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American with two UK degrees, several years out of academia - how to build relationships with US professors and gain research experience?

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I want to pursue a PhD in Comparative Politics. However, I have a Bachelor's in Biology and a Master's of Social Work from the UK. I only have one recommender, my Master's supervisor.

Obviously I need experience in Poli Sci research and actually build relationships with US PoliSci professors before I can even consider applying for a PhD. Any advice how to go about this? I have been working as a social worker on the East Coast for several years now and have no connections here.

Should I...

  1. Cold email professors offering to be a volunteer research assistant?

  2. Take courses like at Harvard Extension?

  3. Should I do another master's here? Most expensive option ofc...

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

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First of all it is not strictly necessary that you have a degree in political science to receive admission to a phd program in it. Often it's necessary to have a social science degree though although people with strong quant skills from other fields (like physics) seem to have a good chance. I think if you can put together a good application, a strong political science writing sample, and an excellent SoP where you both outline the pertinent debates and explain how you would contribute to it, you may have a chance without doing either of the things you suggest. For someone like you, very high GRE scores will be needed I think, but that is totally possible if you devote enough time to study for it.

If you are just getting into political science, I would pursue option 3. You are almost certainly not going to be able to make the kind of relationships to matter for phd admissions and I am not sure Harvard Extension courses will help you much. As an alternative, you can go for low ranked phd program and leave with an MA after two years and apply to more competitive programs. Or the lower ranked program may be a good fit for you in which case I would just stay and complete my degree there. You can also apply directly to MA programs. I don't think you need to go anywhere spectacular, as long as you end up with a degree that helps you refine your interests and produce a good writing sample, you should be in good shape in my view.

Good luck!

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