Help my friend get into a Canadian political science PhD program on his second try.
July 5, 2009 1:25 PM   Subscribe

Help my friend get into a Canadian political science PhD program on his second try.

[Some preamble notes from me to ensure that advice isn't too US-centric:
-Because we're talking about Canada, do keep in mind that doctoral social science programs (except for psych) here don't normally admit directly from undergrad, so it's normal for even strong applicants to specifically enroll in a Master's program first.
-Also, GRE scores aren't considered in admissions decisions for applicants with Canadian degrees.]

From my friend:
I'm soliciting some general advice on my current PhD situation. This year I applied for four political science programs here in Ontario. I was placed at the top of the waitlist for one (the waitlist was never used due to high yield) and rejected from the remaining three.

My master’s marks were stellar (top 3 out of our program of 40 people) and my recommendations were strong and from professors established in their fields. On the negative side, I did a master’s research paper instead of a full thesis, lacked research assistanceships, and had a couple crappy senior undergrad marks. Nothing critical, but definite disadvantages (and unchangeable at this point).

So I suppose I’m looking for general advice on how to approach re-applying next year. I am definitely set on doing a PhD, and my research directly fits in with a professor’s current project at the university that waitlisted me. However, I am not very clear on what would dramatically improve my qualifications (I’ve heard taking more classes or attempting to secure a non-student RA, though I’m skeptical of how good a use of time those efforts would be). Currently I’m relying on the fact that I have more breathing room to prepare my applications for next year (it was hectic last time), as well as to complete a writing submission that’s directly related to my research area [political economy].

Tips are welcome. Program budgets are going to be pretty crappy for the foreseeable future so I’d like to nail this next year.
posted by thisjax to Education (6 answers total)
Is your friend actively emailing/talking to potential supervisors in these programs? If not, he needs to do so. (It's basically how I got into my Ph.D of the professors got interested enough to even give me a couple of pointers for my application and then pulled it out of the pile when it arrived.)
posted by meerkatty at 1:40 PM on July 5, 2009

I'm not aware of any Canadian PS faculty on MeFi, but can give an American perspective. Has your friend thought about casting a wider net? In academia, it's generally an ill-advised plan to pick geography over program quality (and I would argue, not a great plan to pick a PhD program based upon a single faculty member). If your GRE's and your grades are good, why not apply to many programs, US and Canadian, next year? I do think three is a fairly low number of applications. After a certain level of quality control, who gets into what highly prestigious program and who doesn't is nearly random.
posted by B-squared at 2:44 PM on July 5, 2009

My first piece of advice was also going to be: next year, don't just apply to 4 departments. I would suggest that 10 is a minimum for a serious search, and that 20-40 is realistic. Googling around, it looks like there are in the ballpark of 15 PhD-granting political science departments in Canada. If you are at all serious about entering the field, you should apply to every department in the country, except for any you know to be so weak as to have their degree be useless. At a bare minimum.

The next depends on what you mean by "political economy." To most people in the field, it's going to mean "a generally quantitative study of how markets and governments interact, often in cross-national time series." To a relatively small subset of the field, though, it might mean something along the lines of "doing political theory or political philosophy that relates to Marxist or post-Marxist thinkers and what they had to say about political economy."

If you mean the first, then you're in a highly internationalized field and unless you have a really pressing reason not to look outside the relatively few departments in Canada, you should also apply abroad. Especially to departments in the US and any OECD countries you might be a dual national with. I've known a few Canadians who've come to the US for a PhD and gone back to Canada to teach.

If you mean the second, quit now. A PhD related to political theory or philosophy is not worth doing unless you are freakishly genius and people are falling all over themselves to try to get you to enter their program.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:57 PM on July 5, 2009

Nth-ing not to only apply in Ontario. PhD programs like some geographical diversity among their entrants. You'll get in somewhere- I can tell you that in sociology the challenge is getting into the MA program. We just rejected about 75% of MA applicants in mine but admitted about 75% of PhD applicants. It was an odd year and the differences aren't always as extreme as this, but if you have the MA you should have less difficulty getting into a PhD program somewhere.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 4:58 PM on July 5, 2009

PhD programs like some geographical diversity among their entrants. You'll get in somewhere

I've been associated with several PhD-granting departments in political science and know lots of people in lots of others, admittedly almost entirely in the US. I have never, ever heard of PhD admissions taking the slightest notice of geographical diversity.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:30 PM on July 5, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions, everyone.

As a belated follow-up, my friend was beginning to implement some of these ideas in preparation for this year's round of applications. However, he got a call from his waitlisted school yesterday in which they offered him a fully funded spot in the program for this fall!
posted by thisjax at 7:58 AM on September 1, 2009

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