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Mechanics of LOR Strategy


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Hi folks, I was hoping someone could give a bit of clarification on something. I've seen here and also heard externally that its good to be strategic about your LORs - not just choosing top scholars in your subfield, but also thinking about who has worked with who. So, in my case, one of my letter writers for next year had my #1 Princeton POI on their PhD committee and knows that person well, which works well for me.

 

It all sounds logical, but I guess I'm a bit confused at how it works? From what I can tell, the ad comms are fairly insular at a lot of schools. Do all incoming students have to be "approved" by their potential POI, who sees their application (I would guess not, if people's interests often change)? Is this strategy just suggested in the hopes that your POI will be on the ad comm? How does it work?

 

Thank you!

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This really depends on school and country. I see you are from Canada too and applied to Canadian schools in the past! For example, I'm not sure if Political Science is the same as Physics, but in my field in Canada, your POI definitely needs to approve you. At UBC, the rule was explicit that the admissions committee will not admit you for a PhD program unless a prof is willing to fund you. At Queen's, there was no admissions committee--all applications are sent to all professors and each prof makes the decision yes/no to accept you. 

 

In the US, because it is a direct-PhD program, new students don't usually start on a PhD thesis right away so we don't usually need to have an advisor formally until after a year or two. So, having a prof speak up for you is less important. At my current US program, it is still fairly important because although our first year is department funded, when we are admitted, a professor is assigned to be the backup funder for the 2nd year in case we haven't selected a firm thesis advisor yet.

 

As for LOR choice strategy, I would first choose professors who have direct experience working with me as a scholar (preferably research). After that, if you still have more than 3 options, then I would pick people who might have connections with the schools you are applying to. You can then pick and choose which 3 to send to each school -- no one says you have to submit the same LORs to every single place :) I had a 4th LOR writer that I only submitted to some schools (I think 3 strong letters is better than 3 strong letter + 1 good letter) and I showed my 4th writer my list of schools and asked where they thought their letter would make a difference (since you might not know all their connections).

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POIs have relatively no influence on the decision, unless they are on the admission committee but even then it doesn't necessarily influence anything. 

 

You state who you are interested in working with based on your research and the admission committee will decide whether you fit in the program. 

 

Having a LOR from someone who did their Ph.D. at the university you are applying to may help, but they are going to look at your whole profile vs. the other applicants' whole profiles to decide if you get in or not. 

 

I think you are over-thinking this. The SOP is an exercise to show that you have a general idea what political science is about, how research works, and to show that you can fit interests with faculty in the university. That's it. 

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The LORs should be from people who know you well and can speak highly of your work, your quality as a human being, and your potential. The ad com will read these letters not for who wrote them, for the most part, but what's in them. That being said, if you have a LOR writer or a contact who knows someone at your dream school, by all means see if they are willing to send an e-mail on your behalf. As others have said, a POI won't have much influence on admissions unless they're on the ad com, but they CAN get you from the big pile into the smaller pile of the committee if they mention you to the committee.

 

Hi folks, I was hoping someone could give a bit of clarification on something. I've seen here and also heard externally that its good to be strategic about your LORs - not just choosing top scholars in your subfield, but also thinking about who has worked with who. So, in my case, one of my letter writers for next year had my #1 Princeton POI on their PhD committee and knows that person well, which works well for me.

 

It all sounds logical, but I guess I'm a bit confused at how it works? From what I can tell, the ad comms are fairly insular at a lot of schools. Do all incoming students have to be "approved" by their potential POI, who sees their application (I would guess not, if people's interests often change)? Is this strategy just suggested in the hopes that your POI will be on the ad comm? How does it work?

 

Thank you!

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Hi folks, I was hoping someone could give a bit of clarification on something. I've seen here and also heard externally that its good to be strategic about your LORs - not just choosing top scholars in your subfield, but also thinking about who has worked with who. So, in my case, one of my letter writers for next year had my #1 Princeton POI on their PhD committee and knows that person well, which works well for me.

 

It all sounds logical, but I guess I'm a bit confused at how it works? From what I can tell, the ad comms are fairly insular at a lot of schools. Do all incoming students have to be "approved" by their potential POI, who sees their application (I would guess not, if people's interests often change)? Is this strategy just suggested in the hopes that your POI will be on the ad comm? How does it work?

 

Thank you!

A few things from my experience applying this year:

1-You don't need a "POI" for political science-but you do need to make clear how you fit into a department. Since this is social science-you are not going to be working in someone's lab, you are going to be doing your own research. At the top programs I was accepted at (which includes Princeton), I didn't have a specific faculty member I targeted, but I did mention how my work would fit in with the work of several different faculty members, as well as with any other specific factors about the department. 

2-I came from a low ranked undergrad-No one at my school had worked with anyone at any of the top range of schools I was looking at. I choose the letter writers who knew me and my work best, end of story. No strategy beyond that...and it worked out. If you have someone who has worked with people AND they know you well and will write you a good letter, then of course you should use that person as a writer. But beyond that, I really would just use the professors who know your work the best, and can make the most informed (and positive) comments on it. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Don't overthink things. 3 letters from people who know you well, ideally as a researcher, is what you want. But connections do matter, especially if your LOR writers are willing to do some lobbying on your behalf too (i.e., beyond writing the letter). 

Yes, professors willing to pick up the phone and calling colleagues goes a long way.

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1-You don't need a "POI" for political science-but you do need to make clear how you fit into a department. 

 

 

I don't necessarily agree with the first half of this statement, especially since roughly half of the schools I applied to specifically asked me to name POIs in my SoP.  If you can't name anyone that it would make sense for you to work with, then you can't show that you've sufficiently researched what you're getting into and that you're a good fit for the program, even if you're the best fit in the world.  In short, if you can't name a POI, you can't possibly make clear that you fit into the department.

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I don't necessarily agree with the first half of this statement, especially since roughly half of the schools I applied to specifically asked me to name POIs in my SoP.  If you can't name anyone that it would make sense for you to work with, then you can't show that you've sufficiently researched what you're getting into and that you're a good fit for the program, even if you're the best fit in the world.  In short, if you can't name a POI, you can't possibly make clear that you fit into the department.

Oh right....you should be naming faculty (at least 2 I would say) who you would like to work with. But it seems less important to have a specific POI who you will work with, due to the nature of the discipline (you won't be working in someone's lab or generally jumping right on a research project). I would always name people whose work interests me, and meshes with mine-but I think in general decisions are not made by one person, and it is more about showing a general departmental fit, not targeting one person to work with.

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Oh right....you should be naming faculty (at least 2 I would say) who you would like to work with. But it seems less important to have a specific POI who you will work with, due to the nature of the discipline (you won't be working in someone's lab or generally jumping right on a research project). I would always name people whose work interests me, and meshes with mine-but I think in general decisions are not made by one person, and it is more about showing a general departmental fit, not targeting one person to work with.

 

Fair enough.  I must have misunderstood what you meant by POI.  You're quite right in stating that PS is not a field where you are going to be tied to one mentor for your entire graduate career.

 

Planing ahead, I'd ideal want at least three or four people that I would like to work with at a department I was applying to.  You  never know who's going to go on sabbatical, switch universities, be too busy to take on new students, or just in general be a bad mentor.  Perhaps I'm too risk averse, but five (or more) years is a long time to be left on an island where your interests are not properly supported.

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