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The Realist

Advice from an actual PhD (redux)

115 posts in this topic

I am a tenured associate prof in political science at a large state university. I posted this several years ago under the screen name "realist" when I first learned about this forum. At the time, I read through the threads and couldn't help but think about all the things that I wish that I had known before entering my PhD program. So with that, I thought that I'd give you all some advice from an actual PhD. I've made a couple small changes from the original version but this is basically the same as what I wrote before. While some of this may be hard to read, I offer it as-is, with only the thought that more knowledge is better than less knowledge.

CHOOSING GRADUATE SCHOOL

Your graduate school choice is probably the most important choice that you'll make in your career. Do not take this lightly. There are many reasons, but they boil down to some uncomfortable truths.

1. Only the best schools place students in academic jobs. While there are thousands of universities in the United States, there are many many many thousand more political science PhDs. 5-7 years is a very long time to spend in a low-paying job (which is what graduate school is) only to realize that you have very little chance for promotion. Even at top 10 institutions, a good half of entering students do not end up with a PhD and a tenure track job. Is it fair that this is the case? No. Are there very smart graduate students that are not at top departments? Absolutely, there are literally thousands of them. But this is how the world works. And you have no chance to change it from "the inside" unless you are already at a top department.

2. Advisers are fickle beings. Especially outside of the top institutions, they are busy and pressed for time, and they cannot offer you the type of guidance and support that you may believe that you are going to get. I had a very close relationship with a very influential adviser, and saw him for about 10 minutes once every two or three weeks. This is the norm. Do not assume or expect that you will have a different experience (although there is a small chance that you will). Moreover, good scholars are often terrible advisers. I think that one of the worst aspects of our profession is that at middle-range departments, top scholars often will not even acknowledge graduate students.

3. Graduate school is an unequal partnership between students, who receive very little and give very much, and faculty, who have many other things to do but rely on students to do things that are in the university's best interests. Graduate students are (1) essentially powerless and (2) extremely cheap labor. Universities have an incentive to keep a lot of graduate students around to fill instructor slots and TAships. This means that they will keep on a lot of graduate students who will never have a chance at a tenure-ladder job. This is a pathological system of incentives, and I find it repugnant, but this is the reality.

So what sort of advice does this lead me to give? First off, above and beyond almost anything, you need to go to the best possible graduate school. It doesn't matter if you don't like Ann Arbor as much as Athens or Austin, graduate school matters tremendously for your future ability to get a job. At nearly every university or college, a PhD from Michigan will get your file looked at when applying for jobs. I know that this sounds harsh, but for most jobs, a job file from a school out of the top 25 won't even be considered. It will just go on the trash. Let this sink in.

As a corollary, you need to think long and hard about graduate school if you do not have the opportunity to go to a top one. You should understand that you may not have a good chance of landing a tenure track job. The one's available to you, moreover, will likely be at "directional institutions" (think Northern X State) or small, low-ranked liberal arts colleges in the middle of nowhere. Even there, you will be competing with Harvard and Berkeley PhDs for a job. It's hard. It's not as hard as English or History, but nevertheless it's really hard. You should know this and plan accordingly.

The academic job market has gotten much harder in the two years since I first wrote this. There are thousands of students right now chasing a couple hundred jobs, and every year it gets worse because most people who strike out in one year go back on the job market the next year. Do not assume that the academic job market will get easier in 5-7 years, when you are going onto the job market. First, there will still be a substantial backlog of unplaced PhDs. Second, trends in academia are leading to more adjunct and lecturer positions and fewer tenure-track positions in all but the very best schools (and it's starting to happen there too). I would not still be in academia if I didn't have a tenure-ladder job.

Let's say you don't want to go be professor. Maybe you want to work in a think tank or a political consultancy. OK, fair enough: but in this case, I would recommend against getting a PhD in political science. There is little that you can gain from a PhD in political science that a think tank will find attractive that you cannot also have gotten from a good MPA/MPP/etc. program. Outside of academia, the PhD has little value-added over most professional masters degrees. Given the opportunity cost, the only people who should get PhDs in political science are people who have a passion for college teaching, or those who have a passion for academic research AND who are willing to settle for college teaching if the academic research thing doesn't work out.

Do not choose graduate school based on one individual who you "want to work with." Instead, you should choose the best program (by subfield) that you can. Why? Let's say that you identify one faculty member whose research interests match yours perfectly. For this to be the person upon whom you rely for your entire PhD course of study, it must be the case that (1) your research interests don't change (which is rare), (2) that your potential adviser is a nice and approachable person (which is about a 50-50 shot to be honest), (3) that your own research is interesting to that potential adviser (which you should not assume, regardless of what is said on recruitment weekend), and (4) that that adviser doesn't leave (which is common, especially for productive faculty at top-50-ish departments). If you chose a program based on that individual and any of these don't work out, you're in trouble. If you've chosen the best program, you'll be OK because there are other options; if you've banked on one faculty member, you're out of luck.

You should be flattered by faculty who are nice and approachable during recruitment weekend. But recruitment weekend is not like the other 51 weekends a year. Remember, faculty are approachable during recruitment because you provide them with an unlimited supply of discount labor. They have their own worries and incentives, and these rarely align with yours.

Likewise, funding matters. My general advice is that outside of a top 25 institution, you should not go to graduate school unless you have a full ride and a stipend large enough to live on. Without these, graduate school is a long and expensive process with little reward. There is a constant demand for doctors, so doctors can pay for medical school and still come out ahead. $200,000 in debt and only qualified for a very low paying job is a terrible situation that many PhDs find themselves in.

It is tempting to think that a potential adviser's kind words mean that you are special. You are special, but so are many many others. Wherever you are, you will likely not even be the smartest or most successful member of your cohort. Do not fool yourself into thinking that you are the one who will buck the trends that I have described. It's just not likely.

Finally, I have made a big point about top 25 schools. We all know that Stanford is and Purdue isn't, but what's the definitive list? Simply put, if you have to ask, your school is not in the top 25. And of course subfield matters more than overall ranking. Emory is not a top-25 theory department so think long and hard about going there for theory. JHU is not a top-25 American politics department but it's a different story altogether for political theory. If you need to convince yourself that your program is a top-25 program, it's almost certainly not.

YOUR CAREER

If you decide to go to graduate school, congratulations. I mean this sincerely. You are embarking on the most intellectually rewarding period of your life. (Of course, intellectually and financially rewarding are not the same, as I mentioned previously.) Here are some brief tips.

The best political scientists are the following five things: smart, creative, diligent, honest, and nice. Smart is obvious. The rest are not.

The best political scientists are creative. They look at old problems in new ways, or they find new problems to look at. A good way to land a middling job (or no job) is to find a marginal improvement on an existing estimator, or take lessons from Paraguay and apply them to Uruguay. The best political scientists show us how our estimators are incorrect, or better yet, find new things to estimate.

The best political scientists are diligent. They think about problems for years and years, they rewrite their draft papers repeatedly, they collect giant datasets from scratch, and they go into the field, learn the language, and stay there until they have learned something. There are no quick research trips, there are no obvious philosophical points, and there are no datasets that you can download with results you can write up in a week.

The best political scientists are honest. There are many points at which you might fudge your work: creating a new dataset from scratch, during fieldwork, in writing up your results. You will be astounded at how frequent this is in our profession. Don't do it, for it always hurts you in the end. Being wrong and honest about it is OK. Being wrong and hiding it never works.

Finally, the best political scientists are nice. It is tempting to be prickly to make yourself seem smart or to protect your ego. But the same person you criticize today might be in a position to give you a job tomorrow. As they say, make your words soft and sweet, for you never know when you may have to eat them.

************

I hope this helps you all. I wish you the very best of luck with your careers.

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thanks! this was very helpful. if i understand you correctly, then, you consider top programs the top 25? also, if i get into a top 10 dept, should i unequivocally take that offer instead of the one i have now (to wisconsin-madison), even if it means sacrificing research "fit"?

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thanks! this was very helpful. if i understand you correctly, then, you consider top programs the top 25? also, if i get into a top 10 dept, should i unequivocally take that offer instead of the one i have now (to wisconsin-madison), even if it means sacrificing research "fit"?

So basically, if our top choices do not work out, it means we are not found fit for even having a shot at a tenure track job.

And we need to learn the language of each place we would like to study. We need to go live there a year every time we want to discover something. Nice. :D

This was as painful, and sadly true, as PhD comics :)

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Thanks! That was really helpful.

With just two exceptions, I only applied to top 25 programs (the others have top 10 law schools and I'm doing a joint degree), but I have a question for your about advising, which I know you said is not as important as the ranking/prestige of the program and subfield. To what extent do you think it is helpful to be studying under someone who is really renowned in their field (but maybe in a program ranked overall in the top 20 but not top 10), as opposed to someone who's not really well-known yet but who's in a prestigious program? I wasn't sure if, going into a competitive job market, it's helpful to be able to show on my CV or in a job talk that I studied under esteemed Professor So and So.

Thanks again!!

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Thanks. I am in a different field but I found this informative.

I am also a career changer so a lot of this I had discovered during my pre-application research but if I were coming straight from undergrad I wouldn't have had a clue.

So I think it is very valuable that you are sharing your experience.

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Thanks. This is what my professors have been telling me. I resisted their advice first, but I followed what they were telling me regardless. It is not elitism. It is the reality.

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So, Realist, from where did you earn your PhD that got you a tenured position?

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So, Realist, from where did you earn your PhD that got you a tenured position?

My PhD is from a top-10 program in comparative politics. That's about as much as I'm willing to share.

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Legal academia is a different ball game. Having a phd is now becoming the norm. Jonathan click, a jd/phd from george mason is tt at penn. If you can get a phd and do empirical research, you'll land a job at a law school. I also think there's always exceptions -- I think someone who can integrate political science with behavioral economics will be a strong candidate even if he went to johns hopkins. Also, hiring works different in professional schools and think tanks - a business school might like a notre dame phd who can do ethics or a texas phd who can do institutions and organizations. Someone who can teach law and economics is going to get hired at a law school even if not top 10 (see henry butler, paul rubin, etc). And for think tanks, phds are plusses because think tanks have become a lot more serious about empirical research and many are attaching themselves to universities (baylor college of medicine, george mason, and ucsd are going in this direction).

And, look at the faculties of top 50 liberal arts colleges, many plsc profs are not from the top ... But they're excellent teachers, which matters there.

And in terms of private sector ... A phd makes you a lot better at developing algorithms and forecasting at a hedge fund than does an mpp.

There's a world outside political science departments for those of us who aren't lucky enough to go to a top 10.

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I agree with most of the original post, but my experiences have been slightly different on a point or two. With that in mind, my two cents:

First, be careful about becoming slaves to the numbers. Rankings do matter, but mostly because of what they represent (especially in terms of quality of training), not because of the rankings themselves. As a general rule, higher is better, but other factors also matter. In terms of choice of a graduate program, I would not allow differences of 5 to 10 spots to override your own assessments of fit. So, if you're choosing between #10 and #15, and #15 is the one that feels right to you, then don't go to #10 just because it is ranked higher. Conversely, if you're choosing between #10 and #35, and #35 is the one that feels right to you, then I would advise you to go to #10 unless you have some extraordinarily compelling reason not to do so.

My sense of how rankings matter for your career is that the ranking of your graduate institution marks the approximate ceiling for where you can be placed. Thus, if your graduate department is ranked in the top ten, no department will be off limits to you, but if your department is ranked something like 20 to 25, it is highly unlikely that you'll be hired at a top 15 department. There are exceptions, of course, but don't expect that you can move up dramatically over time.

As to experiences with your adviser, note that these vary quite a lot. A good adviser will spend as much time with you, within reason, as you need. For some students, that is 15 minutes a week, and for others it is three hours. But keep in mind, as noted in the original post, that the person you think will be your adviser when you apply to a program may not turn out to be the one. Ideally, you'll go to a program where at least a few people plausibly could be your adviser. That way, you'll have options if a) your interests evolve, B) you and Choice A don't hit it off, or c) Choice A retires, moves, etc.

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I agree with most of the original post, but my experiences have been slightly different on a point or two. With that in mind, my two cents:

First, be careful about becoming slaves to the numbers. Rankings do matter, but mostly because of what they represent (especially in terms of quality of training), not because of the rankings themselves. As a general rule, higher is better, but other factors also matter. In terms of choice of a graduate program, I would not allow differences of 5 to 10 spots to override your own assessments of fit. So, if you're choosing between #10 and #15, and #15 is the one that feels right to you, then don't go to #10 just because it is ranked higher. Conversely, if you're choosing between #10 and #35, and #35 is the one that feels right to you, then I would advise you to go to #10 unless you have some extraordinarily compelling reason not to do so.

My sense of how rankings matter for your career is that the ranking of your graduate institution marks the approximate ceiling for where you can be placed. Thus, if your graduate department is ranked in the top ten, no department will be off limits to you, but if your department is ranked something like 20 to 25, it is highly unlikely that you'll be hired at a top 15 department. There are exceptions, of course, but don't expect that you can move up dramatically over time.

As to experiences with your adviser, note that these vary quite a lot. A good adviser will spend as much time with you, within reason, as you need. For some students, that is 15 minutes a week, and for others it is three hours. But keep in mind, as noted in the original post, that the person you think will be your adviser when you apply to a program may not turn out to be the one. Ideally, you'll go to a program where at least a few people plausibly could be your adviser. That way, you'll have options if a) your interests evolve, B) you and Choice A don't hit it off, or c) Choice A retires, moves, etc.

These are good points. Don't stress too much about 10 versus 15, but 10 versus 35 matters a lot. Also, most PhD students who get jobs get jobs at lower-ranked institutions, not higher ones. But this observation obscures that past 25 or so, you're getting into the range of schools where well over half of the incoming students will not complete a PhD, and of those who do, the majority will not get any academic job.

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These are good points. Don't stress too much about 10 versus 15, but 10 versus 35 matters a lot. Also, most PhD students who get jobs get jobs at lower-ranked institutions, not higher ones. But this observation obscures that past 25 or so, you're getting into the range of schools where well over half of the incoming students will not complete a PhD, and of those who do, the majority will not get any academic job.

So, just to clarify the issue, say 10 people enter the X university which is not in top 25. 5 of those are able to finish the phd and among the 5 that finishes, 4 or so are unemployed?

What happens to the 9 that failed on the way?? :)

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First, I would like to thank The Realist for sharing these thoughts on the process. I am not sure if the intent was to answer any questions/debate the issue, so I will refrain from doing those. I would like to share my thoughts from my own experiences, and I would like to also comment on the elitism issue that was briefly discussed in the Results thread. While my experiences are limited, I did serve on a search committee on two different occasions in my previous MA program.

This program is in a non-ranked state university in the south. Some of the faculty were from top ten schools, while others were from schools that rarely make the top 100. This provided a wide range of attitudes and egos to observe, especially since that was all I was expected to do until voting time. In looking at applicants' files, two patterns would emerge. The top ten professors would immediately cull the files down to applicants who were from top 25 schools. The other professors would carefully read each file and consider publications, advisors, experience, fit, etc. Only after narrowing down to schools worthy of themselves would the top ten profs ever consider these other details. On both occasions the committees were somehow able to come up with a short list that contained a wide range of academic background, diversity, research style, etc.

Then the interviews would start. The top ten professors would immediately comment on how much better trained the applicants from their peer (or in one case, their own) universities were when compared to the applicants from further down the ranking heap. In both cases, the applicants from top ten schools had zero publications while the others typically had at least one, if not 2-3. The professors from the lower schools would always comment on how smug the applicants from the higher-ups tended to be, and often questioned why they are applying to our school in the first place. Are they the worst in their cohort? After all, do top ten outfits not always place in the top-25? Will they be smug and look down upon us if we hire them?

In both searches, the lower ranked applicants with publications won out. This is likely due to the fact that the elitists professors were in the minority. In my view both of the hires turned out to be good professors and proficient, well-trained researchers. I know that at least 3 of the top ten applicants remain jobless. There was also a Yale PhD on the faculty who did not make tenure (no publications), and was therefore let go. It seems that the applicants from top ten universities who either lack the ability to publish, or assume that their Ivy degree is enough to carry them through eternity, usually end up jobless.

I have one other experience to share. Last year my advisor and I went to the MPSA conference with a paper we had spent much time on. The chair of the panel was from UMich, and the discussant was from Yale. They were both PhD candidates nearing the dissertation stage of their gradate careers. They were both condescending and rude. The discussant said that our paper "could have benefitted from some more advanced econometrics" as if Yale is the hub for such things. The HLM was apparently too juvenile for their taste. The chair spoke up and also exclaimed that they had taken issue with a thing or two, which seemed to be outside of their role as timekeeper, moderator of the panel. They were much more friendly to the other three papers, which came from institutions that they thought were worthy of their time. Luckily, the peer-review process is alive and well, and Public Opinion Quarterly accepted our piece immediately, as it was. Ironically, they had no idea that my advisor had gotten his PhD at a top ten as well. they just assumed if he was at a non-ranked, southern state school that he must obviously be dumber than them.

What can be gleaned from these stories? First, pedigree matters. Although it does not always matter for the same reasons that we would all like. It will almost always get you an interview, but beyond that there other issues that come into consideration. Going to a lower ranked school will not gain you any respect with those who went to top ten schools. In fact, they will consistently disparage you and snicker when they see you name tag at a conference. However, if you go to a lower ranked school and work hard, you can land a job. It will not be top 25, but it may be equally rewarding. Surely most people who go to these schools know this already. If you go to a top ten, congratulations. I myself applied to several last year, and I was rejected outright by all. I would suggest though, that you keep a level head and your feet on the ground. The degree will not take you much further than an interview, and publications still matter. In the end, both types of graduates have conditioning and socialization that they must deal with. It is the ability of the student to overcome these pressures and transcend the norm for their particular ranking that makes them shine as academics. I have no idea if my experiences are the norm. I amy also be suffering from a biased perception, but I hope this at least provides some insight into how this process works.

I wholeheartedly agree with The Realist about honesty and good manners. I have met my fair share of all types, and I am not even too far into the process. Having said all this, I also have met some extremely nice and well-grounded folks with top ten degrees. This (along with a good record) is obviously the most desirable combination for anyone to have. So, go to your top tens, and go to your lower ranks. They all have their rewards and shortcomings. Just know that in the end, there is more to it than that.

I think we can all agree that Austin and Athens are better than Ann Arbor. biggrin.gif

Edited by Bobb-Cobb

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So, just to clarify the issue, say 10 people enter the X university which is not in top 25. 5 of those are able to finish the phd and among the 5 that finishes, 4 or so are unemployed?

What happens to the 9 that failed on the way?? :)

That's a pretty accurate description of a lot of programs, including one that I'm pretty familiar with.

Of the ones that don't make it through the PhD normally drop out. I really don't know what happens to most of these people. They go on to other graduate programs, or they get a job doing something else.

Of the ones that make it through the PhD program and go on the job market, the ones that don't make it...well, lots teach high school, or try to cobble together a career adjuncting. Most do this for a couple of years and then get a job in a field unrelated to political science.

The point isn't that getting a PhD makes you unemployed. The point is that getting a PhD--especially out of the top 25 schools or so--very often does not result in one job that a PhD trains you for: teaching and research in political science. So you need to think of the opportunity costs. There's nothing wrong with being a political consultant (I think it actually sounds pretty cool), so why do something that takes a long time and doesn't pay very well that doesn't help you to become one?

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Of those who finish their PhDs, I'm not sure the unemployment rate in academia is that high, but it would be interesting to see data on it. I'm familiar with some programs in the 25-40 range that do pretty well at placing their students who finish. But that raises another point--two schools ranked near one another may have entirely different cultures and histories in terms of level of commitment to the graduate program. Personally, I would never advise someone interested in working in academia to receive a PhD from a department ranked below roughly 40-50, but one can fare reasonably well at many programs in the 26 to 40/50 range.

As to where those who don't finish end up, they just move on to something else once they realize that a political science PhD is not for them. I've seen them go to political consulting, law school, administrative jobs in government, working for publishers, working for survey firms, etc.

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Thanks for your post. It's helpful to me even though I'm studying in another field.

Though I do have a question. You claim "I know that this sounds harsh, but for most jobs, a job file from a school out of the top 25 won't even be considered. It will just go on the trash. Let this sink in."

I decided to investigate this a little bit. You mention UGA in your original post (I'm assuming you're referring to UGA when you mention Athens). According to their Political Science Department website, no less than 12 professors earned their Ph.D. from a program that was NOT in the top-25 according the U.S. News and World Report. That's nearly 55% of the faculty. Further, UGA's undergrad program is ranked 58 overall and 20 for public schools by the U.S. News and World Report, so it is a fairly respectable, large research university.

How would you explain this?

I hope this doesn't sound confrontational - I'm genuinely curious.

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I disagree with framing the pursuit of the Ph.D. in such utilitarian concerns, and the anxieties about well-being it encourages. I think most of us don't go into programs with the expectation of being millionaires, let alone the desire for status (except perhaps those who covet assiduously the repute of being pursued by the Ivies). Conversely, this user seems focused more on the maximization of wealth than the refinement of the mind's eye. If you want wealth, particularly lots of wealth, your best route isn't through academe. Let's face it. Moreover, if this poster's mindset is the one you take into the program, I fully expect you will have a quite turbulent, even tortured experience at a time when you should be enjoying the enrichment your natural aristocratism admits.

Edited by Ferrero

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I disagree with framing the pursuit of the Ph.D. in such utilitarian concerns, and the anxieties about well-being it encourages. I think most of us don't go into programs with the expectation of being millionaires, let alone the desire for status (except perhaps those who covet assiduously the repute of being pursued by the Ivies). Conversely, this user seems focused more on the maximization of wealth than the refinement of the mind's eye. If you want wealth, particularly lots of wealth, your best route isn't through academe. Let's face it. Moreover, if this poster's mindset is the one you take into the program, I fully expect you will have a quite turbulent, even tortured experience at a time when you should be enjoying the enrichment your natural aristocratism admits.

I can assure you that I'm not talking about wealth maximization.

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The Georgia example supports why I think looking past the top 25 to the top 40 to 50 can be reasonable.

As to the matter of whether this is all too utilitarian, it's certainly true that one doesn't gravitate toward academia to become wealthy. But we do need to pay the bills, and for that we need to be employed. Thus, some concern with career makes sense. But even if one is only interested in academia for intellectual stimulation, keep in mind that you'll likely find a more vibrant intellectual environment at the 10th-ranked graduate program than the 63rd.

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Thanks for your post. It's helpful to me even though I'm studying in another field.

Though I do have a question. You claim "I know that this sounds harsh, but for most jobs, a job file from a school out of the top 25 won't even be considered. It will just go on the trash. Let this sink in."

I decided to investigate this a little bit. You mention UGA in your original post (I'm assuming you're referring to UGA when you mention Athens). According to their Political Science Department website, no less than 12 professors earned their Ph.D. from a program that was NOT in the top-25 according the U.S. News and World Report. That's nearly 55% of the faculty. Further, UGA's undergrad program is ranked 58 overall and 20 for public schools by the U.S. News and World Report, so it is a fairly respectable, large research university.

How would you explain this?

I hope this doesn't sound confrontational - I'm genuinely curious.

Not confrontational, it's a good question. Yes, there are people who do place--I would never claim that outside of the highest tier of schools no one ever gets a job. Some do, and you found some good examples.

However, what you didn't find on the UGA website is any information on the many who do not get academic jobs. And I don't think that you can understand at this point in your careers the extreme frustration that I see in our discipline when every year we produce hundreds of PhDs who will never have a chance at an academic job. These are people who have worked for years with the belief that there is market for the skills that they are learning, and when they enter the job market they find that the supply of qualified candidates far, far outstrips the demand for them.

Please don't misunderstand me: I love political science and I love teaching and I love research. I want everyone to succeed and I want everyone to pursue their academic dreams. But our university system in the United States takes advantage of PhD students who have very little chance of getting an academic job in order to use them as cheap labor. It does this by and large because prospective graduate students are not sufficiently informed about the likely chances of getting an academic job.

My post is designed to give you the information that will help you all make better choices. Best of luck.

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Thanks for your post, Realist. You're right - we all need to consider the realities of job placement when going for a Ph.D. and I really appreciate hearing the wisdom of someone who's been through the ordeal and succeeded. I completely agree with your assessment of career success. However, I take one issue with your segment on potential future employment. In my view, there are an awful lot of extremely good smaller universities and less-known liberal arts colleges that provide a fantastic education which you seemed to gloss over a bit or even discount ("North X State"), at least from my read. I know they're still not enough to provide a tenure-track position to every new Ph.D., but as a current student at a smaller university where I've gotten an education I wouldn't trade for anything in the world, I felt I should emphasize the importance of the many less-known schools out there, which can form the majority of schools overall, depending on your definition. Some of us applying to grad school don't want to teach and research at a really prestigious university; they're great, no doubt about that, but it's just not my thing, personally.

That said, I think my disagreement is more about your emphasis than anything else. But perhaps you'd agree that someone not looking to teach and research in the Ivies or other top-ranked universities might have more leeway when it comes to selecting a Ph.D. program based on rank alone. Maybe I'm totally wrong, but looking at the type of schools where I'd want to teach eventually, it does seem true.

Edited by rwfan88

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Here is something I have some confusion about:

The highest ranked school to which I applied is ranked 27. Nonetheless, they have over 500 apps. for 6-18 slots every year. How can a school this competitive be completely disregarded when it comes to TT positions? Are the 500 or so people applying to this school every year doing so for the love of the game?

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Here is something I have some confusion about:

The highest ranked school to which I applied is ranked 27. Nonetheless, they have over 500 apps. for 6-18 slots every year. How can a school this competitive be completely disregarded when it comes to TT positions? Are the 500 or so people applying to this school every year doing so for the love of the game?

Exactly! what happens to those people as well? All these 482-496 "I heart academia" people give up and go for a marketing position in procter and gamble? :D

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No one said that graduates of such a school would be completely disregarded for tenure-track positions. In my experience, someone from #27 can get a job at a PhD program ranked anywhere from around #20 on down, and can fare well when applying for positions at M.A.-level and good B.A.-level institutions. That said, 500 applicants sounds rather steep to me; I've not encountered that many when looking at applications at programs ranked in the 20-40 range. As to what motivates those 500, there is no single answer. Some apply to #27 as their safety school, some understand that with a degree from #27 they will be unlikely to be hired by top 20 PhD departments and they are just fine with that, some have never thought about it, and some have deluded themselves into thinking that they will be so special that Yale or Stanford or Princeton surely will want to hire them irrespective of where they earned the PhD.

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