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VCalery

Profile Evaluation: comparative politics

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Hi everyone,

I have been lurking this forum since I decided to apply in this cycle (nonstop), I know a lot of people have already posted profile evaluation questions but I still feel extremely insecure about my chances of admission at decent US PhD programs (maybe top 20-40), any advice would be greatly appreciated, thank you!

Type of Undergrad Institution: Top 3 Canadian University

Major(s)/Minor(s): Honors in Political Science, minor in economics (another minor in management, if this is relevant?)

Undergrad GPA: 3.85 (as of now, upward trend, not sure if I can keep it though)

MA: none

GRE: 165 V, 167 Q, 5.5 

Languages: Chinese (native)

Teaching: none

LOR: I have one strong letter almost guaranteed (a very relevant professor for whom I worked closely as RA for more than a year now) ; a quant focused professor I took seminar course with; a qual focused professor who has seen my work and nominated it to a departmental award (best writing in poli sci); or alternatively I could ask a course instructor (now works as a post-doc) who also has reviewed and thought highly of my research paper (said it was publishable). 

SoP: I aim to apply in the area of comparative politics with a regional focus in China, and a substantial focus in social movements/civil society. I have a fairly narrowed research interest, but I do not have a clear answer or approach to my proposed questions. I plan to emphasize more on my potential and flexibility, as I am good at both quantitative methods and poli theories. 

Research Experience: undergraduate summer research award; said RA work, from the very basics such as transcription to more advanced quantitative analysis such as regression analysis

Quant Experience: econometrics and statistics. 

My issue is, since I am straight out of undergrad, and I don't have much experience with writing a thesis just yet (by the time of graduation, I will; but by the time of application deadline, I won't), I would be severely lacking in providing a good writing sample. Although I have written many research papers for higher level poli sci classes, none of them would be comparable to a MA or honors thesis. In other words, while I am applying, I'm still in the process of producing writing-sample-worth papers and getting closer contact with my professors, would that heavily impede my chances at admission? Of course I could use the next 3 months and write a good paper, but I feel it is too rushed that might pose a problem. 

If I wait and apply next cycle, that is after I graduate from undergrad degree, I think my chances of being admitted will improve significantly, as I will have major research papers done in my last two semesters. Am I wrong in believing this? If I'm right, will I still benefit from attending a US terminal master degree, such as the one offered in UChicago? Or am I better off staying in Canada for a master degree? Should I apply to PhD programs at all this cycle? 

I also welcome any school reccomendations, etc. Please say anything you feel relevant and I appreciate your input! Thank you again and good luck to your academic endeavors! 

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Honestly this all sounds fine to me and I'd aim for anywhere form 1-30 ranked programs if I were you. I see no reason to limit yourself to applying to anywhere. 

Re: writing sample. No one actually wants an MA thesis length paper, so don't bother with it. Most places want a minimum in the ballpark of 10-30 pages, which pretty much any thorough research paper will make it to once you double space (which most of them want you to do anyways), throw in the bibliography, add in a graph or two, add in tables, etc. And if you don't, I don't recall seeing any programs that specifically say that you can't attach two or three shorter papers instead -- in fact many programs say you should do this if you don't have a longer writing sample. 

Really. Don't sweat it. Not everyone who gets into great schools does a senior or MA thesis, and admissions committees don't expect everyone to have a 60 page paper ready to be judged. In fact places will be unhappy if you do send in a 60 page thesis -- they have to judge tons of applications, no one has the time to read 60 pages. 

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Another native Chinese speaker here. Feel free to PM me if you wanna chat!

Your GRE and GPA are rock solid. It is also a huge plus that you got some research experience. I wouldn't worry too much about the quality of your writing sample; you are an undergrad and you are not supposed to have the same level of funding and quant skills as grad students. I am sure adcomms are fully aware of that. That being said, I do think a terminal master's degree would help. 

Another thing I wanna add is that not a lot of polisci scholars study social movements in China (there is a reason why that's the case and we can talk about it in details later). Off the top of my head, Diana Fu and Elizabeth Perry are two exceptions. Oh and there's also Kevin O'Brien but I am not sure whether he still supervises PhD students. 

Edited by Mixedmethodsisa4letterword

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Your profile looks amazing! honestly you can probably get into some schools higher then the 20-40 range. 

Just make sure that you fit in with the department. With a profile like that you can probably get in anywhere that you fit. So I'd really focus on that aspect. don't just apply to schools because they are good schools, make sure that you and your research actually fit in with the department. 

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17 hours ago, BunniesInSpace said:

Honestly this all sounds fine to me and I'd aim for anywhere form 1-30 ranked programs if I were you. I see no reason to limit yourself to applying to anywhere. 

Re: writing sample. No one actually wants an MA thesis length paper, so don't bother with it. Most places want a minimum in the ballpark of 10-30 pages, which pretty much any thorough research paper will make it to once you double space (which most of them want you to do anyways), throw in the bibliography, add in a graph or two, add in tables, etc. And if you don't, I don't recall seeing any programs that specifically say that you can't attach two or three shorter papers instead -- in fact many programs say you should do this if you don't have a longer writing sample. 

Really. Don't sweat it. Not everyone who gets into great schools does a senior or MA thesis, and admissions committees don't expect everyone to have a 60 page paper ready to be judged. In fact places will be unhappy if you do send in a 60 page thesis -- they have to judge tons of applications, no one has the time to read 60 pages. 

@BunniesInSpace Thank you so much for your words of encouragement! I think I did stressed about the writing sample too much. What I worried most was about the quality of my research papers being uncomparable to a well-conducted senior thesis, because if you write specifically for a standard poli sci course, then the scope and academic rigor will be very limited. And you are absolutely right that I could combine papers as writing sample, thank you for your advices! 

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16 hours ago, Mixedmethodsisa4letterword said:

Another native Chinese speaker here. Feel free to PM me if you wanna chat!

Your GRE and GPA are rock solid. It is also a huge plus that you got some research experience. I wouldn't worry too much about the quality of your writing sample; you are an undergrad and you are not supposed to have the same level of funding and quant skills as grad students. I am sure adcomms are fully aware of that. That being said, I do think a terminal master's degree would help. 

Another thing I wanna add is that not a lot of polisci scholars study social movements in China (there is a reason why that's the case and we can talk about it in details later). Off the top of my head, Diana Fu and Elizabeth Perry are two exceptions. Oh and there's also Kevin O'Brien but I am not sure whether he still supervises PhD students. 

@Mixedmethodsisa4letterword  Hi !! It's good to know I'm not alone hahaha  I will PM you shortly! 

Thank you for your words of encourgement! I totally agree with you that adcomm would take into account the fact that I'm just an undergrad, this is also why I intended to write in my SoP more about my potential than what I have already achieved. 

Thank you for pointing out how niche my research interest is, I will definitely try researching the two scholars you mentioned. O'Brien is one of my favourite scholars, he's the major reason I wanted to try applying for UCB! (It would be too sad if he no longer supervises, but I heard from my supervisor that UCB is still a good choice for me since there's a cluster of people are doing the kind of research I'm interested in). 

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9 hours ago, Dwar said:

Your profile looks amazing! honestly you can probably get into some schools higher then the 20-40 range. 

Just make sure that you fit in with the department. With a profile like that you can probably get in anywhere that you fit. So I'd really focus on that aspect. don't just apply to schools because they are good schools, make sure that you and your research actually fit in with the department. 

@Dwar Thank you so much! I really feel more confident now. I will definitely research more thoroughly about POIs! 

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Hi VCalery! I would echo the thought about applying to more of the top 1-20 programs given your strong profile.

I also disagree, in a friendly way, with Mixedmethodsisa4letterword advice that social movements/civil society are too niche. If you're willing to look beyond the "Power in Movement" style of work, there are a lot of people working on protest/mobilization/revolutions/collective action. Scholars at Princeton, Berkeley, Mich, Stanford, Harvard, Cornell, Yale, Columbia etc. have written about protest or repression of protest in China. (And O'Brien is still supervising students as far as I know.) Plus many others from Beissinger to Svolik take a broader approach.

If you want to share your sample or SOP I'd be happy to read, DM me.

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12 hours ago, encyclopediabrown said:

Hi VCalery! I would echo the thought about applying to more of the top 1-20 programs given your strong profile.

I also disagree, in a friendly way, with Mixedmethodsisa4letterword advice that social movements/civil society are too niche. If you're willing to look beyond the "Power in Movement" style of work, there are a lot of people working on protest/mobilization/revolutions/collective action. Scholars at Princeton, Berkeley, Mich, Stanford, Harvard, Cornell, Yale, Columbia etc. have written about protest or repression of protest in China. (And O'Brien is still supervising students as far as I know.) Plus many others from Beissinger to Svolik take a broader approach.

If you want to share your sample or SOP I'd be happy to read, DM me.

Hi @encyclopediabrown. I absolutely agree with you on the fact that if you look beyond traditional social movement scholars (Tarrow/McAdam alike) there are many people working on contentious politics, protest, and repression of them in general such as Slater or Davenport. And I did discuss that with OP in our later conversation. What I meant in my post was indeed social movement studies in a kinda strict/old-schooled sense :) 

Edited by Mixedmethodsisa4letterword

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On 9/12/2019 at 11:33 PM, encyclopediabrown said:

Hi VCalery! I would echo the thought about applying to more of the top 1-20 programs given your strong profile.

I also disagree, in a friendly way, with Mixedmethodsisa4letterword advice that social movements/civil society are too niche. If you're willing to look beyond the "Power in Movement" style of work, there are a lot of people working on protest/mobilization/revolutions/collective action. Scholars at Princeton, Berkeley, Mich, Stanford, Harvard, Cornell, Yale, Columbia etc. have written about protest or repression of protest in China. (And O'Brien is still supervising students as far as I know.) Plus many others from Beissinger to Svolik take a broader approach.

If you want to share your sample or SOP I'd be happy to read, DM me.

Hi @encyclopediabrown, thank you so much for your encouragement and advice! It really opens up my mind about my research interest. I will definitely look into the schools and scholars you have mentioned! (I also went through your previous posts and they were extremely helpful as well, thank you!) 

Thank you for your kind offer, I will DM you shortly! 

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