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Help me decide between Ohio, John Hopkins, Maryland, and Rice's PhD program


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Hi everyone! So I am lucky to have been accepted at a few programs this year and I am now working on collecting information to help me make a decision. 

To give a bit of background, I went to Chicago for both my undergrad and masters. I needed a change lol so didn't apply there for my Ph.D. I am interested in studying IR, specifically international security, conflict, and interventions.

My main goal is a TT position after (and will be working hard towards that), but I am not delusional not to know how crappy that market is. So I am interested in slowly plugging myself while in grad school in the policy arena - you know, writing for MonkeyCage, networking with think-tank peeps, writing a few Op-Eds on breaking news, etc. I have work experience that will help towards that end. If academia doesn't work, will be equally happy as a fellow at a think-tank or research center - in the U.S or abroad.

In each of these programs, there are scholars I will happily work with, so fit is there. Of course, Ohio State seems to be of better fit due to number of top IR scholars working there.

So a few questions I have:

1) Besides the rankings of these programs, how important does name brand of the university as a whole hold? Both for TT track jobs but especially in the policy world. Ohio State (#8 in IR and #15 in overall PoliSci) is the top ranked political science program out of my admits, but Rice (#33) and John Hopkins (#49) have better name brands overall. Same thing with the two programs in the greater DC area: Maryland (ranked #29) vs JHU (#49). Asking this because I don't think people outside academia know or care about the ranking of political science programs. 

2) How detrimental will it be to pick the DC area - by choosing MD over Ohio - in pursuit of TT positions? I know it would probably help for policy jobs being in the DC area but not sure how that will impact TT competitiveness. Would love to hear thoughts on these.

Any other thoughts from current or former students of these programs in general also welcomed. Thanks!

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First of all, congratulations! It's an especially tough year so getting into multiple programs is quite the achievement. I'm not in IR, so I won't offer my opinion on the quality of the programs, but I will pass on some advice that's been given to me. 

1) Think carefully about cost of living and your stipend. You'll have to be at your program for a minimum of 5 years. That's a long time, and you want to make sure your program is offering you the resources to keep out of debt. Funding matters a lot for your quality of life, so I would make sure to compare offers and negotiate better ones if possible. 

2) Fit matters. We say this a lot, but in terms of your research and career prospects, having a well known prof at a less well known school can be to your advantage. On the flip side, keep in mind that your research interests may change, and if they do you want a program that has people who can take you on. 

3) Look at placement data. Programs should be keeping track of "alt-ac" positions their students are going into, so you should see for yourself how these things matter. 

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My two cents, as someone in the same subfield who has observed friends and colleagues at many of those schools try to navigate the market:

1) Fit matters. Make sure you are in a place where you will receive funding support, and where the environment of the program is not competitive but is supportive. 

2) I would be cautious about JHU - their IR is very theory-heavy. SAIS is a plus, but most PhD students don't take classes down at SAIS. So in terms of "being in DC" I don't know that Hopkins will help a lot there. You do have the proximity, which is a benefit. 

Ohio is a great program. I know less about Rice.

I second the advice to ask for placement data, and make sure that you get not just the first set of placements but try to see where people actually landed (even if this involves some googling on your part). Placement data often includes things like postdoc positions, but you never know if the person got a TT job after that or if they moved in a different direction. To keep the door open to policy or non-ac jobs, you should look at doing the summer internship program at RAND, and keep an eye out for similar programs at other places. 

To more directly answer your questions: name brand matters less than your advisor and your committee. Those will be the people working their networks to try to get people excited about you and your work. You want to have at least two people in the department who you think you could work closely with. Being in DC is a benefit because it can reduce the cost of summer policy experiences, but it is possible to find short-term summer rentals to make that happen. In terms of location, the most important thing in my mind is that you can imagine yourself being content for five to six years. If you hate the location, it will affect how you feel about grad school. 

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Thank you both! Great point on RAND Summer Associate!

@PolPsychGal11Yeah, I think I am leaning more towards Ohio or Maryland (because of (1) its proximity to DC (2) the department and the DGS seems to be very supportive, even though the stipends are a bit tight and (3) it is still T30). There are at least 2-3 faculties in both programs that I could work with (again Ohio has an upper hand on this). Placements wise, honestly, Ohio hasn't been doing well since like 2016. Seems UMD is actually doing better for its ranking.

But I noticed you didn't bring up Maryland, so if you were in my shoes (and since you're in IR), which program would you have picked and why?

Others, please feel free to chime in!

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18 hours ago, Prof2B said:

Hi everyone! So I am lucky to have been accepted at a few programs this year and I am now working on collecting information to help me make a decision. 

To give a bit of background, I went to Chicago for both my undergrad and masters. I needed a change lol so didn't apply there for my Ph.D. I am interested in studying IR, specifically international security, conflict, and interventions.

My main goal is a TT position after (and will be working hard towards that), but I am not delusional not to know how crappy that market is. So I am interested in slowly plugging myself while in grad school in the policy arena - you know, writing for MonkeyCage, networking with think-tank peeps, writing a few Op-Eds on breaking news, etc. I have work experience that will help towards that end. If academia doesn't work, will be equally happy as a fellow at a think-tank or research center - in the U.S or abroad.

In each of these programs, there are scholars I will happily work with, so fit is there. Of course, Ohio State seems to be of better fit due to number of top IR scholars working there.

So a few questions I have:

1) Besides the rankings of these programs, how important does name brand of the university as a whole hold? Both for TT track jobs but especially in the policy world. Ohio State (#8 in IR and #15 in overall PoliSci) is the top ranked political science program out of my admits, but Rice (#33) and John Hopkins (#49) have better name brands overall. Same thing with the two programs in the greater DC area: Maryland (ranked #29) vs JHU (#49). Asking this because I don't think people outside academia know or care about the ranking of political science programs. 

2) How detrimental will it be to pick the DC area - by choosing MD over Ohio - in pursuit of TT positions? I know it would probably help for policy jobs being in the DC area but not sure how that will impact TT competitiveness. Would love to hear thoughts on these.

Any other thoughts from current or former students of these programs in general also welcomed. Thanks!

Hello, 
First and foremost, congrats on being admitted into such great schools!
I'd say the crucial thing to consider while choosing is the placement (recent!) record. In this sense, Maryland seems to be more successful. 
The attrition rate is the second essential factor: some (great!) schools admit, say, 10 persons, and only 3-4 out of them graduate. - It speaks a lot about the Department's culture and the overall well-being of the students. And about your odds of succeeding, of course.
Third, the cohorts' size is vitally-important too: it is easy to get lost among hundreds of colleagues. Furthermore, in overcrowded departments, students struggle for face-time with their advisors.
Fourth, the average graduation timing is very telling too.
Fifth, funding opportunities for the summer workshops (like ICPSR) are another factor to consider.

Hope it helps.

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16 hours ago, Prof2B said:

But I noticed you didn't bring up Maryland, so if you were in my shoes (and since you're in IR), which program would you have picked and why?

I would choose Ohio, I think. Great university with good connections and alumni, good work in IR, and pretty good placement record. I think Maryland could be ok, but it would depend on your specific research interests and methodological approaches, and I would recommend trying to talk to grad students there about the culture. Maryland could be a good fit for you, but I'd recommend trying to get in touch with current or former students.

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Congrats on the acceptances! 

In terms of answering your question, OSU definitely has the best departmental reputation and ranking, and that’s much more important than overall school notoriety. 

In terms of funding, not sure if OSU has released those decisions, but in the past it seems to be in the range of ~25k which is a lot for a public university and will go a VERY long way in Ohio. That’s opposed to the ~20k UMD is offering which is basically just over the poverty line in the DC area. Quality of life is very important and financial security is a MASSIVE part of that.  
 

In terms of non academic work, I’m not really that knowledgeable about the PhD market for non academia. While I have spent time in DC (gap year between undergrad and grad), I was mostly in the non-profit sector and not the think tank/research one. BUT, if I had to talk about this one, I’d still say OSU will better prepare you for that. People and organizations in positions to hire PhD’s will know and understand the rankings and the overall view of specific departments and programs. By pretty much every metric OSU is a better program than UMD.

That’s not saying UMD is a bad program or anything, it’s a great program and produces quality scholars, but it is less than OSU. 

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OSU is probably the best bang for your buck. The DC area does have benefits of course, but I think your preparation, networking, etc. would on average be better at OSU. I'd look closely at placement data -- they report it for non-academic jobs generally as well. JHU may have a slightly better "name brand" than OSU, but I think other data probably put OSU at the top. 

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3 hours ago, sloth_girl said:

OSU is probably the best bang for your buck. The DC area does have benefits of course, but I think your preparation, networking, etc. would on average be better at OSU. I'd look closely at placement data -- they report it for non-academic jobs generally as well. JHU may have a slightly better "name brand" than OSU, but I think other data probably put OSU at the top. 

As always (I think) I agree with skoth_girl. If you are interested in a TT position I would not hesitate for a moment and choose OSU. As @Dwar also said, the funding situation tends to be a bit sketchy at OSU so you should make sure that's all sorted out before you turn anything else down. From what I can tell, OSU is a fantastic program and so is its placement. Going there will grant you a better degree, better research, and make you more competitive on the job market. The only reason to go elsewhere (in my opinion) is if you would get a particularly supportive/great/amazing/outstanding advisor elsewhere. But it's probably more likely that you'll find that at OSU compared to the others. Good luck and congratulations - you have many options and many people have none. 

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1 hour ago, Theory007 said:

As always (I think) I agree with skoth_girl. If you are interested in a TT position I would not hesitate for a moment and choose OSU. As @Dwar also said, the funding situation tends to be a bit sketchy at OSU so you should make sure that's all sorted out before you turn anything else down. From what I can tell, OSU is a fantastic program and so is its placement. Going there will grant you a better degree, better research, and make you more competitive on the job market. The only reason to go elsewhere (in my opinion) is if you would get a particularly supportive/great/amazing/outstanding advisor elsewhere. But it's probably more likely that you'll find that at OSU compared to the others. Good luck and congratulations - you have many options and many people have none. 

Thank you @Theory007, @Dwar, @sloth_girl! Thankfully funding at OSU is sorted out.

Been lurking on these forum for years, so I appreciate hearing from current graduate students. And @sloth_girl congratulation on an amazing cycle last year! Hope you're enjoying sunny CA!

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14 minutes ago, Prof2B said:

Thank you @Theory007, @Dwar, @sloth_girl! Thankfully funding at OSU is sorted out.

Been lurking on these forum for years, so I appreciate hearing from current graduate students. And @sloth_girl congratulation on an amazing cycle last year! Hope you're enjoying sunny CA!

Thank you! I'm glad to be of help -- reach out any time! Also yes, I do enjoy the weather! :)

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