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Should I retake Trig for a PhD in Political Science?


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I am currently a junior double majoring in international affairs and economics. I currently have a 3.5 gpa (which has been pretty steady throughout my college career), am writing an honors thesis, and plan on taking the GRE this summer. I plan on applying for Political Science PhD programs and a few masters, with my anticipated subfields being international relations and comparative government. I want to do research on either the development of communist states or religious conflict. My problem is that my math classes are not that strong. I clepped College Algebra, received a C in Pre-Calc, received a B in a 2000 level Statistics course, and am now going to fail Trig (which I took pass/fail). I am however doing well in my economics courses (All As except for one b and have met all the math requirements to graduate. My question is should I retake Trig or another quantitative course to bolster my resume, or should I move on and just focus on my political science and economics courses? 

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Trig isn't going to be overly relevant to political science...but a fail is going to look really bad. I mean, if you want to do a PhD, you are really going to want to avoid failing that, its so competitive that you don't want a fail on your transcript. The C in Pre-calc and the B in statistics are also going to really hurt you. Political Science research is really really math heavy at this point-at least at the top programs you would be expected to get through a lot of high level math, so you need to prove you can handle it. 

 

If you can manage to get into a calculus class or two, and get A's in them, that would really help. 

 

 

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I have already failed it, so there is no preventing it at this point. I am not bad at math and feel I could go well on the GRE, but honestly math just really bores me and it has been tough to stay focused and motivated in my math courses. And I primarily want to do research on the role of religion in international politics.

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"math just really bores me and it has been tough to stay focused and motivated in my math courses"

 

I hate to yell but.... THEN WHY DO YOU WANT TO DO A PHD IN POLITICAL SCIENCE!!!!!!!! 

 

You will be in math courses. Yes they will be methods courses but it is math. Thats what you will be doing. Moreover, your research will be with math. MATH MATH MATH MATH MATH NUMBERS NUMBERS NUMBERS NUMBERS. Thats mostly what we do. All day. Every Day. Coding in R. MATHMATHMATHMATHMATHYMATH. 

 

Go open the ASPR. What do you see? MATH!

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"math just really bores me and it has been tough to stay focused and motivated in my math courses"

 

I hate to yell but.... THEN WHY DO YOU WANT TO DO A PHD IN POLITICAL SCIENCE!!!!!!!! 

 

You will be in math courses. Yes they will be methods courses but it is math. Thats what you will be doing. Moreover, your research will be with math. MATH MATH MATH MATH MATH NUMBERS NUMBERS NUMBERS NUMBERS. Thats mostly what we do. All day. Every Day. Coding in R. MATHMATHMATHMATHMATHYMATH. 

 

Go open the ASPR. What do you see? MATH!

 

 

Just my two cents, but I think methodological attitudes like Cooperstreets' are really frustrating. You don't realize it, but the question 'why do you want to do a PhD in political science if you don't like math' is a deeply closed-minded and destructive one. 

 

I would never question that quantitative-oriented research is completely legitimate in political science. It is frustrating that many quant people are completely unable to return this respect. Time-series analysis and regression discontinuity designs are absolutely political science, but they are no more political science than process tracing or comparative historical case studies. Quant does not hold the monopoly on legitimate research.  

 

You mention APSR, and you're right: as a description of U.S political science as it is today, there is a heavy quant lean. But this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we tell incoming students that they have no value if they don't want to do massive quant methods and game theory sequences, then the discipline will lose its pluralism, a loss for all of us. 

 

I'd go further and say that there is a serious danger for any social science in falling in love with mathematical rigour to the exclusion of considerations brought forward by other disciplines like sociology, history, or psych (one that we actually seem to be doing a decent job of integrating). Look at how badly economics lost its way in the run up to the '08 crisis. 

Anyway, for the original poster, my advice would be to take an MA first. Those low marks will hurt, but you could make up that ground by ace-ing an MA degree. And it is sadly true that some programs will count you out for not having a strong math background; look for ones that have a more qualitative/heterodox profile, and especially look outside of the U.S, where there is much greater tolerance of qualitative approaches.  

Edited by NYCBluenose
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OP is presumably in the US and wants to study religion in IR. I can count on my thumbs the number of PhD candidates who do exclusively qualitative work in IR--especially when one isn't doing theory--who get TT jobs when they graduate. OP will need to understand math and take quant classes to even understand much of the literature that she will be engaging in. Do whatever type of research you like and whatever is the best tool for the job, but knowing quantative methods is just flat out necessary for studying religion in IR in the US.

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 psych (one that we actually seem to be doing a decent job of integrating).

 

 

psych is also preeminently quantitative, particularly in north america. heck, we even have our own PhD programs focused solely on quantitative methods and data analysis.  

 

qualitative methods are much more the realm of counselling psychology and whatnot, but in experimental psych (social/personality/cognitive/bio/neuro) and a lot of clinical work in psych,  research = statistics. 

 

although i never knew PoliSci also had such a quantitative bent. now a lot of things makes sense in terms of the number of PoliSci students who would sign up for many of our advanced research methods/statistics courses

Edited by spunky
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I was always relatively competent, but utterly bored by maths in school. Six years later I realise what it can be used for in Political Science and suddenly I like it  :P

 

This was my experience completely. Always very good at it, utterly uninterested in the applications I knew of, particularly since I wanted to study politics, something I thought totally unrelated to math. Fast forward to a sophomore year seminar on schools and sects of thought in political science, and I did quite the 180.

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Though I definitely have sympathy for those who are more qualitatively oriented. Particularly on subjects such as religion, the idea that a statistics- or mathematical modeling-based approach is the best for understanding that type of phenomenon seems a little too unconnected to reality for me. The subtleties and interpretive difficulties for things like that make me feel that something is lost if we assume quantitative research is the only way to conduct political science...

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psych is also preeminently quantitative, particularly in north america. heck, we even have our own PhD programs focused solely on quantitative methods and data analysis.  

 

qualitative methods are much more the realm of counselling psychology and whatnot, but in experimental psych (social/personality/cognitive/bio/neuro) and a lot of clinical work in psych,  research = statistics. 

 

although i never knew PoliSci also had such a quantitative bent. now a lot of things makes sense in terms of the number of PoliSci students who would sign up for many of our advanced research methods/statistics courses

 

I know that psych is also very quantitative; I mentioned it to make the point that political science needs to learn from multiple related disciplines. When rational choice dominated the field, it was because poli sci looked almost exclusively to economics for inspiration (because their quantitative methods made them seem so scientific and credible). It's a huge advance that political scientists (and behavioral economists, for that matter) have since read some psychology literature; woops, the central tenants of rational choice are empirically massively problematic. I think the field could also learn valuable lessons from history and both quant and non-quant sociology.  

 

For that matter, I have nothing against economics either. But they made a historical mistake when they started pushing out qualitative and empirically-minded people, and ended up with dominant theories based on beautiful parsimonious models which didn't correspond even slightly to reality. Political science shouldn't repeat that mistake.   

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OP, actually a good question. You will never use trig in Political Science. Ever. You may, however, want to brush up on matrix algebra and calculus. You don't need trig to do the kind of calculus needed in PS. Take a look at this syllabus to get a feel for what you will need to learn: http://people.duke.edu/~das76/Research/MooSie_TOC.pdf

Edited by officesupplies
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OP, the short answer to your question is, do well in calculus 1 and the gre quant section, that's something you can definitely do in one year to strengthen your application. 

 

The long answer...

1. Saying trig is not useful for polisi phd is wrong. Yes you won't write your dissertation on that, but you need basic stuff like that all the time for college level math, as well as polisci method courses if you enter a phd program with serious training.

2. Calculus 1 is more useful for you than linear algebra at this moment. Also don't waste your time on stats courses now. You need the full calculus sequence and one linear algebra to take probability theory, after that you will be in a good position to learn stats.

3. People who got into top programs typically have very high gre quant scores, but most of them don't have much math background. So relax, focus on what you can do now.

4. Be cautious about information you get from gradcafe and PSR, where people who think anything with number and greek letter is "math" intimidate you with stuff they don't really understand.

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Please direct us to any political science research out there that has ever used trig. 

 

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-5907.2011.00566.x/abstract

 

Anything that involves a periodic component (i.e. a lot of time series work) will usually use some trig.

 

But trolling aside, suggestions that involve taking advanced math courses are fundamentally unhelpful.  Real analysis is usually the weed-out course for math majors, that's just not gonna happen for OP at this point. As a junior who hasn't taken calc, he literally doesn't have time, but more to the point, that doesn't seem like an appropriate class.  A calculus course that covers differentiation and integration will be helpful in handling graduate coursework in political science, but don't go overboard on math: F's look bad and you don't want any more of them.  

 

Even if you don't do quantitative work yourself, numeracy will be an enormously helpful quality in interacting with an increasingly quantitative field.  It might be worthwhile to examine why you're not doing well in your quantitative courses.  Look at the grad curricula of places you want to apply. If it's too quantitative for you, then maybe a PhD in Political Science isn't right for you.

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If I managed to get a minor in statistics and had primarily A's in those 4 or 5 classes and scored high on the quant section of the GRE do you think that will make up for my low mark, or is getting into a top 50 PhD program straight out of undergrad implausible now? Since I am a 19 year old junior, I may just stay in undergrad for another year to beef up my foreign language and quant skills if that would drastically improve my chances. I honestly just figured the quicker I got out of undergrad the stronger applicant I would be.

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My vote would be yes, FWIW. A stats minor (and/or math courses) with good grades and a high GRE Q score should substantially improve your chances. If you pair them with a polished SoP (which signals that you have a good idea of what you are getting into) you would be competitive anywhere.

 

These things probably matter more if you intend to pursue your PhD with a quantitative empirical bent, but they should help your chances whatever it is that you want to do.

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If I managed to get a minor in statistics and had primarily A's in those 4 or 5 classes and scored high on the quant section of the GRE do you think that will make up for my low mark, or is getting into a top 50 PhD program straight out of undergrad implausible now? Since I am a 19 year old junior, I may just stay in undergrad for another year to beef up my foreign language and quant skills if that would drastically improve my chances. I honestly just figured the quicker I got out of undergrad the stronger applicant I would be.

 

Yes, this would probably ameliorate those concerns, so long as those stats courses are at a sufficiently high level. Low-level stats courses that are overly concerned with applications (i.e. statistics for business) or that rely on unsophisticated skills (i.e. doesn't use calculus and/or does excel) won't be of much help.  If you take this approach, you're probably gonna need to take differential and integral calculus. 

 

Programming skills will also be a big help.  If you can learn R before you apply, that'd be a big help to your application.  Stata or a scientific programming language (python, Java, C, C+, MATLAB, Octave, etc.) will also be useful.  

 

Your goal should be to make your poor math grades look like an unfortunate chance event and not part of a pattern.  Failing trig and then getting good grades in not-very-challenging stats classes won't prove much. Undergrad stats classes are thought to be really easy, so passing the easy ones won't prove much.

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Folks, I sit on an admissions committee at my university most years. I have had students admitted to top 5 departments in empirical political science in the last 5 years who had little to no math background since high school, no programming skills, and certainly little beyond intro calculus. So I just want to point out that there's a bit of exaggeration about the math background needed going on in this conversation. Applicants should simply seek to show that they are smart and able to build the needed skills once admitted.

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Folks, I sit on an admissions committee at my university most years. I have had students admitted to top 5 departments in empirical political science in the last 5 years who had little to no math background since high school, no programming skills, and certainly little beyond intro calculus. So I just want to point out that there's a bit of exaggeration about the math background needed going on in this conversation. Applicants should simply seek to show that they are smart and able to build the needed skills once admitted.

 

Yes, lots of people in my (also top 5) program were as you described.  However, I'd think that someone failing a somewhat basic math class would be evaluated much more negatively than someone who just hadn't taken any math at all.

 

But perhaps I'm mistaken?

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Yes, lots of people in my (also top 5) program were as you described.  However, I'd think that someone failing a somewhat basic math class would be evaluated much more negatively than someone who just hadn't taken any math at all.

 

But perhaps I'm mistaken?

Yeah, fair enough. I was responding less to the original post and more to the general tone of this and other threads, which seem to me to be over-emphasizing math courses as the core preparation for PhD admission. Failing a course is not going to look good on your file. But I'm not sure that the specific course (basic or upper level) or what subject area makes a difference in how it will be seen. The problem here is a failed course, not a failed math course.

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