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Profile Eval. for PhD in Political Science (IR)


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I am a prospective applicant for PhD programs in Political Science (IR / emphasis on East Asia) for the Fall 2017 application season. I would appreciate any eval of my profile and/or tips on the application process in general.

  • BA in International Relations and East Asian Area Studies from top25 school 
  • GPA: 3.6
  • GRE scores: not yet taken
  • Research experience: RA for 2 yrs for faculty project with undergrad research grant, research fellow at institute + presented twice at undergrad research conference on Korean studies 
  • Took 2 gap years (this is currently my 2nd). Worked at an Asia-studies related non-profit and now a legal assistant at an immigration law firm. I realize work experience not related directly to research is irrelevant to PhD.
  • Did NOT complete a BA thesis. 
  • Prospective LOR's - research advisors (1- tenured, highly recognized in field, 2-tenure-track prof) - did not take their class, (1) tenure-track professor whose class I did take

Some additional questions---

1. Is it bad to have LOR's more from research advisors rather than profs whose classes you took? I personally know my research advisors better and feel that they can speak for my research skills/work ethic better.

2. Is there an efficient way to find out about program-specific rankings? I am looking at US news & world and certain schools I thought were better are ranked much lower.

3. What are my chances at acceptance in top20-25 schools? I realize that my GPA is not too high and I don't have GRE scores yet.. 



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Your GPA is relatively fine, though you should get a high GRE score to be competitive. Your research experience is good to have, including the things that were non-academic in nature. If you can angle these as having helped hone your research interests or methods skills, it's an asset. If you haven't completed a thesis (which does count against you a bit), be sure to write something for your writing sample. Unfortunately, your research advisors cannot help you there, since it has to be solo-authored.

It's not bad at all to have LOR's from your research advisors in the field, it's probably better. They don't need to know you did well in classes (that's usually a given), but they do need to know you have what it takes to be a good researcher.

I'm not sure what you mean by program-specific rankings, but if you mean the political science rankings, they have those as well as subfield rankings. However, ranking is a proxy for many other things, so still check out how good the schools are in terms of fit and placement record.

It's hard to gauge your ability to get into top 20-25 schools without full knowledge of your GPA/GRE scores (which are sadly more important than they should be), but if you get a good GRE score I think you're on the right track towards a top 20-25 program.

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  • 1 month later...

For program rankings, I recommend http://www.phds.org/rankings/political-science

The problem with the US News Rankings is they are highly arbitrary. All rankings are to some degree, but the US News rankings act as if certain factors don't matter more to certain people. The phds.org site gives you a range of rankings for each school based on different weightings of several different factors, and will allow you to weight those factors yourself.  I feel like this is especially important in the top 25, as they all have departments that are only marginally better or worse, so it allows you to sort things based on what's important to you.

When it comes to subfield rankings, pretty much any school in the top 25 should be decent in all subfields, so it becomes a matter of the faculty there. Look for faculty who share your same broad interests. Also worth asking people at your undergrad what they think of specific faculty you want to work with - personality shouldn't be a huge factor, but if you find out someone has a particularly bad reputation, that should raise some cautionary flags. 

Everything on your application looks good. Certainly more research experience than I had. Just focus on getting the best GRE scores possible and making sure your LOR writers have clear, current information that will allow them to portray you well. 

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Following my application cycle, two things became evidence: program-specific rankings give you an overall sense of a university's prestige, but it can mask a department's capacity when it comes to particular subfields. Some places may lack in security studies people, area studies people, people strong in IPE, people strong in American etc. etc. It's up to you at the end of the day to investigate prospective advisors within your subfield of interest at a particular school, how they fair within the field and whether there is evidence that they are strong mentors/accessible people. It's harder to know whether certain professors make good advisors without meeting them, but professional websites can give you a good indication: does this person list their students on their website and/or CV? Some of the best mentors also may no longer be publishing, but if they're an icon in the field, they can be an invaluable resource.

Fit is also far more than having one perfect person to work with, and people move all the time. I could have trashed two of my applications had I known that the people I was applying to work with were transitioning to other schools that year...though one move happened to a program I got into so that was an added plus. What's most important is knowing whether there are a range of people that align well with your research interests and being able to identify that in both your SOP but also in where you wind up applying period.

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