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A thread for faculty to post about our perspectives and answer prospective students' questions.   Topics covered elsewhere, so far:   Fit vs rank () () The admissions process: inside the sausage

OK, you got me. When I was on faculty at Harvard, we held regular pagan rituals in which babies were sacrificed on fiery altars, and the flames of those altars were fed  by the files of job applicants

Just a quick message for everyone on this thread: This is my last year as DGS, so I won't have my finger on the pulse of admissions enough to answer your questions going forward. I'll tell my successo

Prof. Bear thanks for your fascinating insights on the admissions process. I just have a quick question. If a student with two masters degrees and good background cannot get into a PhD program after three cycles, do you think this student should stop applying to PhD program and  pursue a career in a field other than research? 

 

Thanks in advance.

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Prof. Bear thanks for your fascinating insights on the admissions process. I just have a quick question. If a student with two masters degrees and good background cannot get into a PhD program after three cycles, do you think this student should stop applying to PhD program and  pursue a career in a field other than research? 

 

I would say that there's a clear disconnect between expectations and reality, and that that disconnect needs to be addressed somehow. But without knowing more about the specific case, I don't know how that should be done. I'd contact the DGSes at the relevant Ph.D. programs and ask what the AdComm saw as the main problem(s) with the file—but if you're asking for candid answers, I'd expect to receive them.

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Today I asked my undergraduate thesis adviser for his opinion on choosing which program to attend. He says that there might be five schools whose degrees can pretty much get you a job just because of their name brands, such as Harvard and Berkeley. When a school's ranked lower than, say, top five, its ranking ceases to be so important and who your adviser is becomes extremely important in determining your job prospects. What do you think?

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Good evening. Someone posted in the 2013-2014 thread that NYU, as an example, gave out acceptances and then alerted people on the wait-list. Everyone else is still without news. If the school(s) in question admit in rounds this practice seems fair, but given that the wait-list was determined, that would suggest the first and second rounds have been decided. Is there a logic underlying waiting to give out all the rejections? An assurance that waiting to issue rejections serves a purpose---perhaps that there is still an iota of a chance for the people who have not yet heard---might reduce some hyperventilation every time anyone posts on the results page. 

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Today I asked my undergraduate thesis adviser for his opinion on choosing which program to attend. He says that there might be five schools whose degrees can pretty much get you a job just because of their name brands, such as Harvard and Berkeley. When a school's ranked lower than, say, top five, its ranking ceases to be so important and who your adviser is becomes extremely important in determining your job prospects. What do you think?

 

I think—in fact, I know—that people from those five schools can still manage not to get jobs.

 

It's very, very difficult to tease out the effects of prestige. The most prestigious programs tend to place students well, but they also get top students to begin with. Which matters most for placement? No one really knows… and any individual's answer probably tells you more about them than it does about the reality of the situation.

 

Now that I've said "nobody knows," my own sense, for what it's worth, is that fit and quality of advisor are paramount. Someone at Harvard who isn't well advised will not do well. Someone from (pick a top 20 or 30 or… program) who clicks well with an advisor, gets great feedback, and realizes his or her full potential will do very well.

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Good evening. Someone posted in the 2013-2014 thread that NYU, as an example, gave out acceptances and then alerted people on the wait-list. Everyone else is still without news. If the school(s) in question admit in rounds this practice seems fair, but given that the wait-list was determined, that would suggest the first and second rounds have been decided. Is there a logic underlying waiting to give out all the rejections? An assurance that waiting to issue rejections serves a purpose---perhaps that there is still an iota of a chance for the people who have not yet heard---might reduce some hyperventilation every time anyone posts on the results page. 

 

I'm afraid I can't speak for NYU. My best guess would be that the timing of rejection notes is determined by bureaucratic standard operating procedures rather than by anything like rational calculation. I know that doesn't help much.

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I'm afraid I can't speak for NYU. My best guess would be that the timing of rejection notes is determined by bureaucratic standard operating procedures rather than by anything like rational calculation. I know that doesn't help much.

 

Thank you. :-)

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2 & 3 were addressed above :-)  As to 1, there's no guarantee that every member will read every page of every file, but most people read a lot. I'd be very surprised if anyone tossed a file based on GREs alone. We certainly ask for a depth of comments from our adcom members that makes that pretty much impossible.

 

 

…? I don't understand the question. How do you know that you won't have been contacted prior to a decision if you haven't yet received a decision? And if you've received a decision, you should know whether you're in or out. What am I missing…?

 

Oh--I heard that sometimes schools contact applicants that they are interested in and schedule mini interviews with them or send them some sort of email....thats all. Just wondering if silence means rejection. 

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Oh--I heard that sometimes schools contact applicants that they are interested in and schedule mini interviews with them or send them some sort of email....thats all. Just wondering if silence means rejection. 

 

Aaaah, gotcha. Yes, some do, but most don't. As frustrating as it is, silence means silence.

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First of all, I wanted to thank all the faculty members that have answered questions in this forum - it has been illuminating to the extreme! I was wondering if I could ask about how to weight my choices going forward. My end goal is to complete a PhD at top 20 US institution in comparative politics. I am a Canadian citizen who will be completing an undergraduate degree in history and poli. sci. in April. My GPA is excellent (3.96/4), but my current institution is not in the top tier of Canadian universities. I spent a semester doing research in Chicago, which resulted in a co-authored paper that is currently under review and a manuscript in progress. Neither of these works is strictly political science-related - they are both related to social science however. I spent last summer doing a research internship in India, where I worked on a large-scale survey project spearheaded by a top US political scientist, although I mostly worked with him indirectly. I am also currently set to take an undergraduate summer course at Berkeley with a well-known professor of comparative politics.

My options in the fall would be to either complete a Master's at McGill or to take some grad-level classes at Berkeley as a non-degree student. I have felt that my rejections in this cycle have been primarily due to my low GRE scores (V 166/Q 154/AW 4), something which I have no doubt I can improve over the summer. It probably didn't help that my letters of recommendation, while excellent, did not come from political scientists and two of them were from Canadian faculty who had not sent students to the US before.

With all of that background out of the way, would you recommend that I complete a Master's at McGill or choose the non-degree option at Berkeley? 

 

I know that everyone says that excellent letters from lesser-known faculty are better than lukewarm letters from more established sources, but I have a feeling that this answer would change for international students. Would it be better for me get letters from US faculty who don't know me very well than getting very strong recommendations from professors at my home university who have known me for 3-4 years? 

Thank you for any feedback you can provide.

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I think—in fact, I know—that people from those five schools can still manage not to get jobs.

It's very, very difficult to tease out the effects of prestige. The most prestigious programs tend to place students well, but they also get top students to begin with. Which matters most for placement? No one really knows… and any individual's answer probably tells you more about them than it does about the reality of the situation.

Now that I've said "nobody knows," my own sense, for what it's worth, is that fit and quality of advisor are paramount. Someone at Harvard who isn't well advised will not do well. Someone from (pick a top 20 or 30 or… program) who clicks well with an advisor, gets great feedback, and realizes his or her full potential will do very well.

I can't help but feel this is somewhat of a wishy-washy, cop-out answer (not that I blame you, your name is attached to the account and it might seem bad to be on the record as giving a definitive answer either way). I've seen it said (on PSR and here), that it's not even worth it to go to a sub top 25-30 program. Some might even say it's not worth it to go to a sub top 10 program. Rumors also abound that search commitees at highly ranked programs will throw out applications without looking at them if the degree isn't from a top 25-30 program. I'd be curious to know if you've ever seen this happen yourself.

Regardless, while a good advisor is a huge factor, faculty at lower ranked programs (probably) aren't as well connected as faculty at higher ranked ones, so they can't market their students nearly as well. Sure, a rreally good student at a lower ranked program might score a pub in a top 3 journal, which might save his/her application from getting immediately discarded at top schools, but a CHYMPS grad would get the same treatment without such a high ranking pub. Or so I hear, at least.

So, in your opinion, is it really worth it to go to a sub top 30 program, even if you fit in well and have a good advisor? Or will lack of prestige lock you out of TT jobs at highly ranked programs (assuming you have a CV comparable to a CHYMPS grad's)?

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I can't help but feel this is somewhat of a wishy-washy, cop-out answer (not that I blame you, your name is attached to the account and it might seem bad to be on the record as giving a definitive answer either way). I've seen it said (on PSR and here), that it's not even worth it to go to a sub top 25-30 program. Some might even say it's not worth it to go to a sub top 10 program. Rumors also abound that search commitees at highly ranked programs will throw out applications without looking at them if the degree isn't from a top 25-30 program. I'd be curious to know if you've ever seen this happen yourself.

Regardless, while a good advisor is a huge factor, faculty at lower ranked programs (probably) aren't as well connected as faculty at higher ranked ones, so they can't market their students nearly as well. Sure, a rreally good student at a lower ranked program might score a pub in a top 3 journal, which might save his/her application from getting immediately discarded at top schools, but a CHYMPS grad would get the same treatment without such a high ranking pub. Or so I hear, at least.

So, in your opinion, is it really worth it to go to a sub top 30 program, even if you fit in well and have a good advisor? Or will lack of prestige lock you out of TT jobs at highly ranked programs (assuming you have a CV comparable to a CHYMPS grad's)?

 

OK, you got me. When I was on faculty at Harvard, we held regular pagan rituals in which babies were sacrificed on fiery altars, and the flames of those altars were fed  by the files of job applicants from non-top-10 departments.

 

My recommendation would be to take a look at job placements for just about any top department. I'm in the process of doing so at OSU, and our placements run the gamut from junior faculty at Harvard all the way to places you've never heard of. If our rank as a department or our connections with other faculty members were as determinative as you and others here and on PSR think they are, placement records for top departments would be far, far more consistent than they are.

 

Don't mistake certainty for truth. The truth is, there's a lot of noise, and anyone who tells you something different probably has either never been on this side of the process or has an axe to grind.

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Regardless, while a good advisor is a huge factor, faculty at lower ranked programs (probably) aren't as well connected as faculty at higher ranked ones, so they can't market their students nearly as well. Sure, a rreally good student at a lower ranked program might score a pub in a top 3 journal, which might save his/her application from getting immediately discarded at top schools, but a CHYMPS grad would get the same treatment without such a high ranking pub. Or so I hear, at least.

 

I don't find the idea that those faculty at lower ranked schools aren't as well connected that convincing. Mind you, I'm just an undergrad at a mid-ranked LAC, so my knowledge is admittedly limited. Because of being at an LAC, though, my professors are obviously more teaching focused than research and should then be pretty poorly connected in the research world, yet I know that each of them are still rather well connected in their particular interests. My thesis advisor, for example, is frequently in contact with colleagues at high- and low-ranked programs in both the US and abroad in relation to his research and has put me in touch with a number of awesome people in very good programs even outside of his interests.

 

My impression has been that communication within a research interest has a pretty wide vertical distribution throughout rankings. Why?  Because within a sub-subfield these people are reading the same things and bumping into each other at the same conferences, and because they are concerned about X and what people have to say about X, not about the rank of their respective programs. 

 

So if you're in a program were people study your X, your advisor(s) will likely be able to market you to other people who study X in various programs, somewhat regardless of the rank of the program. 

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I just wanted to add that in addition to DR. BFB being an incredible help on this board, his book is an incredibly original and impressive piece of scholarship that puts formal models and high level IR theory in conversation. I highly recommend it to other IR nerds out there.

 

 

Upvoted and seconded.

 

Agreed

 

*whistles and waits for forum discount code* ;)

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I just wanted to add that in addition to DR. BFB being an incredible help on this board, his book is an incredibly original and impressive piece of scholarship that puts formal models and high level IR theory in conversation. I highly recommend it to other IR nerds out there.

 

 

Upvoted and seconded.

 

 

Agreed

 

*whistles and waits for forum discount code* ;)

 

Much appreciated, all. Truly.

 

I'll check with Cambridge about a discount code, but I can already hear John Haslam laughing all the way from New York….

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If we have been declined from a school and want to apply for another cycle, is it appropriate to reach out to members of the admissions committee to ask for insight on how to improve one's application? I don't know the DGS, but at one program in particular I do know a few people who were committee members this year. I just want to make sure that doesn't cross any professional boundaries...

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If we have been declined from a school and want to apply for another cycle, is it appropriate to reach out to members of the admissions committee to ask for insight on how to improve one's application? I don't know the DGS, but at one program in particular I do know a few people who were committee members this year. I just want to make sure that doesn't cross any professional boundaries...

 

It's totally fair. It's no fun for you or for the DGS/adcomm, but it's absolutely fair to write and ask.

 

Here's the thing to keep in mind: asking why you weren't admitted is a lot like asking why a football team didn't win a game. Announcers fill the air with a lot of nonsense—"The other team really came to play," for example (who doesn't???). But the upshot is, in the end, they just didn't score as many points. By the same token, if you weren't admitted, ultimately, it's because you just didn't score as many points.

 

That, of course, is not what anyone wants to hear. It's the kind of thing that can cripple your sense of self-worth and do lasting damage to your psyche. So there are a couple of things that you must keep in mind if asking this sort of question:

 

1. The fact that you were applying in the first place means that you're in the big leagues. Do not ever forget this. Denver just got its a** handed to it by Seattle in the Super Bowl—but Denver is a really good team. By the same token, there are a lot of really good applicants in a given year. Most good programs get about twice as many qualified applicants as there are slots.

 

2. The "game" probably isn't scored the way you think it is. To you, acceptance or rejection is a referendum on you as a human being. To us, it's as much about us as it is about you. Is this someone whose interests we can realistically accommodate? Is this someone whose strengths play well to our strengths? If not, I don't really care about the 90+% GREs and 4.0 GPA. It would be a disservice to bring this person here.

 

So yes, ask. And don't be surprised if the answer is a bit hard to take. But try hard to figure out what value you can get out of it and how you can use that information to get where you want to be—and always keep it in perspective.

Edited by BFB
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Thank you so much for your response. I'd rather have candid feedback than no feedback, so will keep your points in mind.

 

Thanks also for your incredible and generous help on these forums. I think I can speak for all in saying that it's truly appreciated, and I will do my absolute best to pay it forward to other applicants in future years.

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