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Nozistin

Profile Evaluation and Tips for Improvement

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So I know this is hard to know but I mostly just want tips on where to head from here

 

GRE: Have not taken it yet but practice testing in high 150's both right now.

GPA: Overall and major GPA from 3.75-3.77 from UC Berkeley. 4.0 My last year if that matters. (CC transfer student though - GPA the same at both institutions).

Experience: A lot of organizing experience will have two years of post-grad work experience by application time in non-profit work.
Writing sample: 17 pages on On the Changing Role of Police Practices

Targeting universities ranked 5-20. Mostly UCSD, UCLA, Berkeley, Duke, and maybe UofW in that order.

1 semester of research experience.

1-2 strong LORs and one mediocre one.

Come from a low-income Latino background, fluent in Spanish, and want to focus on Latin American politics. 

 

Where should I focus my next 9 months of prep to best increase my chances? Improve my GRE scores? Get a research focused job? Thanks in advance.

 

Scared to post Writing sample but if ya'll think I can get some good tips on ere without getting it stolen I will.

Edited by Nozistin
Left something out.

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Definitely try to get at least one of your scores above 160 if you can. If you can get a research focused job, that will help a lot as well. Also, if you are still in school take a stats course if you haven't already and do everything you can to make an A. You could still do well without these things, but this is what I'd focus on since you have the year to improve your profile. 

I wouldn't publicly post your writing sample. Better to take precautions. If someone wants to advise you on it, private message them. 

Also one thing I'd advise regarding the application process -- start writing out your statement of purpose early. Revise it multiple times. Have multiple people (preferably professors) look it over and offer suggestions. There are some threads on here where people have posted their SOPs after the application season was over. Read through a bunch. It was really helpful to me to see a lot of examples before I wrote mine. 

Hope this helps :)

Edited by wb3060

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Ditto on making sure that you get good reference letters. What I've learned from the process is that (generally) the more express your passion for grad school to your recommenders, they more excited they get about writing LORs.

As someone who also has some organizing background, I also learned that it's important to frame this as best you can in your application. Some schools will ask for a Diversity statement or a Personal History statement, which makes this easy. For other schools, your statement of purpose is your only chance to frame yourself as an applicant. Try to show how your organizing and non-profit experiences are directly relevant to your research, not just in that they emerge from the same interests and passions, but also in that they prepare you in interesting and compelling ways for your work in a PhD program. Everyone has different ways to do this, but if it helps, what I did was start with my agenda and then show how my experiences were relevant and compelling (so research interests + why school X is a good fit, then how my academic experience is relevant, then how my organizing experience is relevant). Similarly, I would also recommend organizing your resume to reflect your priorities, if you haven't already -- I categorized mine as "Academic & Research Experience", "Other Relevant Work Experience", and "Leadership & Organizing". I found that this helped me demonstrate how my organizing background was relevant to my research agenda.

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Getting additional research experience would be a good goal. The writing sample, recommendation letters, and statement of purpose are crucial - have advisors look the latter over for comment. Read others' statements. Keep prepping for the GRE and get both scores over 160. If you're interested in quantitative work, a statistics course is a good suggestion, and the quantitative GRE section becomes more important.

The thing that has less to do with your application but the most to do with long-term success according to most folks is ensuring good fit with the programs you'll apply to

Edited by elwright

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54 minutes ago, abed said:

As someone who also has some organizing background, I also learned that it's important to frame this as best you can in your application. Some schools will ask for a Diversity statement or a Personal History statement, which makes this easy. For other schools, your statement of purpose is your only chance to frame yourself as an applicant. Try to show how your organizing and non-profit experiences are directly relevant to your research, not just in that they emerge from the same interests and passions, but also in that they prepare you in interesting and compelling ways for your work in a PhD program. Everyone has different ways to do this, but if it helps, what I did was start with my agenda and then show how my experiences were relevant and compelling (so research interests + why school X is a good fit, then how my academic experience is relevant, then how my organizing experience is relevant). Similarly, I would also recommend organizing your resume to reflect your priorities, if you haven't already -- I categorized mine as "Academic & Research Experience", "Other Relevant Work Experience", and "Leadership & Organizing". I found that this helped me demonstrate how my organizing background was relevant to my research agenda.

I was actually discouraged from mentioning my activism/organizing background in my application. The main points my advisors made were as follows:

  • Schools are wary of students who are doing a PhD in order to 'change the world,' since that's not often what academia is like.
  • Schools are wary of students producing biased research to suit their political preferences.
  • The research that takes place in non-profit contexts is often quite different than the type of research that takes place in academia.
  • In any case, with limited space, it's better to focus on academic research experience because that's typically more relevant than other work experience.

I'm sure, as with any part of this process, it's pretty idiosyncratic, and while some ad comm members may have those concerns others won't. But I tried to keep in mind while I wrote my applications that I have no idea who is reading them and what those people value or believe in. I'm sure there are ways to frame your organizing experiences in a way that neutralizes the above concerns and bolsters a general narrative of research potential. But I just think it's important to go about that in a careful way and keep in mind that some people may not see such experiences as a plus.

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1 hour ago, ultraultra said:

I was actually discouraged from mentioning my activism/organizing background in my application. The main points my advisors made were as follows:

  • Schools are wary of students who are doing a PhD in order to 'change the world,' since that's not often what academia is like.
  • Schools are wary of students producing biased research to suit their political preferences.
  • The research that takes place in non-profit contexts is often quite different than the type of research that takes place in academia.
  • In any case, with limited space, it's better to focus on academic research experience because that's typically more relevant than other work experience.

I'm sure, as with any part of this process, it's pretty idiosyncratic, and while some ad comm members may have those concerns others won't. But I tried to keep in mind while I wrote my applications that I have no idea who is reading them and what those people value or believe in. I'm sure there are ways to frame your organizing experiences in a way that neutralizes the above concerns and bolsters a general narrative of research potential. But I just think it's important to go about that in a careful way and keep in mind that some people may not see such experiences as a plus.

I put my work experience in party politics on my cv, and in my SOP i put them in the context of reinforcing my passion to examine politics from an academic side that was already being cultivated by my undergraduate courses. I think such experience is not necessarily a red flag if you make it clear in your file that you are in the discipline to be a scholar, not an ideologue. It's even better if you can find a way to make your work experience into fieldwork if possible (my experience wasn't).

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On 2/9/2016 at 6:43 AM, abed said:

Ditto on making sure that you get good reference letters. What I've learned from the process is that (generally) the more express your passion for grad school to your recommenders, they more excited they get about writing LORs.

As someone who also has some organizing background, I also learned that it's important to frame this as best you can in your application. Some schools will ask for a Diversity statement or a Personal History statement, which makes this easy. For other schools, your statement of purpose is your only chance to frame yourself as an applicant. Try to show how your organizing and non-profit experiences are directly relevant to your research, not just in that they emerge from the same interests and passions, but also in that they prepare you in interesting and compelling ways for your work in a PhD program. Everyone has different ways to do this, but if it helps, what I did was start with my agenda and then show how my experiences were relevant and compelling (so research interests + why school X is a good fit, then how my academic experience is relevant, then how my organizing experience is relevant). Similarly, I would also recommend organizing your resume to reflect your priorities, if you haven't already -- I categorized mine as "Academic & Research Experience", "Other Relevant Work Experience", and "Leadership & Organizing". I found that this helped me demonstrate how my organizing background was relevant to my research agenda.

Thanks for that advice! Ok, this may feel like a tangent but there is a point:
My two research interest aren't complete nailed down yet. They are narrowed to the relationship between urban political institutions, urban violence, and economic growth or violence in Latin America and it's relationship to economic growth. I know they are very different but similar in some ways and I think my first two years of courses will help me choose which I want to dive into more. Should I choose before applying though? I believe I'm more interested in urban politics but I'm still not fully sure since both deeply interest me. I also know I should choose one for my SOP and shoot hard for it but I don't know which is more strongly reinforced by my background.

This is where by organizing experience may sort of comes in sort-of. My research experience is 100% comparative. I did 1 semester as a research assistant studying electoral violence during election cycles. Is this helpful if I apply with a focus on urban politics? My organizing experience has  research lens to it. I spent over a year as a policy coordinator and analyst working with the effects of local Promise programs (free college) on local economic development. My writing sample is also on urban politics. Is this experience as useful as my academic experience when it comes to my SOP? And is my academic experience useful if I decide to focus on urban politics? Like of course I'll throw it in but can milk it since it's the little experience in real academia? I'm a CC transfer student so I didn't get much of a chance to do a lot of research or write an honors thesis :/ So I'm trying work with what I have.

Also, less relevant but I grew in a tough neighborhood which drives my interest in urban politics and I lived 5 years in Argentina which drives my interests in Latin American politics. I also speak, read, write Spanish fluently.

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On 2/9/2016 at 10:55 AM, ultraultra said:

I was actually discouraged from mentioning my activism/organizing background in my application. The main points my advisors made were as follows:

  • Schools are wary of students who are doing a PhD in order to 'change the world,' since that's not often what academia is like.
  • Schools are wary of students producing biased research to suit their political preferences.
  • The research that takes place in non-profit contexts is often quite different than the type of research that takes place in academia.
  • In any case, with limited space, it's better to focus on academic research experience because that's typically more relevant than other work experience.

I'm sure, as with any part of this process, it's pretty idiosyncratic, and while some ad comm members may have those concerns others won't. But I tried to keep in mind while I wrote my applications that I have no idea who is reading them and what those people value or believe in. I'm sure there are ways to frame your organizing experiences in a way that neutralizes the above concerns and bolsters a general narrative of research potential. But I just think it's important to go about that in a careful way and keep in mind that some people may not see such experiences as a plus.

Yes, these are all excellent points! I didn't mean to say that activism/organizing experience should be centralized in the statement; I got some similar advice from my advisors as well, and I think it makes sense. Ultimately I did decide to include it towards the end in the statements that had longer word/page limits, since it forms so much of the latter half of my resume that I figured I could use the opportunity to explain why I thought my organizing background prepared me well for doctoral work in addition to my research experience. If I remember correctly, the paragraph went in 3 out of my 12 statements, and in longer form in 3 diversity/personal history statements. I kept it short, and focused on how my background would make me a better researcher and how it shaped my research agenda, rather than suggesting that research would take a backseat to organizing in my future career plans. Here's an (edited) example of what I wrote:

"My co-curricular experiences engaging in community organizing have prepared me for doctoral work as well, encouraging XXXXX. For example, while organizing for XXXX in XXXX at XXXX, my role as a leader focused on XXXXXX. The task of XXXXX drove me to seek a more nuanced understanding of how XXXXX. This background XXXXX drives my intention to connect my scholarship with XXXXX. It has also facilitated my ability as a teaching assistant to XXXXXX."

And ditto on the indiosyncracy of the admissions process. In retrospect, I don't regret including this background (in this way) in my application, but I don't think I would have lost that much if I had dropped it.

Edited by abed

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