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I will be finishing my dissertation in the near future and moving on to the next phase of my life and career. Like most grad students, I stopped visiting this site once I started and the whirlwind of grad school kicked in. I recently had a conversation with a cohort-mate about the correct and incorrect impressions we had when we applied for grad school. That conversation made me think of this site, so I have visited again a few times lately.

The biggest misconception I had was about how program rank translated into job prospects. I thought that getting a PhD from Harvard, Michigan, or Stanford was what I needed if I wanted to end up at a big time R1. I didn’t get into a top 5, but that’s fine. i never wanted one of those high-pressure jobs at a top school anyway. I am delighted with a job at a 3-2 directional or a 3-3 regional. Maybe a 4-4 liberal arts school will be fun too, if it turns out that I like teaching and the location is good. I felt like my expectations were reasonable.

That’s not how it works.

The tenure-track (TT) jobs at the big time R1’s rarely come available, and when they do come up they go to a tiny handful (e.g., 3 or 4) market stars from the top 5. The market for ALL of the rest of the TT jobs (yes, that includes the undesirable locations and the 3-3 directional schools) is fought over by assistant professors looking to make moves and the rest of the ABD’s out of the top 10.

Those of us in the 15-25 range are looking for any TT job at all, not ones we like (e.g., the Arkansas Tech opening in American politics last year got well over 100 applications). Most of us take a visiting assistant professor (VAP) or postdoc jobs somewhere for one year, and often a second one. After that some of us get a TT job at an urban commuter school or remote directional. The rest? We lose track of them. Based on Facebook and word of mouth it seems that they become homemakers, yoga instructors, high school teachers, or wherever else life takes them.

 After six years my cohort of 20 has 12 people left. 1 has a TT job offer. 6 of us are waiting to hear on some VAP / postdoc jobs and waiting on more to post in the spring portion of the job market cycle. The rest need more time to finish.

 

If you are an applicant reading this, you are probably thinking that you’ll do fine. You’re really good at school. Your professors really like you.

The hard part of convincing a person not to go to graduate school is that person is told all the time that s/he is one of the best from their school. S/he feels special. I get it. I felt the same way. But once you are here you realize that we were all special. And almost none of us will end up being professors.

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I read this thread with a little concern and wanted to add my own perspective. I am presently in my fourth year, recently defended my dissertation prospectus, and am preparing to start gathering data.

I will be finishing my dissertation in the near future and moving on to the next phase of my life and career. Like most grad students, I stopped visiting this site once I started and the whirlwind of

Wow! I'm sorry you had to go through this. It sounds like a really toxic department culture and like things really sucked. I haven't posted or visited this place in maybe 8 years since I was applying

Dang, thank you for sharing. A really helpful reminder to go with the many others out there who have a similar message: "if you are coming into this with any naïveté, check it against reality"

I've read and spoke with many folks in this similar vein, and it definitely has shaped my expectations (and strategies) for this application and discernment process. Basically, the way I'm making sense of it all is that it's a big risk. So I'm (trying to) not putting myself in precarious financial or social situations if I do get an acceptance, and realizing that I may bust my ass for 5-7 years and come out basically where I started. Holding loosely any plans I have about where I think this will take me is helping, too. It also helps I already have a professional grad degree and a wife with a very stable career.

But all that said, @BigTenPoliSci, I don't think people can hear these cautions enough. It's a cold world out there, and most of us don't get where we planned to go. Think it through, y'all.

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I've no idea whether this is actually true, but isn't this risk somewhat alleviated if you are an international and capable of working either in your home country or another of which you are speaking the language? From my limited observation, it seems that degrees from internationally recognized US universities also carry their prestige benefit elsewhere and if one is less concerned about getting a job at the best possible R1 in the US and willing to take a potential pay cut, the situation may not be completely dire. The latter should probably also be true for US nationals. At the end, if one is sufficiently flexible and work hard enough than - and that is maybe just my opinion - one should get a nice job (private or public) somewhere.

Edited by Monody
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18 minutes ago, Monody said:

I've no idea whether this is actually true, but isn't this risk somewhat alleviated if you are an international and capable of working either in your home country or another of which you are speaking the language? From my limited observation, it seems that degrees from internationally recognized US universities also carry their prestige benefit elsewhere and if one is less concerned about getting a job at the best possible R1 in the US and willing to take a potential pay cut, the situation may not be completely dire. The latter should probably also be true for US nationals. At the end, if one is sufficiently flexible and work hard enough than - and that is maybe just my opinion - one should get a nice job (private or public) somewhere.

@BigTenPoliSci is telling the truth. My undergrad advisor showed me the statistics for the grad program here that are not posted on the online. It ain't pretty. That said, I'm still applying because I am flexible in where I end up and open to going into the private sector. 

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I didn't intend to debate the truth of the original post. I frequent PSR (for some self-loathing reason) and EJMR (which is a bit better) and the situation seems to be bad anywhere. But as I said, I don't think that going to graduate school is the worst decision possible if one likes the work and is flexible with regard to the final international location and sector afterwards. 

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14 minutes ago, Monody said:

I didn't intend to debate the truth of the original post. I frequent PSR (for some self-loathing reason) and EJMR (which is a bit better) and the situation seems to be bad anywhere. But as I said, I don't think that going to graduate school is the worst decision possible if one likes the work and is flexible with regard to the final international location and sector afterwards. 

Definitely truth to what you are saying @Monody. I think if you can answer "yes" to the question "does it sounds enjoyable to study, research, teach, work, learn for 5-7 years" recognizing that at some point in that time you will need to come up with a realistic plan for making some money (enough to eat daily and live inside), then I think it's a worthy risk. And flexibility/building a wide professional network, including folks outside of academia, is essential.

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Thanks for posting this, @BigTenPoliSci, and best of luck to you on the market.

I think I'm just confused about how applicants could foster these kinds of misconceptions for so long. All of my advisors warned me about job prospects, as did my academic parents, and each day brings a new PSR thread about how dismal the market looks. I think that one big problem is that academics view anything besides TT placement as failure, and a common thing that I've heard is that getting a TT position is the only way to make up for the opportunity costs of getting a PhD. To me, that's such a strange way of thinking about it; if one's only desire is to make money then why would they even consider this career? You could probably make as much as an assistant professor straight out of undergrad in certain sectors. I would much rather take my chances on a rough academic job market than sit in an office throughout my 20s, making good money but always regretting my decision not to try. Worst-case scenario, I start climbing the corporate ladder significantly later than my peers and never become a millionaire (oh, the horror).

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8 minutes ago, dagnabbit said:

Thanks for posting this, @BigTenPoliSci, and best of luck to you on the market.

I think I'm just confused about how applicants could foster these kinds of misconceptions for so long. 

Not everyone has good advisors or parents who are aware of life in academia in general. If I didn't have good advisors, I wouldn't have the same knowledge I have about it. For 1st generation college students, the info can be lacking. 

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54 minutes ago, RevTheory1126 said:

And flexibility/building a wide professional network, including folks outside of academia, is essential.

The ones who came here with prior professional experience (real salaried jobs, not internships) are the ones with options in the private sector and government. Students straight from undergrad rarely have the network, the professionalization, or concrete experience that is essential to getting those interviews. Graduate school is sufficiently time consuming and isolating that it is pretty much impossible to build a professional network outside of academia after you start.

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1 hour ago, Monody said:

I've no idea whether this is actually true, but isn't this risk somewhat alleviated if you are an international and capable of working either in your home country or another of which you are speaking the language? 

People in our program that came from abroad seem to have better outcomes. Several take academic positions in their home country after finishing here. So you are probably right - international students have more options and access to job markets that attach a premium to a top 25 US PhD.

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I'm one of those with a professional degree and a lot of prior work experience as well, and a spouse with a PhD in a different field who probably has more earning potential than I do.  I've worked in government, can't say I'm interested in going back, but if it's that or eating, well, I choose eating.  Rather be a prof, we'll see if it works out.  I'm a pretty optimistic fellow generally speaking.

That said, there are some things a person can do to improve their chances of getting a TT job, no matter where you're graduating from.  Publish as much as you can while you're in your program, before you become ABD.  Even one article co-authored with a faculty member is better than nothing.  Use your dissertation to a) line yourself up for a book deal, and b ) if possible, secure a proprietary data set that you can write articles off for the next several years.  Have a concrete research agenda from day 1 with a niche that is underrepresented in many departments.  Be willing and able to teach methods classes (this is a big one from what I'm told, because many departments want them and don't have them).  Be willing and able to do other non-research things like run a pre-law program, coach the debate or mock trial team, etc.  These are all things that professors from top programs have told me.

 

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6 hours ago, dagnabbit said:

a common thing that I've heard is that getting a TT position is the only way to make up for the opportunity costs of getting a PhD. To me, that's such a strange way of thinking about it; if one's only desire is to make money then why would they even consider this career? 

In other places on the forum people have squabbled about what "TT" means, but whether you mean tenure-tracked or top-tier, the point still stands. Monetary gain or security are actually drying up in lots of sectors, and if you crave either, this probably isn't for you.

 

5 hours ago, BigTenPoliSci said:

The ones who came here with prior professional experience (real salaried jobs, not internships) are the ones with options in the private sector and government... Graduate school is sufficiently time consuming and isolating that it is pretty much impossible to build a professional network outside of academia after you start.

I agree with your first sentiment, and it is exactly why I did not go directly into PhD realm and would recommend this route to anyone. Working outside the academy for some time, or getting some kind of professional or other master's degree, is really helpful. And not only helpful for building resume, but also maturing intellectually, emotionally, and socially. But the second point that it Is impossible to network during graduate school is perhaps overstating the case. Difficult? Yes. Extremely. Impossible? Only if you have some kind of other personal commitments (e.g. health concerns, family, etc.) that take away major chunks of time. At both my undergraduate and professional program, there were a healthy amount of opportunities to meet with alumni, community leaders, and of course academics. Networking is time consuming and not particularly "fun", but it's indispensable for young professionals today. Even if I end up with all rejections this cycle, I'm hoping that I will still be able to "float on" with some of these connections... who knows.

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8 hours ago, RevTheory1126 said:

Definitely truth to what you are saying @Monody. I think if you can answer "yes" to the question "does it sounds enjoyable to study, research, teach, work, learn for 5-7 years" recognizing that at some point in that time you will need to come up with a realistic plan for making some money (enough to eat daily and live inside), then I think it's a worthy risk. And flexibility/building a wide professional network, including folks outside of academia, is essential.

It's definitely a risk that people should think about. It's not just the 5-7 years of research, study, and learning, but also the opportunity cost of those 5-7 years. By which I mean the lost earnings and missing retirement savings of being in grad school, which isn't something you can easily make up whether you end up as a professor or in the private sector. The starting salary as an assistant professor in the social sciences and humanities isn't that dissimilar than the starting salary in lots of fields where you could get a degree right out of college. If you compare to something like management consulting or investment banking, then yea, it's basically the same starting salary with zero chance of a bonus plus knowing that you could've gotten that job 5-7 years before and been saving money for a house, retirement, vacations, future children, etc. And I'm not trying to say it isn't worth the risk but I am saying that there's a lot which merits consideration.

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Longtime lurker, first time poster (always wanted to say that!)

 

Curious, is anyone else interested in a career that straddles the policy world and academia? Thinking of places like RAND, DoD, State, interspersed with teaching. Is this possible? This could alleviate the reality of a foundering academic job market. I am sympathetic to the argument that "you should only get a PhD if you want to be a professor," but it seems that there are flexible means of achieving this. One need not be pigeon-holed into the (unrealistic) expectation that the only way to teach and contribute to the field is through landing a tenure-track position the day you graduate.

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3 hours ago, RevTheory1126 said:

But the second point that it Is impossible to network during graduate school is perhaps overstating the case. Difficult? Yes. Extremely. Impossible? Only if you have some kind of other personal commitments (e.g. health concerns, family, etc.) that take away major chunks of time. At both my undergraduate and professional program, there were a healthy amount of opportunities to meet with alumni, community leaders, and of course academics. Networking is time consuming and not particularly "fun", but it's indispensable for young professionals today. 

The most memorable piece of advice I got about my first two years (the classwork portion): "If you're not reading in the shower, you're falling behind." I had an MA from a terminal masters track before I got here. i thought that experience was what PhD-track seminars and methods courses at a top 25 would be like. I was wrong. Until you are through comps, all you do is work. You mostly read, but you also write a bit (you'll write a whole lot more later). All of you on this forum will get through that process - this board is clearly biased towards better students - but don't think like I did that you'll be able to do anything else. I thought that I could do consulting jobs on the side. i tried to take on a couple of very small ones at first but quickly gave that up.

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One additional thing: I don't want to be too gloomy here. Pursuing a Phd might be great for you. Some of you will end up being professors. Most of you won't. Many of you will end up having PhD's. That's pretty cool.

Edited by BigTenPoliSci
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17 hours ago, dagnabbit said:

Thanks for posting this, @BigTenPoliSci, and best of luck to you on the market.

I think I'm just confused about how applicants could foster these kinds of misconceptions for so long. All of my advisors warned me about job prospects, as did my academic parents, and each day brings a new PSR thread about how dismal the market looks. I think that one big problem is that academics view anything besides TT placement as failure, and a common thing that I've heard is that getting a TT position is the only way to make up for the opportunity costs of getting a PhD. To me, that's such a strange way of thinking about it; if one's only desire is to make money then why would they even consider this career? You could probably make as much as an assistant professor straight out of undergrad in certain sectors. I would much rather take my chances on a rough academic job market than sit in an office throughout my 20s, making good money but always regretting my decision not to try. Worst-case scenario, I start climbing the corporate ladder significantly later than my peers and never become a millionaire (oh, the horror).

I'm not applying for Poli Scin (though that's what I majored in in undegrad/ my first MA) - but I saw this thread and I think it really is applicable to a lot of different disciplines in the non-money making fields (ie NOT engineering etc). I think one of the reasons that these misconceptions are fostered is because maybe people have professors (and parents) that may not be in touch with current application stats. Some of my professors, though they are very familiar with the application process, they just don't realize that there are SO many more applicants and graduates than when they went to grad school in the 80's/ early '90s. 

@MonodyI think it's true that if you keep your options to outside the U.S., it really does open up a lot of opportunities, but for top universities in many countries, the competition that @BigTenPoliSci has mentioned is exactly the same. I'm an international student from Korea and to get a TT position in a top university, one would be up against people who have graduated from the top 10. Every single one of the professors at my alma mater have degrees from a top U.S. university and the top university in Singapore or HK is super competitive to get in the door let alone TT. Obviously, the situation would be different depending on the country, but more and more, a degree with a top university in the U.S. is becoming a basic requirement, not something that adds value, to an application in many parts of the world.

@StadimeterI think doing a phd/policy work is actually more possible than you think. I know a lot of phds in policy/ poli sci that didn't go into academia. Also while working in international development, I ran into  a lot of phds in various government agencies around the world and especially in international organizations (namely the world bank group). 

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56 minutes ago, DBear said:

I'm not applying for Poli Scin (though that's what I majored in in undegrad/ my first MA) - but I saw this thread and I think it really is applicable to a lot of different disciplines in the non-money making fields (ie NOT engineering etc). I think one of the reasons that these misconceptions are fostered is because maybe people have professors (and parents) that may not be in touch with current application stats. Some of my professors, though they are very familiar with the application process, they just don't realize that there are SO many more applicants and graduates than when they went to grad school in the 80's/ early '90s. 

@MonodyI think it's true that if you keep your options to outside the U.S., it really does open up a lot of opportunities, but for top universities in many countries, the competition that @BigTenPoliSci has mentioned is exactly the same. I'm an international student from Korea and to get a TT position in a top university, one would be up against people who have graduated from the top 10. Every single one of the professors at my alma mater have degrees from a top U.S. university and the top university in Singapore or HK is super competitive to get in the door let alone TT. Obviously, the situation would be different depending on the country, but more and more, a degree with a top university in the U.S. is becoming a basic requirement, not something that adds value, to an application in many parts of the world.

@StadimeterI think doing a phd/policy work is actually more possible than you think. I know a lot of phds in policy/ poli sci that didn't go into academia. Also while working in international development, I ran into  a lot of phds in various government agencies around the world and especially in international organizations (namely the world bank group). 

Of course, competition is fierce everywhere, but I'd say that a US PhD can put you above the pack with regard to others who don't have one and if you are willing to lower your standards by a bit you will hopefully find a job where you can work on your research and be paid well.

 

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3 hours ago, Monody said:

Of course, competition is fierce everywhere, but I'd say that a US PhD can put you above the pack with regard to others who don't have one and if you are willing to lower your standards by a bit you will hopefully find a job where you can work on your research and be paid well.

 

Can you qualify what you mean when you say "lower your standards by a bit"? What does that mean exactly? I ask because this means different things to different people but also because, for some people, even doing that may not be enough to actually find a tenure-track job...

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I only meant that it may be comparatively easier to get a TT job at a non-top university in your home country with a US top-10 PhD than at a comparable non-top US university, because the value of the degree and the competition may be different. No idea whether this is actually true but I can imagine it.

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On 1/22/2017 at 1:25 AM, BigTenPoliSci said:

The biggest misconception I had was about how program rank translated into job prospects. I thought that getting a PhD from Harvard, Michigan, or Stanford was what I needed if I wanted to end up at a big time R1. I didn’t get into a top 5, but that’s fine. i never wanted one of those high-pressure jobs at a top school anyway. I am delighted with a job at a 3-2 directional or a 3-3 regional. Maybe a 4-4 liberal arts school will be fun too, if it turns out that I like teaching and the location is good. I felt like my expectations were reasonable.

...

The tenure-track (TT) jobs at the big time R1’s rarely come available, and when they do come up they go to a tiny handful (e.g., 3 or 4) market stars from the top 5. The market for ALL of the rest of the TT jobs (yes, that includes the undesirable locations and the 3-3 directional schools) is fought over by assistant professors looking to make moves and the rest of the ABD’s out of the top 10.

Those of us in the 15-25 range are looking for any TT job at all, not ones we like (e.g., the Arkansas Tech opening in American politics last year got well over 100 applications).


So about program rank, you've referred to top 5, top 10, and 15-25.  

What are the top 5?

 

What are the top 10?

 

What are the top 25?  

 

Are you just going by US News and World Report rankings or what?  Are those rankings stable over years?


Whats the practical difference between a 'directional' and a 'regional'?  Just the name?  

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On 1/23/2017 at 9:20 PM, vitaminquartet said:


So about program rank, you've referred to top 5, top 10, and 15-25.  

What are the top 5?

 

What are the top 10?

 

What are the top 25?  

 

Are you just going by US News and World Report rankings or what?  Are those rankings stable over years?


Whats the practical difference between a 'directional' and a 'regional'?  Just the name?  

Think of the acronym CHYMPS.  Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Michigan, Princeton, Stanford.  Those are considered the top schools and they're pretty stable generally.  Just about everyone throws Cal Berkeley in there as well.  You have the quantitative boutique programs like Rochester and WashU St. Louis, which normally end up in the top 15.  Ohio State, Duke, and UNC Chapel Hill have all gone up in stature in recent years and normally get name dropped as well.  Beyond that, people generally go off the USNWR rankings.

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RE: rank. I am referring to US News rankings.

RE: directional/regional. Same thing. I just mean directional, but I was writing quickly, didn't want to use the same word in the same sentence, and didn't bother to go back and edit to create a better and clearer sentence.

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On 1/22/2017 at 10:08 PM, BigTenPoliSci said:

The most memorable piece of advice I got about my first two years (the classwork portion): "If you're not reading in the shower, you're falling behind." I had an MA from a terminal masters track before I got here. i thought that experience was what PhD-track seminars and methods courses at a top 25 would be like. I was wrong. Until you are through comps, all you do is work. You mostly read, but you also write a bit (you'll write a whole lot more later). All of you on this forum will get through that process - this board is clearly biased towards better students - but don't think like I did that you'll be able to do anything else. I thought that I could do consulting jobs on the side. i tried to take on a couple of very small ones at first but quickly gave that up.

This. This 1000000x over.

Having finished a terminal MA, I thought I had a good sense of what a PhD at a top 10 would be like. Wrong. I work 72-80 hours a week and I'm still told by faculty that I'm not working hard enough. Sleeping 8 hours a night? How can I, shouldn't I be working? Everyone has told us that the department has us by the throat until after generals, and even then. If you work with specific faculty, they're no less understanding afterward when it comes to family commitments or personal lives. In a way I got a taste of it when I was helping my Mother grieve the loss of her father during my MA. Two weeks after the funeral, I commented that I had been up until 2AM on the phone with her. My advisor asked me why I was still dealing with the issue. It sounds heartless, but the attitude is that your prioritize your work over yourself if you really want to land that job. Personally, I'm looking to work outside the US job market, and I'm also open to public and private sector opportunities afterward so I feel less compelled to bend over backwards 100% of the time. It is incredibly important to find ways to carve out time for yourself though. If you don't, the insanity only gets worse and faculty will keep asking you for your time. Routine is crucial, as is keeping your research and your goals in mind.

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