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I am currently researching the the prospect of getting a PhD in Political Science.  My research interests are in american and comparative politics, specifically institutions and institutional analysis.  My research interests align most with scholars such as Barry Weingast, Gary Cox, Douglas North, Elinor Ostrom, and Robert H Bates.  Obviously, I would want to get into a top 10-20 PhD program.  However, I have a checkered educational past.  

I went to undergrad at a top research university, majored in history and minored in political science, and got a 3.4.  I then went to get a dual degree JD/MBA.  I hated law school and did poorly, and got a 2.7.  In business school I did better and got a 3.5.  It wasn't until after graduating law school that I realized I truly didn't want to be an attorney, and that my passions were in political science, research, ideas, and teaching.  

I have almost no math experience, as I took no math in undergrad.  The only math experience I have is in business school, where I took a single stats course and a corporate accounting course.  I still have yet to take my GRE.  I have read in these forums that you need to have taken quite a bit of quant classes in order to be competitive in top schools.  Currently working as a research assistant for a scholar at a right leaning think tank (not sure if this would hurt me advertising this on my resume)

Based on the above info:

1) Should I pursue a terminal masters program in political science or a public policy degree in order to make up for my deficiency in math courses, lower GPA, as well as to try and get research experience with political science professors so I can get good letters of rec?  

2) The only people I could get a letter of rec from are the dean of my business school, an econ professor from my business school, and one of my law professors who I'm very close with.  Are these sufficient, or should I pursue a masters so I can build relationships with professors in poli sci to get letters of rec from them?

3) If getting a masters is not a good idea, is there anything else I can do to bolster my resume (besides the obvious getting high GRE scores)?

I spoke to a current PhD poli sci student at UCLA and he told me he didn't think it was necessary to get a masters.  Thoughts?

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My concern with your potential application is that those on admissions committees will see that you have multiple degrees (with GPAs that fall below the *usual* cutoff point) on your CV, which suggests that you're a bit scattered, and perhaps don't know what you really want. I don't think you should pursue another masters degree. Just do really well on the GRE and see what happens.

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32 minutes ago, deutsch1997bw said:

My concern with your potential application is that those on admissions committees will see that you have multiple degrees (with GPAs that fall below the *usual* cutoff point) on your CV, which suggests that you're a bit scattered, and perhaps don't know what you really want. I don't think you should pursue another masters degree. Just do really well on the GRE and see what happens.

Thanks for the advice.  This has been my concern as well, which is why I am putting my feelers out there to see if it's even worth applying.  I realize that on paper I look like a perennial student, who is only applying to grad school so I can add another degree to my collection of degrees.  Is there anyway to mitigate this and explain, or have letter writers explain, that my GPA or degrees do not preclude my ability to be successful in a PhD program?  

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5 hours ago, Neo_Institutionalist said:

  Is there anyway to mitigate this and explain, or have letter writers explain, that my GPA or degrees do not preclude my ability to be successful in a PhD program?  

Definitely see if your writer letters would be able to comment on this. If you really wanted to, I suppose you could even write about this in your SOP. If executed properly, it could work. 

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42 minutes ago, deutsch1997bw said:

Definitely see if your writer letters would be able to comment on this. If you really wanted to, I suppose you could even write about this in your SOP. If executed properly, it could work. 

I have a very strong relationship with the associate dean of my law school (where I got that terrible GPA), and I'm sure he would be able to explain the situation.  Thank you for the advice!

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To follow up on the advice of the others, the main weakness with your profile (at least, among the limited information you've shared) is that your multiple programs of study may signal that you lack focus or a coherent career arc and research agenda. Coherence and focus are essential parts of the admissions process, because the committee needs to know that you are prepared to dedicate yourself to several closely related research projects over a 5-7 year period of time. 

Strong letters, and a very strong and focused SOP are going to be the key for you, I believe. 

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 9/9/2017 at 8:06 AM, StrengthandHonor said:

To follow up on the advice of the others, the main weakness with your profile (at least, among the limited information you've shared) is that your multiple programs of study may signal that you lack focus or a coherent career arc and research agenda. Coherence and focus are essential parts of the admissions process, because the committee needs to know that you are prepared to dedicate yourself to several closely related research projects over a 5-7 year period of time. 

Strong letters, and a very strong and focused SOP are going to be the key for you, I believe. 

Thanks for the advice.  The problem is, I could get very strong letters, but none would be from political science faculty.  This is why I wanted to get a terminal masters in poli sci in the first place.  Based on numerous convos I've had with other people on this forum as well as current grad students in top poli sci programs (stanford and UCLA to be specific), all have said that getting letters from top scholars in the field matters a lot, because ad coms have no barometer for assessing the rigor of coursework in other fields, or what constitutes a good student in another field, or my potential for research.  So I feel like I'm kinda stuck, especially because, naturally, I would like to get into a top 10 or 20 program.  If I apply now as is, with a (hopefully excellent) gre score and well written SOP, but no letters from poli sci faculty, I feel like I would be hobbled by that fact.  Or, I risk looking like a perennial student getting yet another MA, but with the opportunity to get letters from well known faculty in the field.  What to do?

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On ‎9‎/‎6‎/‎2017 at 7:56 PM, deutsch1997bw said:

Definitely see if your writer letters would be able to comment on this. If you really wanted to, I suppose you could even write about this in your SOP. If executed properly, it could work. 

I definitely agree with this. Maybe a SOP writing exercise for you should be to consider, "why was law/business not right? What questions did you want answered?" and also ask yourself, "what was it that drove you towards law/business in the first place? what questions and challenges were you interested in? Why wasn't that right for you?" That will help you narrow down your thought to help make your jumping around more about professional development than aimlessly wandering.

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  • 1 month later...

One point that hasn't been addressed and might be something to consider - develop a political science writing sample. I'm not sure what you're planning on submitting for one now, but I would advise making as much of your application say "political science student, not law/MBA" as possible. 

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On 9/6/2017 at 10:37 AM, Neo_Institutionalist said:

My research interests align most with scholars such as Barry Weingast, Gary Cox, Douglas North, Elinor Ostrom, and Robert H Bates.  

Aren't North and Ostrom, like, dead tho?

I dunno, I'm gonna strongly disagree with the rest of y'all that OP shouldn't get another master's. Right now he has 3 irrelevant degrees with shitty GPAs and no good letter writers. I think becoming someone with a high GPA in a relevant degree and 3 good political scientist LORs is worth the chips, scattered or not scattered. Would that make him admissible to top schools? Perhaps not. How should I know. But right now his odds look worse.

OP, obviously, don't get a public policy degree. Like, where do you even get that idea? Public policy degrees are professional degrees that are explicitly geared away from preparing you for PhD programs. Any program worth its salt will tell you as much in their info session. There are people who pursue PhDs after them, but their trajectory is a lot cleaner than yours - for you it would just be adding more noise. Of course, if you are open to doing a PhD in public policy, a master's in it is as good as anything. I actually think that, given your interests and trajectory so far, a PhD in public policy may be a better fit - as long as you're okay with leaving academia afterwards.

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On 10/22/2017 at 7:32 AM, ExponentialDecay said:

Aren't North and Ostrom, like, dead tho?

I dunno, I'm gonna strongly disagree with the rest of y'all that OP shouldn't get another master's. Right now he has 3 irrelevant degrees with shitty GPAs and no good letter writers. I think becoming someone with a high GPA in a relevant degree and 3 good political scientist LORs is worth the chips, scattered or not scattered. Would that make him admissible to top schools? Perhaps not. How should I know. But right now his odds look worse.

OP, obviously, don't get a public policy degree. Like, where do you even get that idea? Public policy degrees are professional degrees that are explicitly geared away from preparing you for PhD programs. Any program worth its salt will tell you as much in their info session. There are people who pursue PhDs after them, but their trajectory is a lot cleaner than yours - for you it would just be adding more noise. Of course, if you are open to doing a PhD in public policy, a master's in it is as good as anything. I actually think that, given your interests and trajectory so far, a PhD in public policy may be a better fit - as long as you're okay with leaving academia afterwards.

Yes North and Ostrom are dead.  I was not saying that I wanted them to be my advisors, I was just simply stating that my interests align with the kind of work they did. 

Since posting this, I have spoken to many other people, including students who are in Stanford's political science PhD program, my graduate school counselor, and a professor of political science at a major research university.  All of them have told me that getting another Masters would be a complete waste of time, and that there are other ways I can boost my profile without having to incur even more debt for a degree whose probability of getting me into a good program is somewhere close to zero.  

Additionally, I don't want to work in public policy; applied work is not of any interest to me.  I want to teach and do research in academia.  Accordingly, I will not be pursuing a PhD in public policy, nor will I be getting my masters.  

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