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How do five possible grad schools compare?
March 13, 2012 5:03 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to choose a school for a PhD in Political Science. How do these compare? The University of Toronto, the University of British Columbia, the University of California at Santa Barbara, McGill University, and the University of Michigan?

I have a BA in International Relations and Political Science from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and an M.Phil in International Relations from Oxford.

Now, I am considering doing a PhD in Political Science.

I have been accepted by the University of Toronto; UBC; and the University of California, Santa Barbara. I am still waiting to hear from the University of Michigan and McGill.

How do these five schools compare in terms of overall reputation? How would a degree from each affect my chances of getting an academic job?

If anyone is familiar with the PoliSci PhD process at any of these schools, I would appreciate your thoughts on that as well.
posted by sindark to Education (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
It pains me to say this, but Michigan is very, very good - it immediately jumps out to me as the best of the listed schools, though I don't know much about the Canadian side of the poli sci world. Dumb question - why UCSB in particular? Several other UCs are ranked much higher in every study/report I've seen, and their professors show up a lot more in the journals I read and conferences I follow. Anyway, UCSB stands out as being completely bleh to me.

(I speak as a poli sci BA holder who pays way too much attention to such things, and not as someone with mysteriously exclusive information. I graduated from Ohio State, hence the "glrgh, Michigan" thing. In my particular area of political science, however, at least in the year I graduated, we ranked rather higher than they did. Neener neener, go Bucks.)
posted by SMPA at 5:21 PM on March 13, 2012


IANIYF (I am not in your field), but all the advice I got from my Profs during my PhD application process was that doing undergrad and graduate work (especially the PhD) at the same institution is not the greatest option, if you can avoid it. Because your M.Phil is from another school, this ick factor might be mitigated a bit, but I would assume that, if only for the purposes of networking and general expanding-your-academic-and-professional-horizons-ness, UBC is probably not your strongest option.
I've also heard rumours that a PhD from an American University will make you more employable than a PhD from a Canadian institution (if your ultimate goal is to get a job in academe), but I don't know how true that is (sounds like a typical Canadian inferiority complex to me), and whatever truth there is to it likely varies greatly among disciplines and fields.......

So all in all, this was not a very helpful answer, sorry.


But Congratulations on your success!
posted by Dorinda at 5:23 PM on March 13, 2012


I have always been under the impression that you should base such a decision on your expected thesis. Who would you want to study under? Pick them.
posted by politikitty at 5:26 PM on March 13, 2012


I always thought people were supposed to choose grad schools purely on $ and professors. Is there anyone in particular you really really want to work with at any of the schools?

You should try to find a mentor...or mentor stand-in. Ask an old professor for help. Connect with someone who you "want to be when you grow up" and see what they think. People generally love to give advice if it involves themselves/their own experiences (see: ask metafilter!) I'd trust those type of folks over everyone.

Also echoing the thing about not going to the same place where you went to undergrad. It seems to be looked down upon.

Michigan is supposed to be great. But I am not a political scientist. Good luck and congrats on all of the acceptances!
posted by manicure12 at 5:37 PM on March 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Given that the schools you've listed are not wildly different in overall reputation, the best answer is: go to the one that is offering full financial support. If there are multiple such schools, then choose between those. I don't know enough about the field of Political Science to know whether free rides are standard in the field like they are in the natural sciences; if they are, bully for you and listen to the other advice in this thread instead.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:47 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a PhD from UCSB, although not in PS. I do know a lot of people in PS. My department used to be on the floor above PS and I had some friends there.

- First, no matter what, choose the program that is the best match for your research interests and has the best potential advisor for you. And that advisor should be nice, appropriate for your topic, and well-networked.

- Then the program that is most likely to get you a job. What's the placement rate of each department?

- Second, money. What program is giving you the best package?

- Santa Barbara is INCREDIBLY expensive. I can count on 1 hand the number of grad students who can live on the grad stipend alone. A room in a shared apartment is about $1000. The stipend is $1600/month. There is rarely summer funding (that I know of... none of the PS grads I've known have had summer funding.). You do the math. For all of these programs, you really need to figure out what the real deal is with cost of living.

- The poli sci department at UCSB does not fund their first year students (to the best of my knowledge). After the second year everyone gets a TA or an RAship. As I recall, this was problematic for many people. If you're not a U.S. citizen, you won't be eligible for American student loans.

Hope this is helpful. Memail me or reply in here if I can answer more.
posted by k8t at 6:19 PM on March 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


@SMPA, those rankings are helpful for the overall reputation of a program, but it is pretty individual-advisor-based. IMHO, if you can get a combo of good advisor and well regarded program, that's the best... but the good advisor is more important if you're going to stay in the discipline.

(And for me, UCSB is a big name in my field, but the average person doesn't know it. It hurt me a bit when going for consulting gigs...)
posted by k8t at 6:46 PM on March 13, 2012


I know UCSB (I have relatives who went there, and Santa Cruz), it's just not a name in poli sci (that I know of.) I bet this will matter more if you end up outside of the "oh, you worked with Bob, I love Bob" academic world, sindark.

And my goodness do not pick Santa Barbara for the weather. You will never get to enjoy it - being poor in California is not fun, no matter how close to the beach you live. In fact, it's significantly harder the closer you are to the beach, because it's much more expensive to live there.
posted by SMPA at 7:08 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I do political science but not IR.

If you want to do more or less standard IR -- social science with usually a quantitative bent -- then Michigan, if you get in. The others are too distant to even think about in that case. If you don't get in at Michigan, then either UCSB or McGill; I can't help you between those. Both seem to do more or less normal political science in the US/UK social-science mode. I'd suggest not UBC as you've already got a degree from there and there's no pressing reason to get a PhD there too. If you want to do more or less standard quantitative political science, Toronto would be among the very worst choices you could make.

If you want to do political philosophy related to IR, I can't help you. Toronto might be viable there. Be aware that even from tip-top departments, the job market in political theory will be murderously difficult.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:30 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Toronto is the most famous IR place in Canada - and all round a stronger research university than McGill (you would notice this in library holdings, other generic resources).
posted by jb at 8:40 PM on March 13, 2012


- First, no matter what, choose the program that is the best match for your research interests and has the best potential advisor for you. And that advisor should be nice, appropriate for your topic, and well-networked.

- Then the program that is most likely to get you a job. What's the placement rate of each department?

- Second, money. What program is giving you the best package?


This is the only information that matters, and you will not find the answers, especially about the research match, in this thread.
posted by Kwine at 11:23 PM on March 13, 2012


Toronto is the most famous IR place in Canada - and all round a stronger research university than McGill (you would notice this in library holdings, other generic resources).

It's a deeply weird place. The depth of its refusal to deal with, or train in, quantitative methods makes me worry that sindark would find it hard to receive training that would make him competitive in a broad job search (ie, not limited to just the few Canadian schools). I know they have been trying to change this, but I don't know how successful they've been.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:01 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Several people asked for more information on what I want to study.

There are two sides to my proposed research project. First, I want to look into the normative politics of climate change (see work by Henry Shue, Stephen Gardiner, Simon Caney, etc). I don't think mainstream political philosophy or political theory has done much to integrate what we now know about climate change yet. Second, I want to do empirical work on the climate change activist movement - what motivates them, what strategies are working for them, etc.

Thanks a lot for all the suggestions and information.
posted by sindark at 10:59 AM on March 16, 2012


If you're trying to do theory or theory-and-theoryish-comparative, I have no idea what would be best for you. Anything to do with theory means your market on exit is likely to be be severely limited and the competition for the relatively few available jobs is likely to be heartbreakingly awful.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:28 AM on March 20, 2012


The normative side is more essential background for the practical parts of the thesis than a research project in and of itself.

I can send my thesis outline to anyone who is interested.
posted by sindark at 9:43 AM on March 23, 2012


Michigan said no, so I have decided on the University of Toronto.

Thank you to everyone who provided advice above.
posted by sindark at 2:40 PM on March 23, 2012


In case anyone is curious about his it all played out, my results are at:

http://www.sindark.com/2012/04/20/graduate-school-responses/

Thank you very much for the suggestions, everyone. I think the input from AskMe definitely helped me choose the best program.
posted by sindark at 7:46 AM on April 24, 2012


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