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Which Master for US-PhD in Political Science? When to apply for the PhD then?


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Hello dear forum,

I have been reading here quietly for a while now, since there are two questions in particular driving me around that I haven't been able to answer properly yet:
 

1) Should I apply for PhDs this year (for a start in fall 2022) with my current profile and thus have only studied a few months in my Master?

and

2) Which of the Master's programs best fits my focus and could still best "push" my PhD applications?
 

Goal: I would prefer to do a PhD in Comparative Politics or IR theory, keeping a focus on South Asia. Most of the exciting programs I am having an eye on are in the US and unfortunately at the usual, very competitive universities...

Background:

- Bachelor's degree from top-10 European university in International Relations. Our different grading system would just confuse the GPA, but unfortunately I was "only" top 20-30% of my class. Semester abroad at well known US university for IR/PoliSci

- took classic IR courses with unfortunately less quantitative focus - I only took a one year course in quantitative and statistical models for Political Science (but did very well there) and learned R, SPSS and Stata (partly introductory).

- RA at a prestigious US political research institute and internships at embassies.

- Publications: 10+ op-eds, 3 short academic articles in niche publications ---> currently working on publishing my bachelor's thesis as well as 1-2 other "larger" paper projects before applying

- Other: 8 languages (5 of them fluent); contact to many professors for LOR, but all European and all from the Bachelor-level

- GRE: currently studying for it to write it in the summer

Current: 
I finished my Bachelor in 2020 and am currently taking a gap year to work / do internships. I am also taking a one year Economics program at the same university, but it is "basically" not graded.

Master's:
I will be starting a Master's in Fall 2021 and am very undecided about the program. I have the following options:

- LSE MSc in IR -> 1 year
- Columbia M.A. (interdisciplinary program with slight regional focus -> notPolitical Science per se, but possible focus; very renowned profs in my field)-> 1 year (Fulbright scholarship secured).
- Cambridge MPhil (similar orientation as Columbia, but research related and with a clear focus on South Asia) -> 1 year
- IHEID Geneva Master in Political Science / IR -> 2 years


My questions:

1) I would like (for personal reasons) to continue with a PhD in the US right after my Master, but I also know that my profile is definitely not the strongest. Since most programs only go for one year, I would have to apply already this year and thus would not be able to benefit from the professors for LOR nor from the final grade or from my Master´s thesis for the PhD applications.
--> How much would the fact that I am doing these masters but that I am applying with mostly the material from the Bachelor count?
--> Should I wait a year to focus more on my Master´s degree in my application?

2) I would like to apply for a PhD in Political Science, but maintain a South Asia focus in my research. Therefore, I also have two masters in the list that are more interdisciplinary and exactly at the interface in which I am interested in. However, I would not do traditional Political Science there and will only come into contact with a few Political Scientists.
--> So does it make more sense to choose the LSE / IHEID Master to work clearly towards a PhD in Political Science?
--> Would an interdisciplinary Master in South Asian Studies be more of a hindrance for a Political Science PhD?
--> Does the reputation of the university play a role for PhD applications in the US? If so, how do these universities compare?

I thank you all so much for your help and already apologize for this way too long question...
All the best

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Hi friend, 

Congrats on making the decision to pursue the (long) PhD journey.  Before I give any specific recommendation, I just wanted to ask for some clarification.  You say you have a Fulbright secured for a 1 year MA at Columbia?  Does this mean you would have tuition covered and a stipend for that one year?  Furthermore, does that Fulbright apply to any other school, or just Columbia?  If it is only Columbia, I would absolutely suggest you go there.  As anyone on this forum will tell you, debt sucks.  It sucks even more if you are trying to get a not super lucrative job in academia.  Columbia, while I have my problems with it, is an excellent option if funded.  It sounds like that is the case for you, but I'm not entirely sure based on the info you provided.    If that is your only funded option, I'd go there without a second thought.  

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Just now, Mr_Spock2018 said:

Hi friend, 

Congrats on making the decision to pursue the (long) PhD journey.  Before I give any specific recommendation, I just wanted to ask for some clarification.  You say you have a Fulbright secured for a 1 year MA at Columbia?  Does this mean you would have tuition covered and a stipend for that one year?  Furthermore, does that Fulbright apply to any other school, or just Columbia?  If it is only Columbia, I would absolutely suggest you go there.  As anyone on this forum will tell you, debt sucks.  It sucks even more if you are trying to get a not super lucrative job in academia.  Columbia, while I have my problems with it, is an excellent option if funded.  It sounds like that is the case for you, but I'm not entirely sure based on the info you provided.    If that is your only funded option, I'd go there without a second thought.  

Thank you so much for your quick response.
Yes, I would have a Fulbright scholarship for Columbia and sadly only for Columbia.  It would lift off a big financial burden but not everything, although I am still waiting on some national scholarships to fund the master completely. The only fear I have with Columbia is the interdisciplinarity of the degree, which combines political science and South Asia, but is not a typical terminal US program in political science, but something weirdly else. I really like the idea and would love to go there, but am just wondering how useful it might be for PhD admissions committees.
Also, I would have (likely) funding for most of the other options - it really comes down to the university and the program itself...

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Just now, SJPY said:

Thank you so much for your quick response.
Yes, I would have a Fulbright scholarship for Columbia and sadly only for Columbia.  It would lift off a big financial burden but not everything, although I am still waiting on some national scholarships to fund the master completely. The only fear I have with Columbia is the interdisciplinarity of the degree, which combines political science and South Asia, but is not a typical terminal US program in political science, but something weirdly else. I really like the idea and would love to go there, but am just wondering how useful it might be for PhD admissions committees.
Also, I would have (likely) funding for most of the other options - it really comes down to the university and the program itself...

I see.  In that case, I'm not sure I have a really strong recommendation for you.  I would agree with you that if you go to Columbia, or anywhere else, for a 1 year MA, it would probably make sense to wait a year, as you won't really have gotten out of the program what you need in just 2-3 months.  If you're going to put the effort/time/money into an MA, I think it makes sense to wait until you have finished one year before applying to get the real benefit of the degree during PhD apps.  I don't think there's any harm in waiting, personally.  Sometimes professors will hire, either full or part time, former students to serve as RAs.  That's no guarantee, of course, but it could be possible at somewhere like Columbia.   

 

The only other thing I'd say right now is not to focus too much on the "type" of master's degree, but to consider what you think you can get out of the program in terms of (1) coursework and (2) connections with faculty.  Speaking hypothetically, and if finances roughly equal out at different schools, if you think you could develop stronger connections and take more rigorous coursework at LSE vs. Columbia, then I'd go there (I'm not sure if this would be the case, just using an example).  I know its hard to gauge this stuff, especially during Covid, but just go with your gut and get as much info as you can.  Some master's programs, too, will offer much greater flexibility in coursework, so keep that in mind.  If you're trying to be competitive for a PhD, you don't necessarily want to spend all your time in a master's program taking classes on project management or leadership or whatever, you need to have some freedom to take classes that will help you develop research skills.  

 

I'll chew this over and see if I have anything else to contribute later.          

 

  

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What does the Fulbright scholarship entail? If it's fully funded, definitely go to Columbia. Not only will it allow you to network with top US polisci faculty, but a funded MA is a very strong signal of academic potential. It would also make sense financially. 

LSE may have more rigorous training but PhD programs will re-train you anyway, so it's all about the signal you send. Focus on nailing your GRE and work on a strong quant writing sample and you'll be fine. Good luck!

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On 3/5/2021 at 10:44 PM, Mr_Spock2018 said:

I'll chew this over and see if I have anything else to contribute later.            

Thank you so much for your invaluable help, I really appreciate it!

17 hours ago, smug-face said:

What does the Fulbright scholarship entail?

Thank you! It would only be a partial funding and I am still waiting for a few other scholarships/fellowships to finance Columbia completely. In the end, Columbia would be on a level financially with most of the other options (since I will likely have financial aid at the other programs as well), but the brand "Fulbright" seems to be quite a big one in the US.

Another question to both of you: Quant background and methods seem to play a big role for US PhD (applications). I did a few courses in my Bachelor, but definitely need to focus more on it in my Master. LSE has no quant and not even methods courses at all. Same goes for Cambridge. Columbia would allow me to pick whatever I want. IHEID Geneva´s program actually is very quant based and would give ma a strong methods and research training since I selected the research track. Also, it is two years with a 30k+ thesis to write and has a semester abroad option to go to the US for example (Yale, Fletcher, Boston, Northwestern, GW etc.). Does anyone of you know the reputation of IHEID Geneva compared to Columbia for example? Or is it really that important to get a first step into the US system, which is why Columbia would just make more sense?

Thank you again!

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I'm in pretty much exactly the same position as you (Columbia MA and Cambridge MPhil offers), so can't really give much advice other than that I have the same dilemma! I'm leaning towards Columbia because I'd like to pursue a PhD in the US and think it sets me up better for that, but think it might make more sense to wait a year after the MA before applying (i.e. not apply this summer). 

One question I have is that I thought Fulbright meant that you had to return to your home country straight after you complete your course because of the two year home residency requirement. Does that jeopardise your chances of applying for a PhD immediately? I may be completely mistaken, though! If it does, however, that may play into the calculation if it makes it hard to go straight into the PhD.

I don't know about the reputation of IHEID Geneva; however, I think that you are right that quant is very important in the US. The option of studying abroad is also fantastic because it means you can get all the contacts with the professors in the US that you might need (and this does seem to be very important for PhD programs). IHEID Geneva may end up being the best of both worlds for those two reasons, but that's just from an outsider's perspective.

Edited by ps10
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21 hours ago, SJPY said:

Thank you so much for your invaluable help, I really appreciate it!

Thank you! It would only be a partial funding and I am still waiting for a few other scholarships/fellowships to finance Columbia completely. In the end, Columbia would be on a level financially with most of the other options (since I will likely have financial aid at the other programs as well), but the brand "Fulbright" seems to be quite a big one in the US.

Another question to both of you: Quant background and methods seem to play a big role for US PhD (applications). I did a few courses in my Bachelor, but definitely need to focus more on it in my Master. LSE has no quant and not even methods courses at all. Same goes for Cambridge. Columbia would allow me to pick whatever I want. IHEID Geneva´s program actually is very quant based and would give ma a strong methods and research training since I selected the research track. Also, it is two years with a 30k+ thesis to write and has a semester abroad option to go to the US for example (Yale, Fletcher, Boston, Northwestern, GW etc.). Does anyone of you know the reputation of IHEID Geneva compared to Columbia for example? Or is it really that important to get a first step into the US system, which is why Columbia would just make more sense?

Thank you again!

IHEID Geneva would be great if you're planning to work at the intersection of academia and policy/think tank/government (just look at the amount of PhDs and MAs that have gone into government/international affairs). If you're dead set on US academia, Columbia would be the best option pending your Fulbright requirements since it would be more well-known in US academic circles.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Just received an update from Columbia that I would receive additional partial funding. With that and with Fulbright my tuition would be covered! Very happy about it

Still deciding between Cambridge (so far basically unfunded, but generally cheaper to live) and Columbia. Any thoughts?

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