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Writing a book before PhD

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I am a few years out of my undergrad degree, and in that time I worked as a writer and researcher. I published a pretty successful serious nonfiction book during this time, and I'm wondering how that will look to PhD admissions committees. It's a very research-focused book, with hundreds of citations, but it's not published by an academic press. I also have a large social media following and lots of media coverage of my research. For example, I'm not sure if admissions committees will see this as unacademic and take me less seriously, or if they'll be excited that I have already completed a disseration-length research project and have a lot of experience communicating research findings with the general public. Or they might be excited to have a mini-celebrity in their program.

I was also wondering if it would be reasonable to use a chapter from the book for my writing sample, since it is my most polished intellectual writing to date.

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In what discipline or area of study was the nonfiction book that you sold?  To be completely honest with you, if the book was not about a subject within political science and was not published by an academic press, ad coms, particularly at top schools, will not really care, because it will not demonstrate your propensity for rigorous research in political science.  That's not to say it's meaningless or that you can't put it on your CV, or even describe in your statement of purpose how the research you conducted to write your book lead you to want to further study political science (im assuming thats what you want to study since you're posting in a political science forum).  

There are many academics who are on twitter and discuss and even post links to their research work or upcoming book publications, so I don't think that having a lot of followers on social media or lots of media coverage on your research will be dispositive.  Assuming your book is not on a political science topic that is researched in academia, I doubt they will be "excited" that you have already completed a dissertation length research project.  Since academics seem to be fairly pretentious and only concerned with what goes on in their discipline, I also doubt they would be excited to have a mini celebrity in their program. They don't care for celebrity.  They just care if you can produce exceptional research in your field of study.  

As far as if it would be reasonable to use a chapter from your book as a writing sample, that would be fine if you don't have anything else.  Otherwise, if your book is not about a Poli sci topic, then I would look into conducting your own independent research project in an area of interest within one of the major sub disciplines in political science (American, comparative, international relations, political theory).  

Good luck!

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Thank you for the reply, Neo_Institutionalist! The book was on a contemporary political issue. I'd rather not say more for reasons of anonymity, but I'm confident if I explained the book in a few sentences to you, you wouldn't be able to tell it was not written by a political scientist writing for a popular audience.

That makes sense about the academic press issue. One idea there is that by including a book chapter as a writing sample, it could show how the book was an example of rigorous research (though not primary research for the most part, as is the case with most books whether at academic or trade presses).

Thanks for the blunt feedback. It's made me think I should do more to emphasize the rigor of the book and my related research. While I don't know if it would qualify for, say, a top poli sci journal, I think I can certainly make the case that it's unusually rigorous for a PhD applicant.

If you have time, I am curious about your suggestion for independent research, as I'm currently considering whether to pitch a project to a political scientist at a top university, asking if I could do most of the work for the project but have their supervision (and if a paper comes out of it, co-authorship). And if that doesn't work out, I was hoping to provide volunteer RA work for that academic, doing whatever at all they need me to do. I didn't think academic scientists would take a fully independent research project very seriously, even if it were rigorously conducted.

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I'm going to disagree with @Neo_Institutionalist here. Publishing a nonfiction, original research-driven book is a great signal of your ability to complete an involved project and your ability to market your work (very important for academic publishing also). It would certainly be appropriate to use a chapter from this book as your writing sample.

My opinion is that admissions committees don't place too much weight on the *quality* of research that one produces prior to starting their PhD. You are not expected to be a high-quality researcher yet; you haven't had the training! Rather, they look for signals that 1. you know what research is, and 2. that you possess qualities (intelligence, perseverance) that will help you to succeed in the program, publish your work, and get a job. For 1, most applicants submit RA experience, writing sample, and SOP. For 2, they submit their GPA/GRE scores and their letters of rec.  Your book is evidence that you can do original research, and that you have the resolve necessary to undergo a book-length project. Conditional on the other aspects of your application, the book can only help you.

Honest advice, though: please do not consider yourself a mini-celebrity. There are folks in my program with this attitude, and it hurts their relationships with faculty as well as their fellow graduate students. The truth is that you will be a first-year graduate student, with much promise, perhaps, but with just as much to learn as the rest of your cohort. Apologies if you were being facetious with the "mini-celebrity" comment - hard to tell on the internet. But I have met enough people who believe that they are superior to their colleagues on the basis of some pre-grad school achievement to tell you with some certainty that this is not a formula for academic success.

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Thanks, @dagnabbit! That also sounds like I should emphasize how the book was research-focused, and use a chapter as a writing sample to illustrate that.

That makes sense about "mini-celebrity" as a term. I was just trying to concisely describe where I'm at right now (I'm not sure if there's a better word to use) but I would not consider myself superior to the rest of my cohort. I just have a unique situation given I've just done much more public-facing research, writing, interviewing, etc. than most applicants have, so that's left me wanting to solicit advice from some strangers on the internet =] I'll also be careful with the wording of my application itself, and I would definitely not say "mini-celebrity" in that context.

Edited by bantorb
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