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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

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. Prior to my PhD program, I worked as an attorney and taught practical courses at two law schools. In this thread, I’ve seen three related, basic concerns: job prospects, strategies for maximizing job prospects, and the work load. Take my advice as a current student with a grain of salt, but be aware that the path to success in this field is idiosyncratic enough to doubt that tenured faculty know how it works, either.

Job Prospects

BigTen is right here, and the attempt to rose-tint the job market issue by noting that an important number of tenure track positions at research universities are held by graduates from 10-25 ranked schools ignores the struggles faced by the vast majority of student from those programs. It is frankly unconscionable that faculty at 50+ ranked schools encourage graduate students to attend. I truly believe the emerging consensus that a number of graduate programs exist to fill the egotistical and labor needs of the department rather than because they provide reasonable employment opportunities to graduates. Evaluating job prospects and placements by reading placement boards provides some information. Watching your colleagues graduate and fight for positions provides another.

Attending a PhD program outside the top 10-12 is a real gamble. Most students in this range seem to place at universities or outside jobs that at least provide standard of living and a reasonable connection to the questions and research that drew you to study social science in the first place. But the plight of Visiting Assistant Professors who make minimum wage is real, and in most cases the PhD does little outside the academic/think tank world other than convince employers with no idea about the academic job market that you’d leave. After the 12-14 rank, most graduates have fewer tenure opportunities, period. They certainly face uncomfortable constraints on the region and pay they must accept for any measure of job security.

If your passion or self-assurance prompts to take the risk of attending a program outside this range, do yourself a favor and pay special attention to the advice in the following section.

Securing a Stable Job

Publishing: Ask yourself an important question over and over again (and ask your advisors): can some part of the questions that animate me be answered in a compelling, novel way with data that exists on the internet? If the answer is yes, you need to work on publishing. If the answer is no, then you need to focus on generating compelling research and data collection designs. When you graduate, hiring committees will have an opinion about whether it should have been possible to publish on your question during school, and often times the answer is. Often times (especially in comparative politics), the more promising candidates are the ones that generated awesome data sets.

Networking: I promise you this works. Every week during your first three years of graduate school, find two non-academic employers that have jobs you think you might like and be qualified for, then email a person that has 5-10 years experience in one of those jobs asking for advice. Ideally, you would get 15 minutes to speak with them about their own day-to-day (like you’re interviewing them about whether you want the job) and what skills the job takes (as though you are preparing to interview for it).

This means you send out 300 networking emails in three years. You’ll get maybe 40 people willing to speak with you and 10 that like you. Find excuses to stay in touch with those people, and 1 or 2 will have a job for you when you graduate. This job worked for young law school students I mentored and seems to be working for MA candidates I work with now.

Grants: Winning a grant is easier said than done, but it can be very beneficial. Winning a grant that pays you to research frees you from needing to work and sends a signal to future grantors and employers that you are promising and talented. Winning grants for research activities achieves the latter. 

I have not won any of the general work-replacement grants, but those I know who have burst ahead of the rest of us. They have zero distraction. This is part of why students from private schools like Harvard and Stanford outperform equally talented students at Michigan or UCLA. They work less.

I have been fortunate enough to win a couple of small but prestigious-sounding grants to fund research. It has completely altered the way senior colleagues view my work and promise.

Work Load

I think the gallows humor about reading in the shower is part of what makes for bad graduate students. It is absolutely true that you cannot read enough to stop feeling behind your classmates or (heaven forfend) the faculty teaching you. So why bother?

First the saccharine advice: if you are an interesting and curious enough person to attend a decent PhD program, there is very little in the world, and nothing at school, worth the sacrifice of five to seven years of your personal growth and exploration. I don’t care if you end up teaching at fucking Harvard, your colleagues will never look at you with the wonder your friends do when you serve them a perfectly seared scallop or play them Fur Elise on the piano after you eat someone else’s scallops. They won’t know you like your mother or your husband or your son.

Here’s an inconvenient truth: 90% of you want to go to grad school in large part because you want to feel smart. Your colleagues will rarely make you feel smart, even though you are. The whole enterprise is about identifying flaws in even the best work (in order to improve it) and on some level, this is miserable. Don’t believe me? Ask students at the schools you were admitted to how they felt about the process of drafting and defending their prospectus.**

But your friends and family will make you feel smart, especially if you turn your substantial talent to excelling in at least one thing they can relate to. You want to feel proud and useful and cherished and special? Learn to give people something that gives them instinctual pleasure. (Usually not an AJPS article.)

Now for the professional advice you won’t ignore: You will have plenty of pressure to read deeply and critically and to learn method. I don’t suggest ignoring this. But the best ideas and the best careers don’t seem based on picking apart the causal identification of a key article. Great insight requires time to rest and percolate, and inspiration comes from wondering why people haven’t solved real world problems more often than it comes from replication data.

Models don’t provide insight. They describe it.

Good ideas require some amount of travel and art and philosophy and debate and REST and EXPERIENCE and EXPOSURE. If you want to have any hope of avoiding the scholarly lament that “my research and my life talk to twelve other people” you have to set aside some time to be out of the literature and out of the methods.

I’m not suggesting you spend every Saturday smoking weed and reading Batman comics. Maybe baseball games and 30 Rock marathons are rare indulgences now. But don’t cancel your subscription to the New Yorker or stop seeing your friends, because politics is about real life and on some level no one trusts that the academic without work experience, without family, without friends, without hobbies, has any insight about what animates actual people. 

Good luck with everything.

**Setting aside the problems with political science as a science, while this process of critique and revise makes everyone feel stupid and insecure, it does help you eventually feel proud of and defend your work. But to scratch the itch of feeling competent, you’d be better off having kids and teaching them to camp or make great spaghetti sauce or something.

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On 4/2/2017 at 0:12 AM, GopherGrad said:

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. Prior to my PhD program, I worked as an attorney and taught practical courses at two law schools. In this thread, I’ve seen three related, basic concerns: job prospects, strategies for maximizing job prospects, and the work load. Take my advice as a current student with a grain of salt, but be aware that the path to success in this field is idiosyncratic enough to doubt that tenured faculty know how it works, either.

Job Prospects

BigTen is right here, and the attempt to rose-tint the job market issue by noting that an important number of tenure track positions at research universities are held by graduates from 10-25 ranked schools ignores the struggles faced by the vast majority of student from those programs. It is frankly unconscionable that faculty at 50+ ranked schools encourage graduate students to attend. I truly believe the emerging consensus that a number of graduate programs exist to fill the egotistical and labor needs of the department rather than because they provide reasonable employment opportunities to graduates. Evaluating job prospects and placements by reading placement boards provides some information. Watching your colleagues graduate and fight for positions provides another.

Attending a PhD program outside the top 10-12 is a real gamble. Most students in this range seem to place at universities or outside jobs that at least provide standard of living and a reasonable connection to the questions and research that drew you to study social science in the first place. But the plight of Visiting Assistant Professors who make minimum wage is real, and in most cases the PhD does little outside the academic/think tank world other than convince employers with no idea about the academic job market that you’d leave. After the 12-14 rank, most graduates have fewer tenure opportunities, period. They certainly face uncomfortable constraints on the region and pay they must accept for any measure of job security.

If your passion or self-assurance prompts to take the risk of attending a program outside this range, do yourself a favor and pay special attention to the advice in the following section.

Securing a Stable Job

Publishing: Ask yourself an important question over and over again (and ask your advisors): can some part of the questions that animate me be answered in a compelling, novel way with data that exists on the internet? If the answer is yes, you need to work on publishing. If the answer is no, then you need to focus on generating compelling research and data collection designs. When you graduate, hiring committees will have an opinion about whether it should have been possible to publish on your question during school, and often times the answer is. Often times (especially in comparative politics), the more promising candidates are the ones that generated awesome data sets.

Networking: I promise you this works. Every week during your first three years of graduate school, find two non-academic employers that have jobs you think you might like and be qualified for, then email a person that has 5-10 years experience in one of those jobs asking for advice. Ideally, you would get 15 minutes to speak with them about their own day-to-day (like you’re interviewing them about whether you want the job) and what skills the job takes (as though you are preparing to interview for it).

This means you send out 300 networking emails in three years. You’ll get maybe 40 people willing to speak with you and 10 that like you. Find excuses to stay in touch with those people, and 1 or 2 will have a job for you when you graduate. This job worked for young law school students I mentored and seems to be working for MA candidates I work with now.

Grants: Winning a grant is easier said than done, but it can be very beneficial. Winning a grant that pays you to research frees you from needing to work and sends a signal to future grantors and employers that you are promising and talented. Winning grants for research activities achieves the latter. 

I have not won any of the general work-replacement grants, but those I know who have burst ahead of the rest of us. They have zero distraction. This is part of why students from private schools like Harvard and Stanford outperform equally talented students at Michigan or UCLA. They work less.

I have been fortunate enough to win a couple of small but prestigious-sounding grants to fund research. It has completely altered the way senior colleagues view my work and promise.

Work Load

I think the gallows humor about reading in the shower is part of what makes for bad graduate students. It is absolutely true that you cannot read enough to stop feeling behind your classmates or (heaven forfend) the faculty teaching you. So why bother?

First the saccharine advice: if you are an interesting and curious enough person to attend a decent PhD program, there is very little in the world, and nothing at school, worth the sacrifice of five to seven years of your personal growth and exploration. I don’t care if you end up teaching at fucking Harvard, your colleagues will never look at you with the wonder your friends do when you serve them a perfectly seared scallop or play them Fur Elise on the piano after you eat someone else’s scallops. They won’t know you like your mother or your husband or your son.

Here’s an inconvenient truth: 90% of you want to go to grad school in large part because you want to feel smart. Your colleagues will rarely make you feel smart, even though you are. The whole enterprise is about identifying flaws in even the best work (in order to improve it) and on some level, this is miserable. Don’t believe me? Ask students at the schools you were admitted to how they felt about the process of drafting and defending their prospectus.**

But your friends and family will make you feel smart, especially if you turn your substantial talent to excelling in at least one thing they can relate to. You want to feel proud and useful and cherished and special? Learn to give people something that gives them instinctual pleasure. (Usually not an AJPS article.)

Now for the professional advice you won’t ignore: You will have plenty of pressure to read deeply and critically and to learn method. I don’t suggest ignoring this. But the best ideas and the best careers don’t seem based on picking apart the causal identification of a key article. Great insight requires time to rest and percolate, and inspiration comes from wondering why people haven’t solved real world problems more often than it comes from replication data.

Models don’t provide insight. They describe it.

Good ideas require some amount of travel and art and philosophy and debate and REST and EXPERIENCE and EXPOSURE. If you want to have any hope of avoiding the scholarly lament that “my research and my life talk to twelve other people” you have to set aside some time to be out of the literature and out of the methods.

I’m not suggesting you spend every Saturday smoking weed and reading Batman comics. Maybe baseball games and 30 Rock marathons are rare indulgences now. But don’t cancel your subscription to the New Yorker or stop seeing your friends, because politics is about real life and on some level no one trusts that the academic without work experience, without family, without friends, without hobbies, has any insight about what animates actual people. 

Good luck with everything.

**Setting aside the problems with political science as a science, while this process of critique and revise makes everyone feel stupid and insecure, it does help you eventually feel proud of and defend your work. But to scratch the itch of feeling competent, you’d be better off having kids and teaching them to camp or make great spaghetti sauce or something.

 

So do you believe that if you're going to a top 10/ top 12, even in the bottom end, your job prospects are pretty good? And based on your experience, can folks from these institutions make the choice to sacrifice prestige for location when hitting the job market or are they stuck taking whatever offer they get?

 

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Good clarifying question.

Uncertainty looms large in making these predictions, and the academic and private job markets are structurally very different. Given that many people's list of preferred jobs at some point starts to mix academic and non, it can be difficult to talk about this stuff concretely.

I would be surprised to find that a student at a Top 10/12/16/ish school who did the work and the networking failed to find some decent, challenging job that pays for a middle class life in a major American city of the student's choice. Graduates who end up permanently on the VAP circuit (or the private market equivalent) from these schools either have very specific and inflexible job preferences or did something fixably wrong to end up there.

As one moves down the school ranking and down the informal ranking of students at one's own school, the likelihood that this job will be academic decreases, and the attention the student should pay to the networking section of my advice (and to developing skills needed in the government and private sectors) increases.* Pick-your-place has a lot to do with the place's opportunities, but some trade-off between prestige or ideal job duties will usually open something up. 

In general, if you have a sense of where you'd like to live and this consideration is more important than finding a prestigious or even academic job, networking in that place is totally key.

*Academia is not everyone's brass ring. Outside the obvious schools, if you prefer to work in a think-tank or NGO, networking becomes increasingly important, because there is a lot lower signal-to-noise ratio in private job markets, and fewer people will automatically know that UCLA or Duke is actually a pretty kick-ass department. 

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