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I need some advice and sagely guidance.

it seems to me that Regional Studies folks (East Asia, Middle East, what have you) have a weird time figuring out how to get to their final destination. For example, there's no way I could segue directly into a PhD program. So I had to decide, wanting ultimately to be a Japan political specialist, whether to do a PoliSci/IR program with a regional emphasis, or a Regional Studies program with a PoliSci/IR emphasis. Which path does an aspiring regional specialist take?

For me, the clincher was language competency, especially since I want to end up in academia. Being able to read those primary sources looked crucial, and only the direct East Asian programs would let me get the language courses while permitting a polisci/IR focus. Then, after a solid MA (is Ivy important) and a good thesis I could then go into an IR or PoliSci PhD with a strong regional specialization and background. Or I could be very wrong on all accounts.

Any thoughts?

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Here goes my thoughts, as disorganized as they may be. I think it's important to consider what courses you ultimately want to be teaching and the type of student work you'd want to be advising. A regional studies MA or PhD is going to give you interdisciplinary training, but not the same depth in a traditional discipline, which could hurt you on the job market.

I think the approach you're taking is a good one. An area studies MA with a disciplinary PhD will demonstrate to any search committee your ability to do both. Just make sure you stay active in both areas, through your research and conferences and stuff.

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SpectacledDaruma, I am following almost precisely the same trajectory and for the same reasons, but my area is African Studies. I majored in English as an undergrad, then worked for awhile in Africa and came back to the US to take up non-profit work. I'm committed to doing a PhD in Political Science (Comparative and Theory would be ideal subfields, as I'm interested in human rights and resource distribution), but my undergrad major and language skills are off-track. I've applied to MAs in African Studies with the hope of getting good language training and getting immersed in political science and related fields-- and writing a thesis. I did apply to one IR program that offered African Studies as a concentration, but it's so professionally-oriented that I don't think it would be the right choice for me. have you applied for this year, or are you thinking about going in 2009?

rising_star, thanks for your thoughts!

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Right on. I have applied to MA programs for Fall '08 and have been accepted to my top choice, which does a fantastic job focusing on my particular regional interest. I'm big on Japanese politics and IR. So, for example, of the schools I applied to -

- Havard was heavier on China, literature and gender studies. (About 5 courses that dealt with Japanese politics explicitly)

- Stanford and Yale both had almost nil on Japanese politics. (1 or 2 courses)

- University of Hawaii is heavy on arts, history and religion of East Asia (Again, 2 or so courses but more with East-West Institute cross-over, though it's kinda weird.)

- Columbia, like Harvard, lots of non-polisci stuff like Anthropology. (Again, 3-6 courses for Japanese politics)

- University of Washington Seattle big on Japanese politics. (24 courses!)

Regional specialists like us have a terrible time finding that right program. These course listings belie the faculty make-up. I had put Harvard at the top of my list, but after counting these courses out it is clear that UW is the best fit. This way I'll have plenty of PoliSci/IR experience with that Japanese emphasis, some influential LORs and the language component. Good luck finding that right International Studies program. Look at the faculty, look at the course catalog and don't hesistate to contact the department. UW's Japan Studies department head was incredibly friendly and took the time to hear out what I wanted to do and whether or not his program would be a good fit.


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SpectacledDaruma, congrats on getting into a great program! I had similar problems choosing a program, where I could find a program at all. I'm more or less deciding between Yale and Stanford at this point. I'm happy with the choices but worried about funding, and I wish I'd applied more broadly. I'm not convinced that a high-powered/Ivy/research university MA is necessary for PhD admission. In fact, if the course offerings were better for my interests, I'd have stayed at American (where I have tuition remission) and applied directly from here in a couple years. Nevertheless, I am really looking forward to the MA. I was shy about approaching department faculty while applying and limited my e-mails to procedural questions, but I'll definitely take your advice and try to discuss more substantive matters before April 15.

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  • 2 weeks later...

You might know this already, but originally regional area studies actually came about as sort of a rival to traditional social sciences like political science. Area studies were mostly the result of post-colonial academic movements that shunned the type of ethnocentrism practiced in a lot of social sciences. This was, however, around 30-40 years ago, and these days the line is a lot more blurred between the two.

Practically speaking, I'd agree with you in that an M.A. is the way to go to properly prepare you to read primary sources with language courses. However, since it seems your ultimate goal is to become a political scientist, you're going to meet some old school poli sci faculty who will look upon the sort of "soft" culturally-sensitive curriculum from a regional studies program to be somewhat inferior to a theory-based social science curriculum. I think this sort of thinking is dying fast, but I thought it'd be good to put this sort of information out there so you know what to expect when you're looking for a tenured position and are under peer review. Just FYI. (One of my areas of focus is the history of social sciences and Chinese area studies, so we are not too far apart).

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