Via the rumor blog, I discovered The Grad Cafe, a website aimed at potential grad students in a variety of fields. For the potential political scientists in the audience, I found this post by “realist” and a reply by “eve2008” to be particularly of interest and largely congruent with my battle-tested views on the subject. (Reality is harsh. Deal with it.)
In terms of graduate admissions, I particularly would emphasize the importance of strong training in research methods at the undergraduate level—if your BA program doesn’t require a rigorous methods course (and many top departments don’t), take it anyway or if unavailable go to another department and take their equivalent course (e.g. econometrics, stats for psych/sociology/marketing). I’d also argue that some experience writing a real research paper either in a course or as a capstone/honors thesis is important. Even with weak GREs and a less-than-stellar GPA, those two would be enough to get into an MA program where you can prove yourself “worthy” of admission to get a placeable PhD.
For the morbidly curious, I believe the tenure-track placement record for my PhD program in the last seven years or so is 2 state school BA/MA/MPA programs (both for fall 2008, one of which is me), 2 state school BA programs (fall 01 and fall 04?), and 1 private BA program (fall 06). Our MA graduate who went on to another PhD program placed in a PhD program (fall 07). Not bad for a low-ranked program, overall.
Michelle Dion shares some of the advice she gives students who come into her office who want to go to grad school, advice I am generally concur with. Would that anyone gave me similar advice when I was in college—not that I asked many people for it, which may have been part of the problem…
Update: See also Part II of the same.
Brian Weatherson has some advice that is contrary to the conventional wisdom for his readers. Color me deeply skeptical.
þ: James Joyner, who aptly summarizes Weatherson’s argument thusly:
Go to grad school if you can get a free ride to a top ten institution or if you don’t mind being relegated to the backwaters of academia teaching dull students or don’t mind losing ten years of earning potential before going into another line of work.
Since none of those three really apply to me (except possibly #3), I think we can safely say I am an idiot. Frankly, if I weren’t really good* at teaching a class (research methods) that most political scientists hate to teach with an unrivalled passion†, I’d have no career.
* By “really good,” I mean “not as horribly as 99% of other professors.” I freely admit that I could be better.
† The reasons are two-fold: people who teach methods typically get terrible student evaluations, particularly at schools where methods is a requirement for the major, and teaching methods is typically harder work than sitting around talking about one’s own “substantive” research interests or spewing out the intro outline for the 17th time.