How to Choose Graduate Schools

by Erik Voeten on March 8, 2012 · 25 comments

in Academia

It is that time of the year again when undergraduates interested in a career in political science have to choose between PhD programs. I know from e-mails that The Monkey Cage is widely read among these students. I thought it would be nice to use our collective wisdom here to provide some advice, presuming that they have already made up their minds to spend the best years of their lives withering away in libraries and computer labs doing poli-sci research.

Below are a couple of pointers I tend to give.

  • Choose a program not a professor. Professors move, turn out to be less interesting or friendly than you thought, may not be interested in you, or you may change your mind about what you want to work on.
  • Distinguish between costly signaling and cheap talk during the wooing period. Sending e-mails is cheap, offering a research assistant ship is a real commitment by a prof. Don’t pay too much attention at how nice the faculty are at open days or how well these are organized. I have overheard students complain about minor things, like favoring the open day at one program over another because they had laminated name tags. Some schools are simply better organized at this stuff but they may not necessarily offer a better program. Talk to current students, they can tell.
  • Examine methods training. Methods are the hardest thing to learn by yourself and thus one of the most valuable things to learn during grad school.
  • Think carefully about where you want to live. This is six years of your life!

There are many other ones (like ask about placement, look at faculty student collaborations) but I would like to turn it over to the collective wisdom of Monkey Cagers.

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