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How to overcome low ranking - any advice?


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Hey all, I have a question and I'm hoping that someone can answer it.

 

I was accepted (so far) to three programs in political science. I'm trying to decide between a couple schools. The thing is, one is much more highly ranked than the other, etc. However, the school that is less highly ranked - maybe in the 60s or 70s - seems to be much more of a fit for me than the school that is higher ranked. I'm thinking of going to the school that is a better fit (and is in a cheaper location, making my stipend stretch further).

 

Here's the question: What can I do along the way to improve my employ-ability after I attain my PhD? How can I overcome a lower ranking?

 

I'm pretty ambitious, at least when it comes to school. The stipend, a small amount of federal loan money, and some work in summers should hopefully add up to what I was making working full time before. When I was an undergrad, I worked full time and went to school with an overload (officially) of courses, including some graduate level work. I feel that without having to work full time, I should be able to really put a lot of time into school and research, and am pretty excited to do so.

 

Given all that, are there things I can do that will help me in five years or so on the job market? Publishing papers, conferences: I assume the department will help with this stuff, or at least point me in the right direction, but will doing a lot of that help my resume?

 

I'm really in love with the department, from what I know of it - I'm planning to visit shortly, and I hope to accept their offer if it's as I expect (It's a school I already know well, given that I happen to have friends who went there for grad and/or undergrad work).

 

This is a crosspost from the Political Science forum, as I wasn't sure where to post.

 

Thanks in advance!

 
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I assume that you're looking for a career in academia? If so, the two most important things are to beef up your CV and to network. 

 

For the CV, make sure that you publish as much as you can during your PhD. Don't wait until the end and publish one or two big manuscripts when you're almost done with the degree... be sure to publish throughout the 5 years that you're there, so that you can get your name out there. The higher the impact factor of the journal, the better. I'm in the biological sciences, so I don't know which journals are most "prestigious" in your field, but aim high (and if those journals don't accept your papers, just publish them elsewhere).

 

You can also beef up your CV by getting external funding awards. In my field, getting an NSF grant in your own name is a big deal, and definitely something that would make your CV look attractive. I'm sure that there are analogous awards in the political sciences that you can try for.

 

For networking, make sure to attend as many conferences as you can get funding for, even if you don't have anything to present at the moment. Use the time to introduce yourself to people in your field, who may have connections to other people at higher-ranking universities. Who knows... some of those people could end up being future collaborators of yours if you share common research interests! Of course, presenting your work (either as a talk or as a poster) at these conferences is preferable.

 

If you are going for a career in academia, then there's a good chance that you'll want to/need to do a postdoc between your PhD program and securing a job at a university. You could always try to do your postdoc at an institution with a higher rank? If you have a bunch of publications and conferences under your belt, there's a very decent chance that you can land such a position. You can also use the connections you made during your PhD to land a sweet postdoc.

 

At the end of the day, though, rank isn't everything. What really matters most is the quality of your work. Being at a lower ranking school just means that you may have to work slightly harder to attract attention to your work (that's where the publications and conferences come in), but if you're determined, you can do this. Good luck!

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That's great advice :) And I agree with it. I'm deciding between two schools, one with a higher rank than the other (but in Canada) and I am leaning towards the lower ranked school because of things like supervision, size of the program, structure of the program, community programs that the school is involved with that are relevant to my research, etc. I feel that the quality of the work that I am going to be able to produce in this environment is going to be so much stronger than what I would be able to produce elsewhere and I'm confident that that will show when it comes time for hunting down postdocs and jobs :)

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