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How can I tell if I'm qualified to do a PhD in IR?


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Ok, so after some feedback from people on here, talking to my sister and her husband, I’m beginning to lean towards not doing my MPA since my ultimate goal is to work in academia and to get a PhD. That said, I’m worried about not having the credentials to get into a PhD course. I have an MA in linguistics and have a lot of history, culture courses as well that I’ve taken between Glasgow and my uni from when I was in the states.

All the programmes I’ve looked at: Columbia, Stanford, USC(got in their MPA), NYU(got in their MA IR) and Princeton all say you only need a bachelors to apply, but I just worry whether or not I’d be a competitive applicant. Could someone help me measure myself up in terms of incoming PhD students? There may be some courses I need to take at a community college to boost my profile and I’d really appreciate it.

My sister and brother in law came over yesterday to help me reach out to some professors who were working in departments in my research areas of interest(IR Far East asian studies) and I also emailed NYU about potentially switching from the MA to the PhD route since I would like to do my own research. That said, I'm a bit concerned about A) my qualifications and B)whether or not there's even much mobility in the research/academic market for Political Science PhD's.

I've also been chatting to a guy who has a PhD in Poly Sci via reddit, and he's told me that the job market is pretty abysmal for Poly Sci/IR PhD's at the moment. When I explained to him that in addition to working in academia, I would also like to work in international politics/offices like the UN, WHO, etc. He explained that people with PhD's usually do not get hired by those organisations and are usually only brought on as consultants for a time. So, if doing direct government/bureaucratic work is my goal, he suggested to do the MPA. The MA IR programme coordinator at NYU told me herself, that the programme is usually terminal and very rarely do people go on to do PhD's, "although it is an option" this stood out as a red flag to him.

TL;DR MPA would be 70k, but after completion I would obviously be competitive in the governmental job market. Or, I could take a year off and hope that my MA linguistics is enough to get into a PhD programme.

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I don't mean to sound like a defeatist, but it doesn't seem like you know enough about the discipline or the PhD application process to really have a chance at getting in anywhere (which is why it's great that you're asking!). Here's my two-cents:

1. It's Poli Sci, not "Poly Sci." The Poli stands for Political.

2. You won't get into a Poli Sci PhD program without at least some significant coursework in Poli Sci, preferably at the upper-year undergraduate or graduate level. Courses in History or Culture likely won't cut it. Economics courses might. The reason for this is that you will likely have no clue what research in Poli Sci looks like if you've never had a course within the discipline. This goes doubly for the programs that you're talking about. To get into Princeton, Stanford, etc. not only takes a proven academic track record in Poli Sci, but also top grades in those courses (preferably from a well-known university).

3. There's no chance that NYU will let you switch from the MA to the PhD program. This never happens. The admission standards are wildly different, and the admission cycle is already over.

4. Do not go for a PhD unless you are dead set on working in academia. That is what a PhD is for. All of the training that you will receive is geared towards an academic career, and there's no point in absorbing the opportunity cost that comes with a PhD when you could just get an MPA (way less time). You need to be very sure that an academic career is your #1 priority at this moment.

My suggestions:

1. If you are happy with a government job, get the MPA.

2. If you want a job in academia, get an MA in Poli Sci first, then apply for a PhD after (assuming that your grades are good enough). Some programs to look at are UChicago (could be funded), NYU (unfunded), Columbia (unfunded), and a bunch of smaller programs, some of which are unfunded and some of which are funded. You could also apply to schools in Canada, such as UToronto, UBC, McGill, which will be less expensive than an unfunded US program.


Hope that helps!

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