  • Application due date; date when review process starts as you want to get application in by that date (even if job announcement says reviews continue until filled).
  • Minimum requirements
  • Description of position
  • Prescribed path for delivery of Letters of Reference, if required.
  1. Before submitting every application, carefully review to ensure you have followed all instructions. Many institutions do not allow you to edit the application once submitted. In those cases, if you delete the application, you cannot resubmit for the position.
  1. Keep your cell phone charged. The last thing you want is for a Research Committee Chair (or a representative) to call offering you the opportunity to interview and your cell phone battery dies during the call. Also, be prepared for teleconferenced interviews (Skype or similar platform).
  1. When you get “the call”, prepare for the interview:
  • Review institution’s website and the department’s pages.
  • Prepare to respond to questions based on your application. You should have an “elevator blurb” prepared about your dissertation topic.
  • Prepare questions you want to ask the committee. Don’t ask about money at this point.
  • Do not “wing-it”!
  1. Be patient and flexible.  Try to work with the schedule and constraints of the research committee.

Success in landing an interview that will lead to an offer ultimately may depend on five factors: your resume, application package, presentation, attitude, and, of course, luck. Work as closely as possible with your Chair, put your best foot forward in each application and prepare to shine in interviews!

 About the author: Harold Young is an Assistant Professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. His research area is Public Law and examines an American and comparative perspective on judicial institutional changes and decision making. In his previous life he was a health communications project manager, a social worker and an attorney-at-law. He can be reached via email at youngh@apsu.edu.

Trendspotting Through the Gradventurist’s Lens

Now that it has been two weeks since MPSA 2016 ended, there are a few trends I observed during the conference that I feel need revisiting especially from a graduate student perspective. The conference weekend was hectic for everyone and there was a lot going on simultaneously, so it is useful to take a look back and absorb it slowly. The trends I am discussing in this post are positive and can be beneficial in the long run for all of us if we are able to take advantage of them the right way.

Co-Authored Work
Co-authored work is not a new phenomenon, but what I am specifically referring to is the trend of graduate students co-authoring with professors and mentors. This is an amazing trend that more graduate students should consider. The challenge is finding the right kind of mentor/professor to work with on a subject you feel passionately about.

For instance, I co-authored a paper with my professor in a field that is not my specialty purely because I wanted to work with them and the topic we came up with was fascinating to both of us. I am a Comparative/IR person while my co-author is an established public law and judicial politics professor. We started discussing topics that would be cool to study and ended up with a topic that explores how religious conservatives react to federal courts on socio-moral case decisions. We had never run experiments, so we both had a chance to work and learn how to set up experiments. I learned a whole new body of literature and approach to research with its roots in American Politics while my professor saw the potential of taking our study scope international.

I learned a lot more from this experience that I would have in a class with the same professor. The co-author relationship benefits the graduate students if your faculty co-author legitimately believes in dividing work. In my case, I wrote one half of the paper while my professor co-author wrote the other. We discussed it and then outlined the presentation together. This process gave me a whole new outlook that I would not have had any other way.

Point is, as a graduate student, go out there and find a professor or a mentor who will work with you to actually guide you through the process. Do not pigeonhole yourself to working within your own field, with the kind of job market we are all facing, it always helps to have expertise across fields.

Cross-Disciplinary Work
As I mentioned in my last point, it helps to work across the fields and specialties. We are all political scientists even though we study very different things. My colleagues in public law struggle with International Relations the exact way I struggle with public law. But together, we actually work really well in tandem. Also working together opens up our research options significantly.

For instance, one of my colleagues is a public law and American politics specialist who focuses on judicial politics. We have had multiple conversations where I tried to make the comparatist’s argument that whatever is studied in American politics is basically an extensive case study and can be easily applied to other countries. After multiple back and forth arguments, we ended up working on a paper together that essentially chalks out the trajectories and processes through which judiciaries across the world define and maintain judicial independence. Most of the literature that we utilized for theory building came from American politics, but most of our case analysis came from comparative and IR. We ended up with a decent paper at the end that raised some interesting arguments which are nowhere to be found in purely American or public law literature.

In simple terms, all I am saying is – mixing and matching your topics and expertise is a good thing. If you are a comparativist who studies East Asia, it might be worthwhile to work with a public opinion person as that can change the dynamics of your work. You both learn in the process, you expand your abilities and knowledge base while ending up with a paper that can potentially be published in regional studies journals as it is new and exciting.

There were other interesting trends like using a lot more data in studies of IR and a slow but steady uptick in good quality qualitative work in American politics. Based on what I witnessed at the MPSA 2016 conference, I am consciously expanding my work areas to include different fields that I find interesting. Remember when the adage that you should work on something that you find interesting? Turns out they really mean it and it does not have to be within your own field. We are academics and we do not need to pigeonhole our work to fit a specific box.

 

About the author: Adnan Rasool is a PhD Candidate, a Graduate Research Assistant and Student Innovation Fellow 2016 – 2017 at Georgia State University. He is also a blogger for the 2016 MPSA conference in Chicago. His research work focuses on the Role of Bureaucracies in Democratization and Authoritarian Rule, Money in US Politics as well as how social issue cases impact trust of social interest groups in Federal Judiciary.  You can also find Rasool on Twitter and blogging at The Gradventures

Your To Do List: One Week until MPSA 2016

MPSA2016_OneWeekWe are one week away from the MPSA 2016 conference and a lot of us are still scrambling to get everything in order. Those of us making it to the MPSA for the very first time are especially equal parts excited and nervous to be presenting at such a big forum. So to help out my fellow first timers, I thought I would document my preparation experience and those of my colleagues who also are attending MPSA for the first time.

Based on the countless conversations I have had with faculty, my colleagues and friends who are also going to MPSA, I have come up with three helpful ideas that can help you prepare for the big event.

  • Test Your Research and Presentation on a Real Audience
    I have mentioned this in one of my earlier posts but it needs to be regurgitated. The best way to prepare for a presentation at a forum like MPSA is to test it out on live audiences multiple times. In my department we have an internal conference a week before MPSA every year, where all students presenting at MPSA get to present their research in front of a decent sized audience. The point of doing so is to get the presenters at ease with the idea of presenting in front of a crowd but also get them used to the flow of their presentation. The critique helps, but what helps more than that is the advice provided to them about how to take that critique.

    A conference like MPSA is equal parts about presenting your research and you putting your name out there. How you manage critique helps build an image that you can curate over years before you even hit the job market. In short, present in front of an audience, have your research on your fingertips and intentionally go out of your way to smile and be positive about critique.

  • Get Business Cards Made and Keep Your Name Tag On
    As an attendee and especially as a graduate student, when you attend a conference like MPSA you will be meeting a lot of people and trying to socialize as much as possible. You will be passing on your information and that cannot be on a piece of paper with a hand written email address. Up your game and get some business cards made in advance. Most departments would be happy to assist their students with this and even if they cannot get them made for you, they can at least give you the design that you can use to print your own cards. (Online options exist for fast business card printing: NextDayFlyers, VistaPrint, etc.)

    Secondly, once you are at the conference please keep your name tag on. Ideally on the right side. This makes life easy for the person shaking your hand or trying to engage you in a conversation. This is especially helpful for people like me who have difficulties remembering names. Keeping the name tag on also helps people memorize your name faster because they can use it during conversations. Think about it, if you just met someone and even if they told you their names, you will probably keep referring to them with pronouns throughout the conversation. But if you could see their name tag, you are more inclined to use their name more often as it makes you appear more attentive. As simplistic as it sounds, these little things make a difference in daily interactions.

  • Be a Tourist
    Chicago is one of the most tourist friendly cities in the US. We are all in that city for 3 to 4 days. Not one of us is presenting all those 4 days. I know it is hard to imagine having fun right now but the moment that presentation is done, you will want to go check out the city.

    So, plan in advance. To start, with the city has amazing food. There are multiple lists online for must eat foods, so start with those. Chicago is a big sports town and the White Sox are playing home games. (There is even a deal on tickets for MPSA members.) Chicago Blackhawks are also playing at home. With regards to art and culture, there is the Art Institute as well as multiple festivals and shows around the city. Do step outside downtown. The city has a lot to offer and while most of it is downtown, there are hidden gems all over town with easy transport access. On their site, MPSA has compiled local family-friendly resources to help make your experience in Chicago more enjoyable.

A week from now, we will all be presenting our hard work at MPSA and getting a chance to socialize. I will be live blogging from MPSA 2016 and would love to hear your opinion and experiences. Drop by and say “Hi,” tweet or email me while you are there about your research, your interactions and whatever else you notice at MPSA.

About the author: Adnan Rasool is a PhD Candidate, a Graduate Research Assistant and Student Innovation Fellow 2016 – 2017 at Georgia State University. He is also a blogger for the 2016 MPSA conference in Chicago. His research work focuses on the Role of Bureaucracies in Democratization and Authoritarian Rule, Money in US Politics as well as how social issue cases impact trust of social interest groups in Federal Judiciary.   You can also find Rasool on Twitter and blogging at The Gradventures.

 

Studying for Comps? Here are Three Approaches to Try Based on Learning Style

Rasool_MindMap_Modernization
An example of the author’s mind mapping technique (click to expand).

There comes a time in every PhD student’s career where they have to sit through the dreaded qualifying exams (or “comps” as they are often called). The structure of the exam changes from department to department, but the essence of the process and purpose remains the same; test the knowledge and capacity of the candidate to see if they qualify to be a peer rather than a student.

Having recently taken my comps (and hopefully having passed them), I realized a number of things that I wish someone had told me earlier. There were techniques that my colleagues and I used which were helpful and unique in their own right that could be of benefit to others. Here are three approaches, and tips from the process, that might be helpful to those of you taking your comps soon:

I. Answer the Question

“Answer the question” and “what is your theory” are the running jokes in our department and there is a good reason for that. As obvious as it is, it is really hard to stick to answering the question when studying or writing a qualifying exam answer. We all have a tendency to go off on a tangent when talking about material that we have spent months studying and revising. According to most professors I talked to, the biggest issue is that students get excited about showing off their knowledge and that they forget to specifically answer the question. Instead of answering the question, the students end up talking about all the material they know about that particular subject area.

For example, when asked whether ASEAN is a successful organization, students have a tendency to do a data dump of everything they know about international organizations. While that is helpful and that literature is critical, it does not answer the specific question asked. In this case, I found it helpful to break down the question into portions; a technique often taught in high school for parliamentary debating. First, break down the question, then rewrite it in your answer with detailed definitions to reword it in a manner you can answer more specifically.

In the case of our example (Whether ASEAN is a successful organization?):

  • What is ASEAN?
  • How do we define “successes” for international regional organizations?
  • What are we comparing it to?

Answering this series of questions creates a default sequence and structure that keeps your answer on point.

II. Find Your Learning Technique

Learning techniques work differently for different people. This is an obvious statement that we all tend to forget and expect somehow that the learning process of everyone at the same level needs to be identical.

Let’s use myself and my colleague as an example. I am a visual learner. I draw things out and they stick with me. Reading something fifteen times has no impact on me but drawing the words out just once, allows me to pick up on concepts. My colleague on the other hand has to read every single word in every article and book in order to fully understand it. While I can glean an idea and theory based on the Abstract, Intro and Conclusion, my colleague will not. This means our speed of learning is different but not our quality.

Your learning technique will determine how much time you need to prepare for comps. Depending on the approach, some people will need to prepare for a year, some need six months and some need only three months. Additionally, seniors will often share their notes from when they studied for comps. Those notes can be helpful but by no means are those notes everything you need.

Since I am a visual learner, I create mind maps of information to find my way through the large quantity of data that I consumed during my preparation for the comps. The mind maps are a helpful tool to help remember large quantities of information not just for the exam but for professional life that awaits us. Think of mind maps like a walk down a super market aisle – everything has a location. You do not need to know the exact product that is there by name because you will never be able to memorize all the products on the shelves. What you can do is remember what products are at each location. Then, once you remember the location, you can locate the exact brand of the product you want. For example, if I need to remember something about democracy, I start with whether it’s a definition, transitions or something else. If it is a transition, which of the three major ones is it? If it is modernization then I can remember the three to four major works under that. This mapping of knowledge allows me to remember specifics about things that other methods don’t.

If you are a visual learner, try drawing the information with the mind map technique. It takes a while to get used to it, but it does make life easier.

III. Use Audio and Video

We get so consumed with reading and writing that we often forget that one of the best ways to remember things is through audio and video. One of the major methods I used during my preparation was to write my notes, build mind maps and then record myself talking through my mind maps. I recorded every major concept area I had as if I was explaining a route to myself. I would listen to the whole set of recordings (I had 5 sets for IR and 4 for Comparative – lasting about 45 minutes combined) first thing in the morning. I would put them in the background while I got ready in the morning and also every day for a week before going to sleep. Through the magic of repetition, it got to a point where I could remember most of the things I needed to know because my brain would make them in to a sequence similar to song lyrics.

My colleague on the other hand used videos. One of them simply made a YouTube playlist of interviews of all major authors in different subject areas and watched them over and over again. According to him, the advantage was that he could learn and remember more when he heard it from the person who wrote it. He could understand the context of arguments better when he heard the narration and saw the expressions that went with it. Another friend used podcasts of book reviews to understand what the author really wanted to say instead of just reading the book.

These are just three approaches out of a number of potential study methods. These specific ones were helpful to me and I hope they will be helpful to others. I do plan to post my recordings and material online so they can be of use to others who are preparing. My intention is to share my own experiences and also start a discussion where others can chip in ideas and approaches that worked. This process is brutal for every PhD Student and every bit of support makes a difference. As political scientists, we can help each other and also build best practices that can systematize this process and make it slightly less stressful.

 

About the author:  Adnan Rasool is a PhD student, a Graduate Research Assistant at Georgia State University, and a blogger for the 2016 MPSA conference in Chicago. His research work focuses on the Role of Bureaucracies in Democratization and Authoritarian Rule, Money in US Politics as well as how social issue cases impact trust of social interest groups in Federal Judiciary.  In his previous life he has been a Political Campaign Strategist, an award winning blogger on current affairs and a development sector expert.  You can also find Rasool on Twitter and blogging at The Gradventures.

Three Methods to Ready Your Research for Public Absorption

MPSA_Blog_PublicConsumptionRecently one of the biggest discussions within the field of political science has been on how to use our research for policy making purposes. The debate has focused on finding the best possible avenues to disseminate the research work in a manner that is suitable for public consumption but more critically for the consumption of policy makers.  

As political scientists, we undertake research that aims to answer crucial questions that impact our society. Whether it is figuring out how public opinion is crafted or how voting behavior impacts eventual policy making, most of the answers are debated within the domain of political science. And yet we have disconnect with the policy making world and the practical application of these concepts. As someone who has a background in public policy making, this discussion has fascinated me at a personal level and has driven my research interests. Having been involved on both sides (i.e. public policy and research) I have noticed a number of ways this divide can be potentially bridged.

I recently had the opportunity to try out approaches to bridge this divide as part of a Political Action Committee (PAC) retreat and fundraising events. As a political scientist who works on money in politics, I was invited to the event to provide my insights and lessons from research I have been conducting over the last few months. The audience was made up of political operatives and members of the general public who were interested in improving their political influence in an efficient manner. I will skip out on the details of what was discussed and presented in favor of sharing more global insights with my fellow political scientists about such interactions.

  1. Fortune Cookie Wisdom
    While we as researchers spend a lot of time understanding and explaining the intricacies of the problems at hand, the common public as well as policy makers are not interested that level of detail. What they are expecting are fortune cookie knowledge about complex and often multifaceted issues. Their appetite for nuance is low but they are interested in listening to what effectively amounts to the information regularly found in our concluding paragraphs and thesis statement. The focus is on why something happens and how it can be addressed. It is an oversimplification of the work we do but remember that it is what can be digested by the majority in small doses.

  2. Statistics and Facts
    Contrary to popular belief, the majority of the population and even the policy makers are short on data and facts. Often the discussion in the public domain is driven by special interests and rhetoric. What I found being the most potent contribution from academia is statistics and empirical evidence. Our strength as academics is the scientific method of inquiry and the ability to provide causation and correlation for talking points. For instance one of the discussions where this came in handy was a debate on how to improve minority participation in the political system. The minority in question has very low political participation but is highly educated with one of the highest average household incomes. One of the methods put forward as a solution was simply to get younger members of the community involved in politics by creating an internship program that could allow them first hand exposure to the political system. The logic being if the group is exposed to the system and have better information about it, they can design their policy interventions in a way that would actually work within the system.

  3. Accepting Simplicity
    The common public or even the policy makers are not interested in the details of our work. I know it is hard to cut down the research work we spend countless hours doing into bullet points but remember that is what is readily consumed. As academics we need to embrace that simplicity. One of the best ways to do this is by getting active on social media. A lot of academics are finally moving in that direction and that is a good things for our discipline. Social media is a great tool for us and simplified versions of our works can get a lot of traction if done right. Blogs, articles, columns or even simple tweets go a long way. Policy makers as well as the general public is hungry for expert opinions that is not simply rhetorical. That is our opening but we need to communicate in a language that will be understood.

Academia has a strong place in policy making and general narrative building. The insights I have provided from my interactions are by no means the only insights out there but they are a starting point.

This year, MPSA will have bloggers and vloggers covering the annual conference as one method to highlight our research. Additionally, MPSA encourages participants to use the hashtag #MPSA16 when live tweeting conference discussions and debates. As we move toward the MPSA conference, we have a great opportunity to highlight excellent cutting edge research by growing our collective social media presence.

About the author:  Adnan Rasool is a PhD student, a Graduate Research Assistant at Georgia State University, and a blogger for the 2016 MPSA conference in Chicago. His research work focuses on the Role of Bureaucracies in Democratization and Authoritarian Rule, Money in US Politics as well as how social issue cases impact trust of social interest groups in Federal Judiciary.  In his previous life he has been a Political Campaign Strategist, an award winning blogger on current affairs and a development sector expert.  You can also find Rasool on Twitter and blogging at The Gradventures.