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Advice on PhD Program Decision


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Hi everyone!

I am coming into political science with a global health background, so I'm still familiarizing myself with the dynamics of the political science job market and inside info on different schools. I've been accepted to the University of British Columbia, Northwestern University, University of California Irvine and University of Southern California. Like a lot of people, I'm still waiting to hear back from the University of Toronto. Right now I am deciding between UBC and NWU. If I get into U of T then I'll need to decide between UBC, U of T and NWU, because those three are my top choices. 

I'm curious if anyone has advice/insights about each school or the job market post-grad in general that can help me with my decision. For some context: I see myself pursuing an academic appointment in a department of political science or a school of public health to research and teach as well as be in a position to advise or advocate for particular laws/policies based on my scholarship. I am also open to career opportunities in the NGO sector with organizations that have a research and/or policy advocacy mandate. I'm Canadian, so after graduation I would prefer to find a placement at a Canadian university or institution, though I'm of course open to others in Europe or the US.

I've been in discussions with a faculty member at each school and asked them questions about strategies for placing students, department work culture and specific questions re: my interdisciplinary research topic. Several faculty at each of the school have significant experience in my research area. I plan to email some current graduate students to get their insights as well. 

Aside from any general advice you might have, below are some questions I'd be curious to get feedback on:

  1. Recommendations for key questions to ask program admin and faculty? 
  2. Although I know that supervisors or other faculty play a big role in placing students, I'm curious about how important the role of school or department prestige in grad placement? 
  3. In the case that I do want to pursue a placement in a US university (e.g. post-doc, assistant prof), how is a Canadian PhD regarded by US universities?
  4. Vice versa, in general, how is a US education regarded by Canadian universities? (I assume given the large number of schools in the states, this evaluation varies by the prestige/reputation of each school)

Thanks in advance for taking the time to give some advice!


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First off, congrats on your admissions! those are some great schools so being admitted to them is definitely something to celebrate! 

More to answer your questions, you seem to be concerned with where recent grads of those schools end up, as you should be, this is a huge time sacrifice so you should be sure that you are committing to the right school so the time commitment doesn't end up being a waste. 

My first advice would be to look at where recent grads end up, I know that many schools provide that info either on their website, or on request. That information should give you a good idea about where the school's strengths are, for instance if they place a lot of people in political science departments, or public health departments, or in industry, then it should say in that information. 

For questions to ask program administrative staff and faculty, ask questions about things that are important to you. Besides placement, time to completion is generally a good thing to ask. Another is funding info, for example is it guaranteed for all five+ years or do you have to reapply every year? What is your work/research requirement for funding(How many hours a week)? is there one? Another thing you could ask would be their attrition rate, like of the starting cohort how many students actually complete the program? How many drop out before the qualifying exams? How many fail their qualifying exams? 

For your question about prestige, I definitely think that it plays a role in hiring professors. Academia is famously snobbish so they often times will look down on grads from "less prestigious" schools. It is also a way for them to filter out the applications that they receive for every job opening. So unfortunately prestige does matter. Placement info would be a good indication as to what kind of schools the grads work at, and how the "prestige" of the school either works in their favor or against them. 

In terms of your Canadian v. American question, on here the conventional wisdom would say that the big three in Canada (McGill, U of T, UBC) generally place pretty well in both American and Canadian schools. Unfortunately I am not familiar with how American schools are viewed in Canadian academic circles, so I can't help you there. But, I do know that at UBC there are some American professors, for example a U-Minn grad works in the IR sub-field. 

Hope it all helps! and congrats again! 

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Thanks Dwar for taking the time to respond and for the congrats! I'm happy with each of the choices and think each of them would be a great place for me to study, so I think that's why I'm curious now about the post-grad situation. 

I'm definitely gotta take a closer look at where recent grads end up and ask some of the questions you recommended. I figured as much about the prestige - but I like your idea of looking where recent grads end up so I have an idea of where they can find placements.

Thanks again for taking the time to respond - it as very helpful!!

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