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Well, not really. This implies that the information you need to write a strong SOP and determine that a school is one you want to apply to is exactly the same level of information you need to write a precise rank-ordering between those schools. Before you apply, you should have a sense of the general strengths, some people you would like to work with, a general sense of placement, etc. This allows you to make the decision of whether the expected value of an application is higher than the application cost, and to mention a few POIs/strengths of the department in your SOP to demonstrate you've thought about fit. Once you've been admitted to a set of schools you need to set out to resolve as much of remaining uncertainty as possible so that you can narrow the confidence intervals around your estimates of expected value and make a better decision between the options you have. It is unreasonable to expect that applicants will have done enough research ex ante that they will not need to engage in more information-gathering after having offers in order to make a more fine-grained evaluation of the options, particularly given that many applicants apply to 10+ schools.

 

Sorry—that wasn't what I meant to imply, just that there should be an initial ranking that heavily weights the research and interests of the faculty at a given institution. I see a lot of statements along the lines of "Professors X and Y would be the perfect mentors for my proposed project on Z," and many of them fall flat because I know that X and Y don't really study Z. In those instances, I question the expected utility calculation.

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In at UPenn. I'm at a loss for words. I'm hoping everyone else who has been shut out so far receives some good news soon (hopefully a few more today who also get into Penn).

That was me.   I've applied for 4 rounds.   Finally.

Sorry—that wasn't what I meant to imply, just that there should be an initial ranking that heavily weights the research and interests of the faculty at a given institution. I see a lot of statements along the lines of "Professors X and Y would be the perfect mentors for my proposed project on Z," and many of them fall flat because I know that X and Y don't really study Z. In those instances, I question the expected utility calculation.

It's me who should be sorry: my response wasn't to you, but to someone else, and yet for some reason the post initially said it was quoting you and I had to edit it to remove that. Everything you're saying makes perfect sense to me, and is at the level of information that one should have gathered ex ante.

Edited by RWBG
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It's me who should be sorry: my response wasn't to you, but to someone else, and yet for some reason the post initially said it was quoting you and I had to edit it. Everything you're saying makes perfect sense to me, and is at the level of information that one should have gathered ex ante.

 

It has been interesting watching this whole thing play out, I gotta tell you.

 

Edited because I forgot how to speak English, apparently.

Edited by boazczoine
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Stimulating discussion: Any thoughts about "rising" departments? Which would you say are moving upward?

 

I'll be interested in seeing if the recent, multi-million dollar grant to UPenn for political science and economics has any significant impact on the department. Though I admire a lot of the work on political communications/American citizenship that has been done in the department alongside the Annenberg School, so I may be biased.

Edited by boazczoine
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That's fine. If you'll notice, my reply was directed at another poster, who commented about rankings.

I guess the reply was to my post. I would rather say overall ranking would still play a role in terms of the quality of cohort you get, and might determine the degree of carefulness people on the search committee will read your files on the job market. 

Edited by jazzrap
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Well, not really. This implies that the information you need to write a strong SOP and determine that a school is one you want to apply to is exactly the same level of information you need to write a precise rank-ordering between those schools. Before you apply, you should have a sense of the general strengths, some people you would like to work with, a general sense of placement, etc. This allows you to make the decision of whether the expected value of an application is higher than the application cost, and to mention a few POIs/strengths of the department in your SOP to demonstrate you've thought about fit. Once you've been admitted to a set of schools you need to set out to resolve as much of remaining uncertainty as possible so that you can narrow the confidence intervals around your estimates of expected value and make a better decision between the options you have. It is unreasonable to expect that applicants will have done enough research ex ante that they will not need to engage in more information-gathering after having offers in order to make a more fine-grained evaluation of the options, particularly given that many applicants apply to 10+ schools.

Agreed.

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Demonstrating fit with faculty in an SOP is different from determining whether you are fit with the program. For example, while most successful applicants fit well with particular professors, few of them really know whether causal inference stuff is taught in Quant II, or not. A lot of great programs where great professors do their research offer rigorous training, but some have just started to follow the causal inference trend. And whether in-house training in game theory is necessarily better than outsourcing the 3rd course to the econ department? Whether one semester of math additional to the summer school math camp can really make or break an applicant's decision to attend? Plus, why do placement candidates do well this year while not others? These questions are what we have to ask during campus visit. 

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On 2/8/2014 at 5:27 PM, TakeMyCoffeeBlack said:

Stimulating discussion: Any thoughts about "rising" departments? Which would you say are moving upward?

 

A nice indicator of trends could be the changes in subfield rankings in the USNewsReport since 2008:

 

American Politics (change from 2008):

1 Harvard (+2)

2 Stanford

3 Michigan (-2)

4 Princeton

5 UC Berkeley (+2)

6 Yale (-1)

7 Duke (+2)

8 UC- Los Angeles (+4)

9 Columbia (+5)

10 Ohio State (-2)

10 University of North Carolina (+1)

12 Vanderbilt (Not ranked in 2008)

13 Wisconsin (-3)

14 UC San Diego (-8)

15 Washington University in St. Louis

16 George Washington (Not ranked in 2008)

17 Texas A&M (Not ranked in 2008)

Fallen off: MIT, Rochester, Chicago, Minesota, UC Davis, Stony Brook

International Politics (change from 2008):

1 Harvard (+2)

2 Stanford (-1)

3 Princeton (-2)

4 Columbia

5 UC San Diego (+1)

6 Michigan (-1)

7 NYU (+3)

8 Ohio State (+7)

8 Yale (+1)

10 Wisconsin (+7)

11 Chicago (-4)

12 UC Berkeley (-4)

14 Duke (-2)

15 Cornell (-2)

15 UCLA (-2)

17 Rochester

18 Penn State (not ranked in 2008)

Fallen off: Minnesota, Johns Hopkins, Georgetown

Comparative Politics (change from 2008):

1 Harvard

2 Stanford (+2)

3 Princeton (-1)

3 UC Berkeley

5 Columbia (+3)

6 Yale (-1)

7 Michigan

8 UCLA (+1)

9 Duke (+1)

10 Cornell

11 UC San Diego (-5)

12 MIT (+2)

12 NYU

14 UNC (-2)

15 UC Davis (Not ranked in 2008)

16 WUSTL (Not ranked in 2008)

17 Chicago (-3)

Fallen off: Northwestern, Wisconsin, Washington

Political Methodology (change from 2008):

1 Harvard

2 Stanford

3 NYU (+3)

3 Michigan

5 WUSTL (+2)

6 Princeton (-1)

7 Rochester (-4)

8 UC Berkeley (+1)

9 Columbia (+4)

10 MIT

10 Ohio State (+1)

12 UCLA (+1)

13 Yale (-2)

14 Penn State (Not ranked in 2008)

15 UC Davis (Not ranked in 2008)

Political Theory (compared to 2008)

1 Princeton (+2)

2 Harvard (-1)

3 Chicago (-2)

4 Yale

5 Johns Hopkins (+3)

6 UC Berkeley (-1)

7 Duke (-1)

8 Northwestern (-1)

9 Notre Dame (+1)

10 Columbia (-1)

10 Stanford (+4)

10 UCLA

13 Michigan (-1)

14 Brown (Not ranked in 2008)

14 Cornell (+3)

Fallen off: Minnesota, UPenn, UVA, Cornell

Btw, what's going on in UCSD? Free fall: AP(-8) CP (-5)?

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This is wonderful! I should thank you for calling my attention to UCSD's apparent rapid decline and WashU's ascent. As a matter of fact, American Politics is my major field, and Comparative Politics is my second/minor field where applicable.

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This isn't bad, but I suspect there's a fair bit of noise to this measure. It's computed in sort of a weird way, where department chairs and directors of graduate studies "nominate" some number of programs (maximum ten) that they think should be recognized, and those that get the most votes end up higher on the ranking. Makes me wonder how close the vote counts were on some of these, and whether it's possible that a small difference of votes could lead to more dramatic differences in ranking.

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UCSD recently lost some pretty good people in AP, from what I remember. They also had huge funding problems. My understanding, however, is that they're trying really hard to get their s*** in order, and I would not assume that the down-fall (in AP/CP) will continue.

 

AHL, I would also look at placement, where UCSD seems to beat Wisconsin. This might be more relevant to us than the reputation ranking of USNWS. UCSD actually publishes a full placement statistic, also specifying who the advisors are, which is great information, I believe.

 

That said, I don't think you can go wrong with either ;)

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My strategy is to look at the overall ranking instead and then consider faculty fit. I don't believe in sub-field ranking. MIT in the last four years has accomplished a significant upgrade in their training, but its methods ranking did not move in 2013. The CP ranking seems to make a little more sense for UCSD, as they lost Matthew Shuggart and Gary Cox. However, I do not do standard democratic politics (e.g. legislature, democratic voting, public opinion, bureaucracy, etc.), except when it comes to the recent literature on informal institutions and institutional change. Therefore, their departure did not affect me. 

Edited by jazzrap
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My strategy is to look at the overall ranking instead and then consider faculty fit. I don't believe in sub-field ranking. MIT in the last four years has accomplished a significant upgrade in their training, but its methods ranking did not move in 2013. The CP ranking seems to make a little more sense for UCSD, as they lost Matthew Shuggart and Gary Cox. However, I do not do standard democratic politics (e.g. legislature, democratic voting, public opinion, bureaucracy, etc.), except when it comes to the recent literature on informal institutions and institutional change. Therefore, their departure did not affect me. 

 

This is correct! Drop in American was mostly due to the loss of Cox and McCubbins (professor's citations are a big driver of rankings).

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My strategy is to look at the overall ranking instead and then consider faculty fit. I don't believe in sub-field ranking. MIT in the last four years has accomplished a significant upgrade in their training, but its methods ranking did not move in 2013. The CP ranking seems to make a little more sense for UCSD, as they lost Matthew Shuggart and Gary Cox. However, I do not do standard democratic politics (e.g. legislature, democratic voting, public opinion, bureaucracy, etc.), except when it comes to the recent literature on informal institutions and institutional change. Therefore, their departure did not affect me. 

Shuggart is a fantastic professor. 

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