View Full Version : all things graduate school.....

Feb. 23, 2013, 06:22 PM
seriously. ALL things. ALL things you can add, suggest, warn, endorse, caution? ALL things. :lol:
DD is thrilled to be accepted to 3 great PhD programs, full funding....awaiting 3 more answers and on 2 waitlists......

SO...there is such little time between now and final acceptance date of Apr 15. So, bring it, guys. Help us know WHAT is important, WHEN, HOW, etc, etc!

Feb. 23, 2013, 06:32 PM
make sure she likes her advisor. That is THE most important thing.

Also a word about funding if this is a science-based program:

Even if the student has funding for tuition and a steipend (such as a fellowship) that does not mean there is money for supplies, chemicals, animals, etc. I would not join a lab for 4-5 years that did not just get an R01 grant for a project. Its too tough out there now. I did a MS and my lab lost funding half way though and I had to piece together jobs to stay around. I've been in research for 10 yrs now. Its gotten a lot worse. Hard to find a job after too, PhDs are a dime a dozen in some programs.

Feb. 23, 2013, 06:38 PM
thanks so much! Senden, what a hard road that must be / been to scramble to cover! (ugh) ....No, its not science based. Its Political Science / IR. but, STILL...understanding funding and its pitfalls is huge, so thanks for that heads up....Yeah, she loves academia, and its what she wants, but...SCAREY.

Feb. 23, 2013, 07:00 PM
I'm a current grad student (in a STEM field, though) and I will second the importance of getting along with your adviser. That doesn't mean he/she has to be your best friend, but if you daughter knows her work style and the type of supervisor she works best under, she should be sure that she ends up with someone who will be a good match for her.

Its also important to consider cost of living when comparing the funding offers. While I ultimately chose my program based on the fact that it was the best fit for me, it is very nice that my stipend allows me to live comfortably in the college town my program is in, whereas if I'd accepted the same financial offer at another school in a very large city, I would have struggled much more financially.

Also, if she can talk to current grad students (preferably when professors and other supervisory types are not around) about what the school, program, advisers, life in the city/town is like that will give her the best information about what being a grad student there will actually be like and provide her with a few friendly and familiar faces in the department wherever she decides to go.

Feb. 23, 2013, 07:26 PM
Get along with your adviser and talk to current students- not faculty, and not students getting paid to talk up the program- about what it's like to be working within the program and what their classmates are looking at in terms of jobs.

I did half a Masters (stopped mid-way through for job market reasons, not related to the program, just life choices) and the school I attended told students "among our students who apply to them, we have a 100% acceptance rate to PhD programs." And as it turns out, that was not actually true... which the students knew, and would tell you if you asked. ;) It's also worth finding out about student perception of core faculty. "He's a brilliant man and you will work your ass off for a B+ but you have to go to his office hours because he is phenomenal 1 on 1 but doesn't know how to teach a class" is really good to know. "Eh, she's an easy grader, you barely have to show up" is also good to know, but for other reasons.

Feb. 23, 2013, 07:45 PM
Visit each school. Talk to students and professors. How much do you like the actual program. The town etc..

I picked my graduate school b/c I felt really comfortable with the people I met, loved the area, but mostly b/c the actual courses they offered. Other places seemed to have generic classes (abnormal psychology etc) but the school I picked had those classes as well as specific ones (gestalt therapy) that other schools did not offer.

Check things out!

Feb. 23, 2013, 08:05 PM
Visiting each program is a MUST! She will know which program is the right one when she gets there. I did everything by the book choosing my grad program (applying to a variety of level schools and programs, visiting, making pro/con lists, etc) until the final decision - then I just went with the one that felt right :lol: It ended up being the right decision. Its been tough, I definitely didn't have the student/advisor relationship that I was looking for or thought I needed, but I learned so much more in the process than I ever expected. I'm almost finished - just final dissertation defense left in a few weeks - and I'm really starting to reflect on the experience of grad school and how I've grown and changed as a person from the experience.

Feb. 23, 2013, 08:36 PM
I woud tend to disagree about "liking" your advisor being the most important thing. Obviously you don't want an advisor you can't stand, or vice versa, but that isn't the most important thing.

It is also important that your advisor be TOUGH, at least as tough as the other professors likely to be on your committee.

I ended up ABD because my advisor was too nice, and not tough enough.

Feb. 23, 2013, 09:06 PM
thanks SO much to all of you! This is why I wish we had OT days on a regular basis...I know there is heartfelt knowledge and experience here I can count on!

Feb. 23, 2013, 11:07 PM
Definitely visit and be sure to talk to grad students other than the ones they pick for you to talk to. Also try to talk to people that are at different points in their education.

Make sure there are at least 2-3 people that you might want to work with based on their research. I know people who went someplace to work for a particular person and were disillusioned when they hated the person or the person was leaving or the person simply didn't have room in their lab.

Don't work for someone who isn't tenured unless they are not likely to come up for tenure before you're finished. Sometimes you get an amazing new opportunity when you move with a prof. Sometimes the prof leaves academia and you are stuck on your own or have to pick someone else. In general you are going to work harder if your major prof doesn't have tenure.

You don't have to love your advisor, but you do have to respect them. It is also handy if they will stand up to you.

I don't know if this is still an issue all these years later, but when I started grad school in chemistry back in 1977, women were leaving grad school in science at significantly higher rates than men (anectdotal evidence). My incoming class at Brown was half women which doubled the number of women in the department. They did this on purpose figuring they needed a critical mass. When I was a post-doc at UCLA they had a lot of women leaving until they created a support group. I realize that 1977 was a long time ago, but it would probably be a good idea to get the vibe of the place with respect to how women are treated.

Feb. 23, 2013, 11:51 PM
Your daughter needs to figure out the money part. How many years does it take on average to complete a PhD in that department? How many years of funding does her acceptance letter guarantee?

The other huge question is about placement rates for their PhDs. Can't believe none of the academic types have posted about this yet! How many of their graduating PhDs have tenure track jobs? How many have been in lectureships or visiting positions or in postdocs, and for how long?

It may be hard to get this information, as many departments don't keep this data. But it is hugely important for the grad student. After all, a PhD is a professional degree and an investment. If the return sucks, you need to know that going in.

Oh, and it remains primarily the responsibility of the grad student to make sure she is getting the education she came for, whether that's teaching opportunities, a chance to work with this or that person, to develop her own research program. These will look different in the humanities and sciences, but the need for taking things by the balls remains the same. The student who doesn't do this-- who looks back to her undergraduate experience for a guide-- is missing a crucial component of this kind of education.

Feb. 24, 2013, 12:03 AM
One thing I would add is to talk to people who are currently working with the supervisor she will be working with. Do they seem happy? Stressed? Listen for the things they don't say, too. That's the best indication of how fair a Prof is. On the other hand, if they seem too relaxed, that may be a bad indication too!

Feb. 24, 2013, 07:47 AM
Oh yes - can't believe I didn't post about job placement rates - that is of course important!

In your daughter's field, I am not sure if this is as important, but for me it was important to be in a program where non-academic jobs options are considered equally as valid as academic ones after graduation. It is not uncommon for people in my field to take jobs with government or environmental organizations or in various types of industry. Given the current state of the job market in general and the academic jobs market in particular, I wanted to be somewhere that I felt would help me maximize my options of getting a job in my field.

Feb. 24, 2013, 08:15 AM
Wow, congratulations to your daughter! Where is she thinking of going? You can PM me if you want. I got my Master's at Georgetown, had a roommate who was at Johns Hopkins SAIS, and dated a Harvard Kennedy School professor all at the same time, so I know a little about those schools. Wherever she goes, international relations is a close knit community. I wouldn't worry about jobs. I ended up in law school after a stint as a Foreign Service Officer but have regrets that I didn't stick with international relations. I'm vicariously thrilled :D

Feb. 24, 2013, 08:30 AM
Wanted to add this: from what I've heard from people going to grad school in science fields, political science/international relations is quite different. I graduated in 1981 (I'm ancient :o ), and at least back then the academic community was super supportive, none of the cutthroat stories I hear from the science world. And a lot is going to depend on what direction she wants to goes - that is, what specialty. If she knows that already, perhaps she can find out more about potential advisors at the schools she's considering - not just their credentials but how they treat students. A good mentor can make you :)

Skip's Rider
Feb. 24, 2013, 08:47 AM
I can only speak for science fields. Graduate school is far different than undergraduate programs. Grad students are expected to be present (at the lab, in the office) even when you're not in class. They will be helping others in the lab, learning techniques, reading research papers, etc. These interactions are a huge part of the learning process. It's far more than going to class and taking tests. Good luck to your DD!

Feb. 24, 2013, 10:38 AM
In light of this discussion (http://www.chronofhorse.com/forum/showthread.php?394566-Spin-off-from-grades-Ever-have-yo-mamma-call-your-college&p=6855090#post6855090) I think it needs to be pointed out that she needs to do the visiting ;)

Feb. 24, 2013, 10:57 AM
I wish I had Peggy's advice when I started. My advisor had a mid life crisis and was not tenured. There wasn't anyone else in the area I was interested in.

I ended up leaving with a Masters instead of sticking it out. Which actually has served me really well and it was nice that it was fully funded as that's hard to do on a Masters. So, my advice would be to see if the program grants a Masters half way through in case she figures out she changes her mind. I looked at the PhD job placements vs master's and prefered the jobs people were getting with Masters.

I didn't do any visits just talked to people on the phone as I did my undergrad overseas. I can't say any of this was a mistake though because I love where it brought me.

Good luck

Feb. 24, 2013, 02:17 PM
Sounds like we've heard a lot from the science PhDs, so here's a perspective from a humanities PhD. Keep in mind that I'm extremely happy with my graduate program and my advisor, I have every reason to be optimistic about the job market because I'm in a tiny niche of the humanities that's in high demand (digital composition/digital humanities). My advisor is a big deal in her field, so programs are very interested in employing her proteges. I'm fully funded and on schedule to graduate before my funding runs out, my advisor takes every opportunity to find her graduate students additional opportunities to enrich our scholarship and employability while fattening our wallet. I'm just generally happy as a clam. I wake up every morning feeling thrilled with my decision to pursue a PhD. I am the best case scenario.

Now, all that said. Your daughter needs to be extremely careful not to let passion overtake reason at this stage of her process. Frankly, a lot of prospective PhDs at her stage behave like naive brides who are marrying total jerks: they can't see the bigger picture because they're so entranced with planning the wedding. Let's face it, it's fun when PhD programs tell you that you're wanted and pump you full of free food, subsidized campus visits full of receptions and meetings at which you're celebrated, etc. But I can't tell you how many humanities graduate students I know who would say, "I truly believed I was doing the right thing by getting a PhD, and I thought I'd picked the right program. There was nothing else I could imagine doing every day for the rest of my life, except this. I believed that passion and going to the best program I was admitted to would be enough. I believed that I'd been given good, objective information about my programs. I was dead wrong, and now I've wasted years of my life and am scared to death of the job market." Many of them are two or three years into the program before they realize the magnitude of their mistake. Don't let this be your daughter.

Tell your daughter to read this blog post. Again, I am happy as a clam and will do my best to tell her how I achieved that in the rest of this post, but first let her take in this sobering fact: I could hand this blog post to 75% or 80% of my humanities PhD friends, including in poli sci, and they'd say, "Yeah, this is largely accurate."

Then tell her to read the comments, which will prove that it's not just written by one exceptionally bitter cuss of a student.

Okay, now that I've terrified you and your daughter, let's talk about how to leverage this (extremely important) period to ensure that she ends up in the right program, with the right advisors and job prospects, etc. Start with Peggy's advice, which was very good.

Then, get her this book ASAP and insist that she read all of it.

Tell her to even read the chapters that don't seem to apply to her--for example, the ones about the graduate application process (she may have already made some missteps and she's got time to correct them if she knows what they are), writing the dissertation, going on the job market, etc. She needs to see the whole picture now so that she can ask the right questions of prospective programs and advisors. The book is written for PhDs in all sorts of fields, but the advice is very solid.

Next, she needs to become familiar with the state of the job market in her field, which will prepare her to ask the right questions to graduate programs. I'm guessing that in Poli Sci, APSA is the big-shot job market placement engine. Tell her to read the Placement reports here. Whether she wants to go into academia or into government/industry, these will give her some perspective on what her classmates do and her relative odds of getting any particular kind of position with a Poli Sci PhD.

Now some personal advice about how to succeed in graduate admissions.

Graduate admissions is almost nothing like undergraduate admissions. As an undergrad, you simply choose the best and most reputable school to which you are admitted. In graduate admissions, you have to balance the quality of the program and your relationship with your advisor.

You do need a highly reputable program, but more specifically, you need a highly reputable program in your particular sub-field of interest. For example, in the PhD in Literature, Harvard is the almost-undisputed king of American literature from the colonial era to present. But it doesn't even crack the top 5 for literary theory; it's very good in that area, but it's not world-beater good. Your daughter needs to find out where these programs are strong and weak in very specific terms. This REALLY matters for her future job prospects, inside and outside of academia.

Proof that I'm not making this up and that it applies to Poli Sci too:

Again, tell her to read the blog comments too.

If she's not looking at elite programs, she needs to ask herself if it's even worth her while to get the PhD. That's not a question that I can't answer for her because I don't know her field well enough. In some niche sub-specialties, it doesn't matter what program you attended and/or you can leverage a great career even if you didn't go to a "top program." And if she's going into industry/corporate/government/whatever besides tenure-track academia, there may be certain programs that will prepare her better for that than others.

She needs to figure out how this all works in her field, pronto, preferably from people who have no incentive to lie to her. The programs to which she's admitted will paint a very rosy picture regardless of whether they should or not. If she has undergraduate and/or MA-level advisors in the field who already know her well, or she's connected in government/non-profit/etc. as many poli sci candidates are due to a history of jobs and internships, then those are the folks who are most likely to give her objective feedback.

Next, she needs to identify some great advisors at these great programs. I know way too many grad students who chose a program without regard to their potential advisors, and now they range from "utterly miserable" to "forced to figure out a lot of things on their own" to "muddling along but wishing they'd gone to Program B to work with Advisor Y instead." Under no circumstances would I have accepted a PhD program offer without meeting one-on-one with my prospective dissertation chair/advisor. Because of my advisor, graduate school has been a pleasure; I do work very hard, but she's made sure I can see all the possible stumbling blocks on the horizon and can maneuver around them.

It's not just about picking someone who's prestigious in the field, although that's useful. It's also not just about academic rank, although generally speaking, you are better off choosing someone who's at least an Associate Prof and preferably already has tenure. (Both because this suggests power/clout in the field and it means they've been around for awhile, which means they've already honed their graduate advising skills on other victims.) But it's also about picking someone with whom you get along well, and you wouldn't believe how many graduate students overlook that element. This is someone you'll spend literally hundreds of hours with over the course of many years. This is someone who's going to give you feedback on your writing, often feedback that you won't like or that might hurt your feelings. This is someone who's going to teach you to do things you don't know how to do, like "How to write scholarly work in this field" or "How to deal with the bureaucracy of ______." You NEED to like and trust this person.

Some characteristics of healthy advisor-grad student relationships:

--they get along as human beings, at a personal or academic level. Your personalities need to click, and they need to "get you" when you talk about your nascent, often muddy ideas.

--the advisor has a track record of getting previous students through the program in a timely manner and placing those students in jobs similar to the one your daughter wants. Acquire this information at all costs. Most good graduate advisors will provide it themselves. You can also ask the department secretary for a list of these students and where they were placed. Be sure to ask for more than just student names + institution or company of placement; ideally you would get their job title and specification of whether their position was tenure-track, postdoc, adjunct/temporary, etc.

If all else fails, figure it out yourself. For example, contact the university's library and get a list of dissertations on which your advisor served as the chair, then Google those people or use Academia.edu to track them down. Or track down just one of their former students and ask that student to name some other names.

--a good advisor should have a plan for getting you out of the program in a timely manner and within your funding constraints. Ask the advisor straight-up if the funding package you've received is sufficient for you to graduate without debt. Ask straight-up if previous advisees have pulled that off. Ask what your options will be if you run out of money. Ask about expectations of what you'll do after graduation--for example, does this advisee's students tend to do a few years of postdoc work, adjunct faculty work, work in industry, etc.? In other words, what takes place in that limbo zone between finishing a dissertation and getting whatever kind of job your daughter dreams of?

--figure out who your "backup advisors" would be if your ideal prospective advisor falls through. Even if you get along famously with your advisor, stuff happens. People die. People get huge grants and decide to go on sabbatical for a year, right before your qualifying exams and/or dissertation, making them less-than-ideal choices for your dissertation chair. People decide to change the direction of their research and are no longer a good fit.

In a perfect world, your daughter can identify at least two backup advisors. There are at least 4 people on a dissertation committee, so even if she never changes advisors, this sort of research is time well spent. If possible, suss out the departmental politics about who gets along with whom. For example, I was delighted to find out that my advisor + my two backup advisors are all very collegial. They're all on my dissertation committee, and now all four of us are on a big project team together. One of my friends is living a nightmare because he switched from his intended advisor to the backup advisor, and those two don't get along, and he's struggling to put together a dissertation committee that suits his work and plays nicely together.

--Speaking of the previous point, check for obvious contingencies: that the advisor is not planning to retire, move institutions, etc. OR if they are planning to do so, they've laid out a clear plan for what will happen to their graduate students. Again, do not assume anything. ASK about this.

--the advisor is supportive of the sort of work you want to do. Ideally, the advisor should work directly in an area that interests you or use similar frameworks/methodologies/etc. If they don't, they should have a clear plan for how they can support your work. Remember, this pre-matriculation period is the last time when you can politely ask, "What can you do for me?" so don't miss the chance.

Now some "assorted other" advice. Forgive me if it's scattered.

--Like someone else said, be sure you understand how far the expressed funding package will go. The current grad students are the best source for such information. Tell your daughter to ask VERY specific questions--for example, in my program, the funding goes a long way because Columbus, Ohio has a low cost of living and the funding is pretty generous (for the humanities, anyway). But for students who don't have SOs and don't want roommates, the standard of living will be a lot lower than those of us with roommates or SOs splitting the bills. So she needs to be specific about the kind of life she's imagining.

Ask the department a lot of questions about whether and how the funding package is guaranteed, if it's guaranteed at all. If the words "contingent upon sufficient progress" or "if funding is available" appear anywhere on her admissions letter, she needs to ask more questions.

--At this stage of the game, don't be afraid to ask to be put in touch with people. Ask to speak to one's prospective advisor via phone. Ask to speak to the vice chair or program chair of the relevant sub-specialty area(s). Ask to speak to other graduate students in the program who are working in areas similar to yours. If she's a really really good candidate, chances are the department already sent these ambassadors after her. But some programs are just lazy on the draw and you have to ask to be put in touch. It's her right and she shouldn't feel shy about it. If anything, it will be perceived positively because she's expressing clear interest in that school's program. Don't wait until the campus visit, both because those visits tend to be a whirlwind/you won't get time to ask everything you want to ask, and because it's pointless to do the campus visit if the phone calls/emails ferret out a major disqualifying issue. That's rare, but it does happen. One of my friends discovered via phone call that her advisor was being headhunted by another institution and was very likely to leave the current program within the year. So if my friend went to that program, she'd need to move 500 miles away in her second or third year--which was a problem for her, for various reasons, and she decided against that program.

--Many folks don't realize that a graduate funding package is negotiable. If a department wants you badly enough and they sense that they're going to lose you to a competitor, they may dig deep and find some extra money. If it comes down to two or three programs and money is a big factor, always email the school with the weaker package and say something like, "I am still very interested in your program, but I may submit my decision close to the deadline. I've received some very enticing financial offers from [name the competing institutions here, and yes you want to specifically name the competitors] and I'm weighing my options." This is a super polite way to say "Can you guys cough up more cash or benefits?" Sometimes they do.

--Teaching slows most PhD students down a lot. Choosing a program that maximizes her time on fellowship, and ideally that only requires her to teach one course per semester when she's not on fellowship, should be a priority. (I say this as someone who loves teaching and whose research is about teaching, but it's a big time commitment and many PhD students find it very stressful.) Also ask about the depth and breadth of her teaching experience: what kind of training will she receive? Will there be faculty or staff mentors to help her with teaching difficulties? What kinds of classes will she be able to teach as a TA or as the head instructor, and what kinds of classes are attractive on the job market?

--Ask about the program's attrition rate, which is different from the placement rate. If you start with 10 PhD students in a cohort and half of them drop out, then suddenly an 80% placement job rate doesn't sound so great--it amounts to 4 out of 10 students. Ask the program point blank what percentage of people leave at the MA stage or at other stages. Any program will have some attrition--people die, people get sick, people realize that a PhD isn't for them and they leave before more damage is done--but if the attrition rate is really high, ferret out the "whys."

Also find out if the program construes the MA as a shameful consolation-prize degree that means "We didn't feel you could actually hack it at the PhD level so we're letting you go with the MA," or if they actually expect lots of candidates to leave at the MA level, or if almost all their MAs go on to complete the PhD. Even if your daughter already has her MA/MPP/whatever, knowing the program's attitude toward the Master's degree is helpful recon. For example, she may be applying to a program with a high PhD attrition rate because candidates peel off and get a Master of Public Policy, then decide to go into industry or go to law school for a JD. That's good to know in advance whether she leaves or not, because even if she stays, she'll want to know to what degree she can count on fellow cohort-mates sticking around in those final stages. Your dissertation reading group, which is typically comprised of other grad students, is an invaluable resource--and obviously if nobody's around to be in it, then you've got a problem.

--I hesitate to say this, but it needs to be said. If she's a woman in academia, she needs to ask a lot of questions about family life in her field regardless of whether and when she plans to have children. In some areas of academia, motherhood is highly stigmatized--and even worse, in some fields, the stigma carries over to "any female academic of a particular age group (go ahead, click this link and read this terrifying article.) (http://chronicle.com/article/The-Academic-Motherhood/64073/)." And worst of all, this stuff is rarely talked about in the open, and certainly not with most female prospective students.

If that's how things are in her field, she needs to figure out early how she's going to navigate that. Again, I'm not saying that it's like that everywhere--but again, even if your daughter doesn't plan to have children anytime soon (or ever), simply being a woman can be stigmatized in some pockets of academia. I'm in a pocket of academia where children are routinely welcomed into the picture, in fact you're even subtly encouraged to consider having children during your dissertation years because there's not a great time to have another kid until your third year review as an assistant prof (roughly 4 years later). Some candidates, of course, are childless and that's just fine too. But the story varies from field to field, program to program, even advisor to advisor.

--Ask about how the program will enrich her CV beyond straight-up coursework, dissertation, and teaching. Ask about things like conference travel funding, any special travel funding for her job market year, special research or administrative opportunities, special partnerships with government/corporate/non-profit entities, etc. The nightmare in this economy is to get a PhD and have basically no prospects for what to do next. Speaking of which, she might consider joining The Versatile PhD or at least poking around on their web site. http://versatilephd.com/about/

--Finally, encourage her to ask the graduate students about their quality of life and particularly about social commitments. I don't know if your daughter is a horse person, but programs vary in their "tolerance" for outside hobbies and big time commitments outside of academia. In my field, which tends to involve a lot of work with computers, almost everybody's got a fun "offline hobby" that helps them unplug. But again, it just depends.

Best of luck to your daughter! It sounds like she's on her way to a bright future.

Feb. 24, 2013, 02:38 PM
I did a 2 year MSW program and then a 5 year Phd in psychology. This might not apply to political science, but for psychology, the orientation and emphasis of the department is vital. Absolutely you must have some faculty member with whom you can work, in an area in which you have interest, or you will hate it (your daughter wil hate it). I had selected my advisor before applying to the school so knew that a) he was there and b) VERY IMPORTANT, that he was takign on new advisees. Your advisor will be the one directing research and so forth so if one can't relate, its a giant hassle.

Ialso considered the area, liked fort collins and the horsey scene, and eventually bought a ski condo in Steamboat which helped a lot!! Having the outside interests actually helped balance the demands of the graduate program.

Feb. 24, 2013, 02:39 PM
The MSW program was largely irrelevant as far as a being similar to a doctoral program. But I would really emphasize the importance of the advisor who is available!

Feb. 24, 2013, 02:58 PM
Look at the dropout rates, the average number of years to PhD completion and where the graduates go after they get a PhD. Also look at the number of hours per week that are required by the program. Check how many students each professor has, and if he or she has time to help each student with research. See how many publications and presentations are completed by the average student in the program. Are the students happy?

My daughter had the choice between a couple of big state universities and a small program at a lesser known school. She realized that the small school had a lot of money, a high PhD completion rate, lots of publications by students, and happy students. She picked the small school and finished the PhD in 4 years. She is now doing a post doc at a big state school that is not very organized.

She should visit each school and really spend time getting to know the students.