This roundtable Rethinking the Political Science Major (audio), chaired by John T. Ishiyama of University of North Texas and featuring J. Cherie Strachan of Central Michigan University, Whitney Lauraine Court of College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, and Amber Dickinson of Oklahoma State University, examines trends within the discipline rethinking the structure and function of the undergraduate political science major in the context of shrinking enrollments within the major, changing student demographics, and evolving workforce demands.
Discussion about ways the major can revitalize itself in the face of changing times, growing undergraduate participation by female, minority, and non-traditional students, and declining political ambitions among female and minority students uncomfortable with the combative climate of modern-day politics.
Ideas about how the discipline can restructure itself and engage in strategic planning to meet the needs of diverse student populations and encourage political participation by underrepresented groups.
Conversation about ways that the major could better prepare students with in-demand skills required by employers and re-brand itself to emphasize workforce relevance and encourage increased interest from undergraduate students.
One of the most important parts of conducting any research project, regardless of its methodology, is securing research funding. The recent MPSA conference offered several roundtables dedicated to research funding; in this blog, I cover the roundtable co-sponsored by the Midwest Women’s Caucus, the Gender and Politics section, and the Professional Development section. The panelists offered several useful pieces of advice when considering where and how to apply for research grants that are applicable for researchers at any stage, including graduate students.
Explaining Your Research
A key theme that the panelists touched upon was the importance of being able to explicitly and succinctly summarize one’s research. While this is a piece of advice that many of us have heard before, the roundtable provided some specific suggestions on how to do it. Firstly, a grant application should provide the bottom line up front (BLUF). Grant reviewers must review hundreds or thousands of pages-long grant applications for funding. Therefore, it is important for applicants to succinctly present key information about their projects such as what the project is, what it will do, and why it is important in the first part of the application. Relatedly, a researcher should also think about a keyword or key phrase that summarizes their research. For example, my dissertation examines the causes of variation in anti-US military protest mobilization in Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea. Keywords and key phrases would include “mobilization” and “anti-US military protests”. Identifying the keywords allows a researcher to tease out the core of their research project, and in doing so, may make it easier to communicate their research to funders who may not be familiar with the broader research area.
Contextualizing Your Research
A related roundtable theme was the importance of contextualizing one’s research. Researchers need to be mindful of the fact that funding sources vary widely, and, in many instances, may come from outside one’s discipline. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that funders may not be familiar with disciplinary jargon or literature and researchers should write their applications accordingly. Even for those funders who are familiar with the discipline or the research area, grant applicants need to spell out the significance of their projects. Questions to consider include:
How does this project fit and contribute to the broader disciplinary literature?
How does this project aid or advance the sciences?
How does this project help people?
The ability to highlight the importance of one’s research to the discipline and society at large may mean the difference between receiving funding or not.
The panelists also emphasized the importance of understanding funders’ priorities.
What are the goals of the funding organization?
What projects have received funding in the past?
Researchers should use these cues to emphasize the aspects of their project that align with organizational priorities to improve their chances of getting funded.
Finally, panelists emphasized the importance of collaboration in securing research funding. First, researchers in search of funding should consider public sector partners who may be interested in their research and accordingly, may be willing to provide some research funding. Public sector partners may include municipal, state, or national governments or public non-governmental organizations. Second, researchers may want to consider collaborating on a research project. Collaborative proposals, especially cross-disciplinary or cross-university projects, tends to be more likely to be funded. Additionally, adding contributors from different disciplines or institutions may open up the types of grants for which researchers can apply. While it may be difficult to identify potential collaborators, the panelists suggested that graduate students and early researchers contact their advisors or other faculty mentors for recommendations.
By James Steur at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
As a first-generation student, one of my primary goals as an academic is pursuing public scholarship. I want to write in a clear and engaging way for general audiences so they understand political science research and why it makes a difference in their lives. Some people, like my parents, never had the opportunity to attend college and have a difficult time understanding why academic writing is essential. My parents, for instance, didn’t appreciate the concept of polarization the last time I visited home. After I explained what polarization meant and how it relates to Congress being more divided than ever, they began to care more about the implications of a polarized Congress. By making politics more approachable, I hope to engage the broader public with knowledge that produces more understanding, interest, and participation in politics.
My interest in public scholarship led me to attend the panel “Public Engagement: Blogging, Twitter & Podcasts 1 in Higher Ed” at this year’s MPSA conference. Six panelists with a variety of backgrounds talked about their experiences with public engagement. The nature of the conversation about public engagement varied greatly during the session and included discussions about podcasts, blogs, Twitter, and writing op-eds in newspapers. Although the panelists’ experiences and backgrounds were different, five common themes emerged:
Decide How To Frame Your Public Engagement If you choose to participate in public engagement, be intentional in how you frame yourself as an engaged member of the public. One panelist, for example, tried framing his work as uncontested scientific research. By sticking to empirics, this panelist was able to curate a specific image as a researcher who was non-partisan on political issues. Another panelist took a different approach: he acknowledged his partisanship, some of his bias as a partisan, and wrote pointed op-eds about current events in newspapers. Each of the panelists took different approaches to frame their public engagement, but they all agreed you should be intentional in curating your brand. (Read one panelist’s perspective of the session.) Once you engage with the public in one manner, it can be challenging to change your reputation.
Write Clearly & Concisely Writing a research article is different from writing blog posts. Research articles often include jargon, many references, and elaborate methods. All of these different parts of a research article culminate in 20 pages of text that can be challenging for even the most seasoned researcher to read. All of the panelists agreed that verbose and jargon-heavy blogs, podcasts, and newspapers articles are not ideal. Shorter, more accessible, and straightforward communication will lead to better engagement with the public. In short, simplify what’s going on without making your content simple.
Know Your Audience Knowing your audience is important. If you record podcasts, for example, who are the people you want to listen to your podcast? If your audience for the podcast is a person in the general public, you’ll want the content of your podcast to be highly accessible. If your audience for the podcast is students in one of your courses, you may include more jargon than for a more general audience. Recognize that the content and discussion topics depend on your intended audience. Regardless of the form your public engagement takes, you should always be asking yourself this question: “Who is my audience?” Then produce content with that audience in mind.
Public Engagement Can Build an Invaluable Community If you work with multiple scholars on a specific blog or podcast, you form a community around an important issue. This community and your connections are an invaluable part of your network and support system—don’t take them for granted. Make sure to express your gratitude to members of your community for their hard work on important issues and projects.
Public Scholarship is Becoming More Valued in the Discipline Political science, like other academic disciplines, has long emphasized the importance of scholarly publications. Publications represent an intellectual contribution and help make a stronger case for your tenure. That said, public engagement is beginning to hold more value in the field. The American Political Science Association has a webpage dedicated to public engagement, a new Institute for Civically Engaged Research, and websites like the Monkey Cage and the Mischiefs of Factions continue to gain national recognition for the discipline. Publishing research articles is still important, but public engagement is becoming more valued in the field.
After attending the panel, I was struck by all the panelists’ different ideas and ways to participate in public engagement. However, one question stood out to me that any scholar should ask themselves before participating in public engagement: “What are your reasons for engaging in public scholarship?” Ultimately, any scholar should answer this question for themselves to recognize their own reasons for public engagement.
About the Author: James Steur is a Ph.D. student in political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research interests include political psychology, political behavior, and the role of emotions in citizen decision-making. He is a first-generation student, passionate coffee drinker, and excited to be blogging at this year’s MPSA conference. You can find James on Twitter at @JamesSteur.
It was the first day of #MPSA19, and I had just participated in the best conference experience of my life. Fittingly, the topic of our roundtable was academics and civic engagement. And we certainly engaged.
My fellow panelists were each passionate about connecting political science to the world outside academia. Each of us has published our share of traditional, peer-reviewed academic research in outlets such as books and journal articles. But, we do not leave it there. Panelist Gregg R. Murray of Augusta University studies political psychology and writes for Psychology Today. Justin Bullock of Texas A&M podcasts regularly on Public Problems and Bush School Uncorked. Lara M. Brown of George Washington University served in the Clinton Administration and now writes for The Hill among other publications. Nayma Qayum of Manhattanville College studies Bangladeshi politics and blogs for the Monkey Cage. Session chair Deron T. Schreck of Moraine Valley Community College hosts numerous public forums and utilizes blogging and podcasting in his teaching. I not only blog for MPSA, I also write newspaper columns and maintain the blog for Insight Kansas. We all also speak to reporters regularly.
Audience questions centered on university and departmental expectations for hiring, tenure, and promotion. (You can read more about the audience response to the panel in this post by James Steur.) We all agreed that the academic career model is showing its age. Many universities still reward only traditional research. Tenure and promotion documents will require some adaptation in order to accommodate the newer outlets for ideas, particularly since outlets like the Monkey Cage have become serious, respected places to release preliminary research results and reach broader audiences. Of course, there is the usual resistance from the old guard, but we all agreed that modernizing hiring and promotion guidelines was an essential step to keeping political science relevant.
That is not to say we agreed on everything. Sparks flew when I disclosed that I disclose—specifically, that I acknowledge my party affiliation up-front, have attracted critics, and sometimes choose provocative titles for my work. Several panelists expressed serious concerns that professors who are perceived as party hacks or bomb-throwers compromise political science’s integrity and our discipline’s reputation for putting analysis over partisanship. These concerns are well-founded, but I countered with my own experiences, in which politicos often distrust professors who claim to be unbiased, and prefer those who disclose our partisan leanings up-front and let readers take our comments with a grain of salt. As a Democrat, I maintain great relationships with many elected Republicans in deep-red Kansas, because unlike the politically-disengaged majority, we share an appreciation for political parties themselves. I also argued that today’s students expect professors to have real-world experience with what they teach. No one would trust a technical school professor who taught “diesel mechanics theory” and never touched an engine, so why should they trust political science professors who have no real-world political experience? Most political scientists have political histories, leanings and opinions, whether we reveal them to our students and readers, or not. I maintain that, as with campaign finance, the best policy is to disclose.
Still, the argument in favor of nonpartisanship is a strong one, too, and we did not come to a consensus during our roundtable session. However, what we did do was far more important—we had a lively discussion while keeping it civil. In so doing, we role-modeled the approach extolled by colleagues John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse: not seeking consensus, but instead, learning how to effectively handle our disagreement. We left a spirited discussion agreeing on some things, disagreeing on others, and each appreciating one another’s’ perspectives. Several of us continued into an impromptu hallway conversation lasting nearly two hours. Though nothing is yet official, we discussed the potential for a new MPSA Working Group on Civic Engagement. E-mail addresses and Twitter handles were exchanged, selfies taken, and follow-up conversations promised.
This experience was conferencing at its very best. It was a lively exchange of ideas, agreement and civil disagreement, and mutual support for colleagues at different stages of our careers. Teaching colleges and research universities, faculty and administration were all represented on our roundtable panel. Most of all, it was a sustained discussion about just what it will take to make, and keep political science relevant both on- and off-campus, in a world that continually changes faster than academia.
About the Author:Michael A. Smith is a Professor of Political Science at Emporia State University where he teaches classes on state and local politics, campaigns and elections, political philosophy, legislative politics, and nonprofit management. Read more on the MPSA blog from Smith and follow him on Twitter.
The recent MPSA conference offered many valuable roundtables related to professional development for a variety of populations including graduate students. I had the opportunity to attend the roundtable about how to do fieldwork, an important one for any researcher needing to travel to a particular place to collect data, whether in one’s home country or abroad. The roundtable offered several useful insights for graduate students, many of which I have found helpful during my own fieldwork.
First and foremost, researchers needing to collect data from the field must consider the impact of their research on their subjects. Of course, this need applies more to researchers conducting interviews, focus groups, surveys, participant observation, or using other ethnographic techniques than archival work. Many vital questions in social science involve vulnerable populations, which can include marginalized communities, survivors of sexual assault, former members of a terrorist organization, and many others. It is the researchers’ responsibility to consider the ways in which their research may impact the lives and safety of their subjects. Considerations might entail keeping the subject’s identity anonymous in the publication of the research or even where an interview takes place.
A consequential question raised during the roundtable was what to do if an interviewee reveals something unexpected that might be damning to a public figure. Should a researcher publicize everything reported to them by their interviewees? While it might be tempting to drop a proverbial bombshell and provide a surprising insight, the panelists cautioned against rushing to judgement about such revelations. One should carefully consider the ramifications of making that revelation public. It may or may not be true; the researcher should try to verify the claim through other sources. Even if the claim is true, the researcher should consider the implications for their interviewee. Will it put the interviewee’s safety at risk? Will it otherwise harm the interviewee (i.e. reputational costs, employment impacts)?
The Logistics of Fieldwork
The panelists on the roundtable also brought up several logistical considerations important for researchers going to the field to consider, from funding to how to get the data. Most of the panelists did their fieldwork over the course of several trips (the majority did research abroad). Many began their projects with a preliminary trip of a few weeks and then returned to their site; most of the panel stayed in their research site consecutively no more than a year, often less.
An audience member also asked about one of the most imperative parts of doing fieldwork: getting it funded. As one panelist noted, it is difficult to get funding for fieldwork, depending on the type of research one is doing and the institution with which one is affiliated. Fortunately, there were a few roundtables in the #MPSA19 program dedicated solely to research funding, one of which I will cover in a future blog. One tip that a panelist mentioned was one that I have heard from many experienced researchers; for researchers staying at their research site for a semester or more, it is sometimes possible to draw an income by teaching at a host university. Those doing research outside of their home countries often seek institutional affiliations for a variety of reasons, including access to resources such as libraries or teaching opportunities. Researchers not affiliated with a local university or college can also contact nearby institutions about teaching opportunities.
The roundtable also included various points about collecting the data itself. The panelists cautioned against “parachuting” into a research site. Researchers (should) go to the field not to quickly gather data and leave (“parachuting”) but to go to the field to get a better sense of the area and the culture. Understanding the research site, of course, should begin long before one actually arrives. At the same time, understanding the research site through secondary sources cannot substitute for firsthand experience. In my experience, immersing yourself in the culture, sometimes called “soaking and poking”, is as important to the research as the data collection is itself. Understanding the context is essential for understanding the data one collects: how do the insights from the interview fit into the big picture? Furthermore, gaining knowledge about the area through experience may make interviewees more likely to open up; it shows a respect for their home country and community.
Preparation prior to each interview is integral to data collection as well. The panelists emphasized “doing one’s homework” to get the most out of each interview. Are there questions for which a certain person can give better insights than others? Not only can preparation maximize the utility of the interview, but adequate preparation also signals to the interviewee that the researcher is serious and knowledgeable about the topic of interest, which may make them more comfortable to share information.
The format of the data collection may also influence how open interviewees are. One panelist mentioned that their experiences with focus groups yielded some insights that a one-on-one interview may not have. The researcher interviewed military personnel, a group from which it may be difficult to garner unfeigned answers, and found in a few instances that when one person was candid, the rest of the group also opened up.
The roundtable on fieldwork was one of my favorite sessions at #MPSA19, offering insights from researchers who have valuable firsthand experience in conducting fieldwork from which graduate students and researchers at all levels can benefit. I hope that similar roundtables continue to be offered at future MPSA conferences.
By Charmaine N. Willis of University of Albany, SUNY
As panelists frantically completing their papers and presentations are acutely aware, the 77th Annual MPSA Conference is fast approaching. In addition to some excellent topical panels, this year’s conference offers a bevy of roundtables on professional development, ranging from pedagogy to research to the job market. In this post, I preview several roundtables and series that may especially be helpful for graduate students. I highlight the “Student” professional development series (with the exclusion of the “How to Thrive in Graduate School” series, to be covered by fellow MPSA blogger Colleen Wood). Additionally, I preview other professional development roundtables regarding research that may be helpful to graduate students. Please note that this list does not contain information about all of the professional development roundtables, so it may be worth perusing the professional development offerings in the online program on your own.
What to Expect at a Job Interview at a Teaching School The student professional development panels kick off with a session of “What to Expect at a Job Interview at a Teaching School” on Friday, April 5, from 8 to 9:30 am. This session may be particularly relevant to advanced doctoral students who are getting ready to go onto or are already on the academic job market, although it could be useful for doctoral students early in their programs. As severalauthors note, the hiring process for “teaching schools” such as small liberal arts colleges (SLACs) is different from that of research-intensive institutions and job candidates must think about how to package themselves and their research accordingly. Therefore, this is an important panel for those interested in teaching-intensive positions. Another session is offered on Saturday afternoon from 4:45 to 6:15 pm with a different set of panelists. Note that these sessions are not sequential.
The Non-academic or Alt-ac Job Search A single session of “The Non-academic or Alt-ac Job Search” panel is on Saturday, April 6, from 9:45 to 11:15 am. This session is particularly useful for graduate students interested in jobs outside of academia or those considering a wide range of jobs after grad school. Graduate students and other scholars are increasingly considering jobs outside of academia, often due to the well-documented perils of the academic job market or the challenges of working in academia. That said, the hunt for jobs outside of academia is different: how does one translate the skills learned in grad school to the “real world”? This panel will be invaluable to students in providing insights from those who have navigated the non-academic job market with a Ph.D.
Preparing for the Job Market – CV to Teaching Statements For those interested in applying for academic jobs, the “Preparing for the Job Market – CV to Teaching Statements” panel is on Sunday, April 7 from 9:45 to 11:15 am. This session could be useful for graduate students at any level, though especially for students preparing to enter the academic job market. Both well-organized and well-executed CVs and teaching statements are important for success on the job market. However, they can be difficult to do well. As such, insights from the panelists on how to create solid job market documents will be invaluable to graduate students.
What to Do/Not Do at a Job Talk The final panel in the student professional development series is “What to Do/Not Do at a Job Talk” on Sunday, April 7, from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm. Job talks are a crucial part of the academic job interview process. Potential future colleagues not only evaluate candidates’ research but also their presentation skills and ability to think on their feet. Unsurprisingly, there are several considerations in delivering a good job talk presentation. Graduate students interested in the academic job market should attend this panel and take advantage of the opportunity to learn through others’ experiences.
There are several other panels on professional development topics that may be useful for graduate students; I discuss one of them here.
The Research Professional Development Series There are several panels in the research professional development series that will be useful for graduate students, especially doctoral students before and during their dissertation research. This series offers several useful sessions on data collection methods including: “How to do Fieldwork” (April 4, 9:45-11:15 am), “How to Use Text as Data” (April 5, 1:15-2:45 pm), and “How to Conduct Surveys” (April 6, 9:45-11:15 am). While many graduate students read about these data collection methods, they can be very different in practice as my recent fieldwork experience has taught me. Therefore, getting insights from researchers who have used these methods will be invaluable to students in conducting their own research. Additionally, there are a few panels about one of the most important parts of research: procuring funding. Unfortunately, both “Small Grants and Private Foundations” and “Grant Opportunities & Strategies” are offered at the same time on Saturday, April 6 (1:15 to 2:45 pm).
About the Author: Charmaine N. Willis is a PhD Student in theDepartment of Political Science at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policyat theUniversity at Albany, SUNY. Her research focuses on civil society and contentious politics. Her current project examines the role of framing in anti-US military contention in East Asia. You can also find Charmaine on Twitterand herwebsite.
ByFrancesca Gottardi of the University of Cincinnati
When thinking about a doctoral program, the first image that comes to mind is likely to be that of a geeky student sitting at a desk, buried in books. But life in academia is not only about the coursework, although fundamental. It is also about the relationships that you develop along the way. Here are some life hacks that I have already learned in my brief academic experience.
Be There The very first step in order to be able to make good connections is to actually be there. Go to conferences and events, particularly those relevant to your field. As banal as this might sound, oftentimes we are so overwhelmed with our daily routine that we tend to pass on those events that are not strictly necessary or mandatory, especially if attendance comes at a cost. But it is in the context of such events that one has the opportunity to meet academics, practitioners, and fellow students with similar interests, so make the effort to attend as many events as you can. You never know who will be there and what wondrous connections you might make.
Make it Happen Sometimes attending conferences comes with an expense, and if you are not a presenter, funding can pose a serious challenge. Good news, there are ways around it! One avenue is to volunteer. For example, as a first-year law student, I did not stand a chance in presenting at the prestigious American Society of International Law Annual Meeting. What’s more, student registration and membership were almost $200. So, I applied to be a volunteer for the conference, signaling which panels I was particularly interested in attending. Not only did I get access to the conference for free, but I also earned an annual membership. In addition, I had the opportunity to be at receptions and luncheons, and to interact with high-level scholars in my field of interest. It’s the little things.
Make Your First Impression Count: Go Prepared When you go to an event, invest some time to do some research. This will give you the opportunity to know who to look for in the crowd. It will also give you grounds to have some ad hoc conversation points. Research the topic of the event, the host, the speakers/panelists, and—when possible—the participants. This sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but it will give you that edge to make a good impression on the interlocutor. In other words, you will know what is going on, and you will be in the position to pose good questions and leave a good impression.
Part of being prepared is also to have a business card at hand. In the digital era we live in, we might think business cards are things of the past. Turns out, they are not. They can provide a quick and effective opportunity to exchange contact information, and to give a glimpse of who you are. If you are an international student, it could be a good idea to have them printed in English on one side, and in your native language on the back. I keep the business cards that I collect in dedicated files, ordered by date and event. This makes it easy to retrieve them, and it also comes in handy in remembering the names and positions of people I am likely to meet again.
Listen carefully to the person you interact with and show involvement and interest. Be engaged in the conversation. Don’t make it all about yourself. Ask relevant questions and make it balanced. Be concise and to the point. Avoid personal questions and be mindful of interpersonal distance—especially if you notice that the counterpart backs up. If you are a foreigner, be aware of cultural differences. For example, as an Italian, I have to be particularly mindful of avoiding touching the counterpart or being too close. If I know the person I talk to, it feels natural to me to greet with two (or three) kisses on the cheek the European way—a big no-no in the US.
Follow Up One of the main mistakes I see my colleagues doing is to not follow up. If you have a great opportunity to meet a professional, don’t let it go to waste! Once the event is over, contact the person and express your gratitude for their time and the pleasant conversation you had. Refer to particular details that will make the note personal, and that will jog the memory of the receiver. Don’t let them forget about you and give them an opportunity to know where to find you. I suggest following up within two days, not to let the memory of your meeting fade away. If you start an e-mail exchange, respond promptly. I usually also start following the person on Twitter and ask for the LinkedIn connection—if you do, always add a note in the connection request.
Social Media Social media can be a powerful tool for networking. If you feel a certain person, panel, or event was interesting, then tweet about it, publish it on LinkedIn, and spread the love! Don’t forget to make good use of tags and hashtags. This can have both the function to acknowledge merit when warranted and is also a way to make yourself known and reachable. Nonetheless, try to stay away from your phone during a meeting or conversation.
Business and Etiquette in the Field As Communication Specialist Mary Starvaggi of Etiquette Advantage highlights, don’t forget to “make eye contact, smile and give a firm handshake.” She also suggests to “use some form of thanks, praise, and/or compliment in the first words you speak or write.”
Moreover, although looks are not everything, they matter. Be mindful of dressing appropriately for the event; a good suit it is worth the investment. On this note, if you are given a name tag, Ms. Starvaggi points out that it should be worn on the upper right side of your chest. The rationale is to make the name tag stand out when you extend your right arm for that first handshake. And for how inconsequential this might sound, when choosing a perfume, avoid strong fragrances. After all, it is all about standing out with class and making your colleagues feel comfortable.
As a piece of more general advice, try to see the other person not as a tool to achieve a potential benefit, but as a person you can learn from and have a mutual exchange with. No one wants to feel used, but most people will be happy to offer their help if they perceive a genuine interest and sincerity on your part.
About the Author: Francesca Gottardi is a J.D. Candidate and Ph.D. Student at the University of Cincinnati. Her research interests are EU law, international law, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, and the American legal system. She can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, found on LinkedIn, and followed on Twitter at @gottarfa.
In advance of this year’s MPSA conference (April 4-7, 2019 in Chicago), we asked panelists from the upcoming “Tips on Applying to Graduate School” to share a few of their best tips. Responses varied based on personal experience, but all of those responding agree that it’s best to understand how you will potentially fit into the department’s culture before you perfect your personal statement. Read on for more tips:
Kevin Gerald Lorentz, Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science at Wayne State University: Do your research. Yes, you should consult program websites and other accouterments, but I highly recommend consulting directly with program faculty and, if possible, current students. Graduate directors and prospective faculty mentors are the best sources of information when it comes to choosing the best graduate school for you. For instance, a few times during my own search I discovered that my preferred faculty mentor was leaving the institution, was nearing retirement, and/or our research interests didn’t align. Other times, I was able to speak with current graduate students (at either graduate open houses, conferences, etc.) and get a “feel” for the program’s culture. These conversations ultimately helped make my graduate school search more efficient and fruitful.
Paula Armendariz, Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities: Research, research, research… I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to “sell” yourself as someone who not only is a good fit for the department, but also someone who is going to bring something novel to it.
Joan Ricart-Huguet, Postdoctoral Associate and Lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Yale University: Reach out to professors by email whenever there is a good reason. A score in the top decile of the GRE is important in general and necessary for top 10 programs, your statement of purpose is central, good letters are a must, etc. But should you email professors in departments to which you are applying? My advice is to reach out by email (attaching a brief CV) to professors whenever there is a good reason, usually some overlap in research interests or a very good fit with the program more generally. Professors want the best graduate students to improve the program and to work with them on projects, so a sound email can help you. If you email a professor whose work has nothing to do with your statement of purpose, your email will probably be ignored unless you seem like an outstanding student or a good fit in that department for other reasons. The email may not hurt your chances to enter that Ph.D. program, but an unwarranted email will hardly help. A superior option is to ask your trusted professors to date (including your letter writers) to email professors they know or have worked with in departments where you want to gain admission. A strong email of support from a trusted colleague can carry more weight than yours and make a big difference. Make sure you ask the favor tactfully and politely to your professors since they have competing pressures on their time, they may not be inclined to write (yet) another extra email, and they may already be writing you a letter of recommendation.
Armendariz: Get someone who is or has served as Director of Graduate Studies to read and correct your personal statement. I learned that this is the “interview” that you will not get with departments and so I had to try to communicate why was I a good fit for the department(s).
Ricart-Huguet: Introspection before you apply. A Ph.D. is a serious time commitment (5+ years) and you are likely foregoing a more reasonable work schedule and a higher salary elsewhere (even top Ph.D. programs pay around $30k/year). So why enroll in a Ph.D. program given the high opportunity cost? There are at least two important reasons: (a) passion for an area of study and (b) instrumental reasons. (a) Ideally, you just love your field/subfield (or perhaps the social sciences more generally), learning, teaching, and conducting research. To many, this alone is central to their decision-making. The intellectual growth a Ph.D. program can afford is very valuable in itself and the delayed financial gratification can be compensated by immediate intellectual gratification. (b) Others may think more instrumentally. You need a Ph.D. to be an academic, but a Ph.D. in political science can open the door to careers in governments, think tanks, international organizations, non-profits, and even the private sector – especially if you are a quantitative social scientist. Hence, a Ph.D. can make sense even if you don’t see yourself as a professor down the road.
Lorentz: Start your preparation early. Personal statements, letters of recommendation, and the dreaded GRE all require several months of groundwork. As such, make sure that you leave yourself time to draft, revise, and re-draft (you get the idea!) your personal statement, soliciting feedback from trusted friends and mentors. For letters of recommendation, I suggest giving your recommenders a good one-to-two months to prepare their letters (and do give them copies of your CV, personal statements, and other application materials that may help their composing!). Finally, you should plan on taking the GRE early enough to leave ample opportunity to re-test if so desired. (Although, you may elect to not do this depending on how programs treat multiple GRE attempts.) Regardless, don’t plan on taking the GRE without at least six or more months of preparation. For myself, I needed the extra time just to brush up on knowledge and skills that were a little rusty, while also mentally preparing. You can be successful in your graduate school search, so long as you prepare!
About the Panelists: Kevin Lorentz is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science at Wayne State University, Paula Armendariz is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, and Joan Ricart-Huguet is a Postdoctoral Associate and Lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Yale University. Their MPSA professional development roundtable “STUDENTS: Tips for Applying to Graduate School” will be held Fri, April 5, 2019 (1:15 to 2:45pm) at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago.
The views and opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Midwest Political Science Association, MPSA staff, and/or other site contributors.
As the calendar year begins to wind down, we take a look back at our most-read articles from 2018. We encourage you to take a quiet moment for another look as you may have missed an article or may simply enjoy the re-read. Please take a moment to share what you would like to see more of in the new year. Interested in seeing your work here? Send us a note with your ideas or submit an application to serve as a blogger for the 2019 MPSA conference.
MPSA seeks bloggers to cover the most popular panels and events at the upcoming conference in Chicago. Bloggers will be expected to research, craft and edit articles that appeal to members of our community including political science scholars, social scientists, media, and the informed public. In return, bloggers will gain an audience for new ideas, experience in digital media, and an opportunity to expand your online visibility among peers in the discipline. Conference bloggers will also be awarded a small stipend upon staff acceptance of the required number of posts.
In addition to the category requirements below, for 2019 each conference blogger is required to submit at least one post of a general nature related to a conference event/session or Chicago attraction in advance of the conference. Remaining posts must be submitted during or immediately after the conference.
We seek bloggers committed to writing about a variety of categories including research-oriented roundtables, professional development, public engagement and advocacy, teaching and learning, and work-life balance. Additionally, we seek bloggers to write from the following perspectives: graduate students, first-time attendees, experienced conference attendee, Chicago-natives, and international attendees.