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Where do I belong?


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Hi, I'm new here and have some discipline-related questions. I'm finishing undergrad this month with a degree in govt/poli sci, and while I know for sure I want to pursue a PhD and go into academia (applying this fall for entrance fall '16), I've been getting stuck trying to figure out where, given my research interests, I belong. I guess my first question is: How important is it to know exactly what my field should be at this point in the process? It has been rather overwhelming to try to read about programs, because I'm not sure whether I should be reading about the faculty in poli sci, American studies, or media studies. My advisors tell me I can apply to some American studies and poli sci programs, that I don't need to pledge myself to one or the other. But as I play around with (very preliminary) drafts of an SOP, or as I try to figure out how to present my proposal when describing it, I realize I might need to have a more solid, field-specific way of framing it.

 

Not sure how specific to get here... Let's just say that within poli sci/govt, my interests lie in American politics and political theory, and that I would like to study media and politics, but in a more theoretical and historical way than seems to be the trend at the moment. I'm not really looking to do a lot of quantitative research, public opinion surveying, that kind of thing, and I know that's how most political scientists would approach a study of media and politics. Which is why I wonder if I belong in American studies. On the other hand, I envision American political thought and theory (as well as American political history) as assuming a prominent role in my research, which draws me back into the poli sci arena. There is a particular strain of American political thought I'm interested in, and I want to look at the role of the media in fortifying the popular appeal of this strain of thought. (I know I'm being kind of vague. I'm nervous, being new here and all.)

 

Any thoughts about whether this kind of project belongs in poli sci or American studies -- or...? Any ideas about poli sci programs where I might fit? Also, is there anyone else grappling with an interdisciplinary issue? I know I could post in the Interdisciplinary forum, and I probably will, but I feel like I've "grown up" in political science, so this is my natural home, and I feel most comfortable starting here.

Edited by scrivere
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Honestly, communications just hadn't been on my radar. In my undergrad institution, it's in an entirely separate college, and I've always thought of it as more professional, kind of like j-school? It's not in arts and sciences here, at least, so I just didn't consider it. I'll look into it, thanks.

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Read some academic journals.  Get your hands on four or five (from a mentor) and identify the articles that interest you.  Look at 1) what the authors are studying  2) where they earned their PhD and 3) who they are citing.  This information should inform where you want to study (also, reading academic writing will elevate your SOP).

 

Regarding your SOP: introduce a research topic that demonstrates your general interests, and expand these interests into what you want to study in graduate school.  Be focused in your writing, as you only have 4 pages.

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Here's a piece of practical advice: political science is a well-established field of study in which a PhD from a decent program will give you a good chance of obtaining a position both inside and outside of academia, whereas an interdisciplinary PhD like American Studies, or to a somewhat lesser extent Communications, will probably not make you a desirable candidate for any position.  American Studies, in particular, was a bit of a fad in the 1990s, and from what I've heard from those who had peers in this field those who received PhDs have largely struck out on the academic marketplace.  Really, you could make anything you are interested in researching in American Studies or Communications your focus in political science, and polisci covers a broader universe of topics in case you ever change your mind.  Accordingly, I would seriously think twice before even applying to an American Studies program.

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University of Virginia is one of the few places that I am aware of (Johns Hopkins bring another, perhaps) that encourage the type of historically focused work you're interested in. They have a pretty strong placement record too (even for the qualitative folks), so consider giving them a look.

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Thank you for all the ideas. You've all given me a lot to think about. I'm glad to know about UVA and Johns Hopkins; it's funny how those are two names that not a single professor of mine has brought up. (Hence why I these forums can be useful...) I am considering history, and it is likely that I'll apply to a variety of different programs. Point certainly taken, fakeusername, re: pursuing degree in established field like poli sci for foundational career purposes. I'm definitely going to have to consider that aspect of the situation. 

 

Any further thoughts very much welcome, and thanks again!

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If you're really interesting in studying media and politics, you might also want to look at Communications programs. Of course, that assumes that you can see yourself teaching intro courses in that field one day in the future.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Cool, you're welcome! Definitely keep UVa Politics in mind though. I think profs SM, JC, JJ and others would be a good fit (and poli-sci job market seems marginally better than history). I also overheard that UVa politics will be doing another

"American Political Development" (read, political history) hire within the next few years.

Best of luck in the upcoming application cycle :)

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  • 3 weeks later...

Oh, and don't be overwhelmed by the quantoids---and don't let them convince you to leave Poli Sci. It might be an uphill battle, but a worthy one to be heard in the effort to re-historicize this discipline that has so many problems because of the quantoids' hegemonic hold over it. "IRTheoryNerd, tell us how you really feel." ;-) 

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