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Rising Senior Profile Evaluation

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Hey all I’m a rising undergrad senior who’s been lurking on the forum for a while. I’m a little overwhelmed with the process and was hoping to get a sober appraisal of my odds and more importantly, some actions points for going into my senior year. 

Type of Undergrad Institution: Top 30 Liberal Arts
Major(s)/Minor(s): Public Policy & Business Analytics double with a concentration in Data Science
Undergrad GPA: 3.60
GRE: Taking in mid July, I’m in my 5th week of studying and getting high 320’s (169V, 159Q) on diagnostics
Any Special Courses: Some data science and advanced econometrics
Letters of Recommendation: One from thesis advisor, unclear on others
Research Experience: Honors thesis in the works, working with advisor who is relatively well known in the subfield
Subfield/Research Interests: American Politics/ Legislative Theory

Obviously I have a low GPA but I think I can put up some good numbers on the GRE. 

I have a few broad questions:

  • What should I be doing to “pimp out” my thesis. Should I be trying to get published/look at awards? (Obviously easier said than done)
  • Should I even bother applying for the next cycle? My thesis won’t be done by December and I won’t have Spring 2019 grades which will hopefully be raising my GPA
  • What range of schools should I be looking at?
  • I need to get some additional recommenders. I’ve seen advice on here along the lines of “just ask to be an RA for free” but I don’t think there’s much opportunity for that at my school. Should I cold call professors to ask to work with them? I haven’t cultivated many good contacts in my dept. other than my thesis advisor.

 

If you’re still reading this, thank you. I’d appreciate any thoughts you have. I haven’t gotten to talk to many mentors at school so it’s extremely helpful. 

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Hello,

Based on your profile, sounds like you are a pretty strong candidate for many schools.  Now, to answer your questions:

"What should I be doing to 'pimp out' my thesis.  Should I be trying to get published/look at awards?"

I definitely don't think you should be looking at getting your work published.  Based on my numerous talks with political science professors, current grad students at Stanford and UCLA, and people on admissions committees, all of them have said that it is un necessary, namely because the journals admissions committees would even care you get published in are top journals like the american political science review and the american journal of politics.  These top journals are incredibly difficult to get published in for even grad students and academics, let alone undergrads.  Moreover, getting published is a very long process, and at this point, if you're gonna apply this December, you probably won't have anything published before then.  However, I would try to see if you could get some awards for your thesis.  That will definitely add to your CV.

"Should I even bother applying for the next cycle? My thesis won’t be done by December and I won’t have Spring 2019 grades which will hopefully be raising my GPA"

This is a personal decision based on your own assessment of your situation.  But considering you thesis won't be done by December and you won't have your Spring 2019 grades on your application, I would probably hold out this cycle and apply to the next one.  This way, you can try and RA for a professor and start building relationships with professors this coming school year so that way you can get really good letters of recommendation, which is a crucial part of your application profile.  

"What range of schools should I be looking at?"

The range of schools you should be looking at depends on which school is the best fit for you and your research interests, and which school has numerous faculty that do research in your area of interest.  Many people will probably tell you to try and get in the top 20, and while I think that is probably good advice, I think fit is just as important.  If you do want to get into a top 20 or even a top 10, I would suggest trying to get a 165 or above on the Quant section of the GRE.  

"I need to get some additional recommenders. I’ve seen advice on here along the lines of “just ask to be an RA for free” but I don’t think there’s much opportunity for that at my school. Should I cold call professors to ask to work with them? I haven’t cultivated many good contacts in my dept. other than my thesis advisor."

As I mentioned before, try to spend next school year developing relationships with your professors.  The benefits to this will be twofold: you will get much better letters of rec, and you can try to become their RA.  This is why I also suggested you try to apply the cycle after this one.  It will give you more time to flesh out your application profile.

Hope this advice helps!

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Thank you for your thoughts! I'll definitely be thinking about these suggestions going into next year.

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I agree with above about waiting for the following cycle.

Focus should be on:

- Finishing thesis and making you advisor happy with your work so that he/she can write you a glowing letter.

- Awards for the thesis are not necessary. But keep an eye open for fellowships/scholarships opportunities. For instance, they have a summer fellowship you might be able to apply for https://dssg.uchicago.edu/ You can also try to participate in hackathons in your college or close by for some experience and trying to seem active.

- I'd start by asking professors at your college for RA opportunities, particularly the ones you'd want a letter from. If not, do they have TAs? The letters do not need to be from political science. Just try to get the best letters. If that does not work, you can ask your advisor if he has any colleagues you could RA for to gain more experience. Maybe he knows people at universities you could eventually apply to. And I know some universities have summer research opportunities (or something called like that) where they assign you to a professor. You might be able to do that the following summer and get a letter from that.

- I think that MPSA has panels for undergraduates (April in Chicago). You might want to try to present your thesis there. It would be good experience if you can get some money to attend (maybe your college has scholarships and MPSA might have something, I wouldn't try to pay for everything on your own). It could also give you an excuse to e-mail maybe 2 people whose work you really like and from universities you have a good chance of getting in (not top 10) to ask them if they can meet with you (and give the excuse you are there to present your thesis at such and such panel). The people should do work related to your thesis. 

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10 hours ago, MrsPhD said:

- I think that MPSA has panels for undergraduates (April in Chicago). You might want to try to present your thesis there. It would be good experience if you can get some money to attend

I presented at MPSA in April. I was still an undergraduate at that point. Undergraduates are only allowed to do poster, not oral, presentations. It was a fine experience, though, and I'd recommend it to anyone. I found that many well-known academics do peruse the posters, which is nice. 

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