Advice for New Poli-Sci Graduate Students

I am a PhD candidate at Wayne State University, majoring in American Politics. My dissertation is on “republicanism” in America, specifically as a response to 9/11 and the USA Patriot Act.

I’ve come a long way. I started the PhD program with zero graduate poli-sci credits in 2009. With a B.A. in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy, and a Master of Arts in Teaching, I quickly understood that September that I didn’t know hardly anything about political science. Like thinking I could swim when I joined the high school swim team–and practically drowning; I am mentally in shape now like I was physically my senior year during the championship races (MAC Champs).

So what would I tell new graduate students of political science? Here’s my list:

1.  start a “private” blog to record your analysis of each and every article you read. Title it with the author, year, and the name of the article. In the body, (A) write “the problem” the paper / book addressed. Be sure to include a sentence about previous authors / contributions. (B) write the author’s theory / hypothesis / what they think they will find to solve the problem. (C) write about the evidence / implications / summary. (D) write down your personal alternative explanations. (E) write down your new hypothesis. This must take up about 10 percent of your time. No one can remember everything they read–or thought–without bias. This process will tremendously aid you when it’s time for comprehensive exams.


2.  Get involved in the program’s student programs. Like, after attending every open meeting (and social events), I was asked to fill the position of social chair for the Political Science Graduate Student Organization (PSGSO). Really, it was nice to get about 30 cohorts to a Detroit Tiger’s baseball game.


3.  When involved, create new mechanisms / organizations to further your own career. For example, in PSGSO, I helped to create and maintain a Blackboard PSGSO site for all graduate students. I attempted to design a project to facilitate research between students and students, and professors and students. Further, as an American major, I organized an “American Publishing Group” for graduate students to collaborate on projects geared specifically towards publishing. These connections are important to develop your career as a researcher.


4.  Go to all of your professors office hours, but focus on one each semester. You won’t have time to read a lot of extra material, but you should make it your business to read one of your teacher’s C.V. (and I mean read what’s on that C.V). In my experience, many professors have projects in-line for just the right graduate student. If you happen to be that graduate student–because your talked to the prof. in detail about his or her research–the opportunity you discovered through reading about that specific professor and coming up with alternative explanations and new hypothesis; then you will be much better off. Of course, during any given semester, you may not be thrilled with any of your classes, and only one of your three profs might be known for working with graduate students. Then, it’s a no-brainer. Remember to write summaries of their works in your private blog too.


5.  Two years before you graduate, you must begin to connect with the field. Create a public blog. Use your private blog to keep it going. Use posts to connect with the field. Like, every time I wrote a “poem” about an author (i.e., a canon)–I would email the original author the link to my creative re-analysis (which usually included my alternative explanations and new hypothesis). More often than not, the most well-known, well-respected scholars in the field would get back to me. Sometimes, I was absolutely floored by their responses. Really, a legend wrote me back that he printed out the poem and posted it outside his office door.


6.  Now, since you became so involved by your third year in the program, you should begin to attend as many conferences a year as possible. Try writing conference papers for your major and minor areas of study. At this point, you should begin to organize outlines for possible dissertations.


7.  Stay ahead of schedule by one week. This will give you time to process the material before class. To accomplish this, see about getting the syllabus at your earliest convenience (i.e., your first email to the teacher). Read the main books before the semester begins, if and when possible. This will also free up your time when midterms and other junctures would normally cause you to drop readings from your workload.


8.  If a graduate student, you should to subscribe to narrowly-tailored journals and get involved. One way to do so is to “volunteer” to review a book. In this way, I reviewed the book Understanding Revolution.


9.  Use Interfolio, or something like it, to organize your job material stuff.


10.  Follow your heart.


Well, good luck. By the way, for my blog, I use WordPress (free version).


6 thoughts on “Advice for New Poli-Sci Graduate Students

  1. Advice to graduate students:

    Do not listen to John. He had his dissertation research rejected by large regional conference with highest acceptance rating.

  2. you know, “if you don’t make it–you’re a failure”… this is a classic liberal response!

    Good thing I’m a “republican” and feel it this way–if you don’t make it, keep at it–if it’s efficacious and worthwhile activity–and you’ll get there. Remember, Olson has a draft of his dissertation blasted by his committee, and he almost had to redo everything the way “they” wanted it… and hence we wouldn’t have Olson’s “transactions.” I hear that when MPSA asked Distinguished Prof. Abbott what he thought about my article–he said it should be there! And he is a distinguished professor!!!

    More importantly, I don’t see how you correlate an MPSA rejection with “all John’s ideas must therefore be terrible.” You see, you said nothing of the content in the post–nothing. That’s “no reason” (quite literally) for not taking my advice.

  3. just sayin, here’s a “response” about “comments” as a blogger. In essence, comments based on antipathy, ill-will, and spite engage “closure” in the field of political science (call this “negative closure”), because countless academics find it inefficient to take time to respond open up their “ideas” to, what is essentially, unhelpful transactions.

    More than that, I believe that I would not read another blog (spend my time) sprinkled with antipathy, ill-will, and spite, etc. Hence, I certainly don’t want to spend a lot of time “deleting” comments for my readers. The result is that some political scientists who could blog–who I would follow–keep collaboration to WikiSpaces, excluding a general audience.

    Now I take comments at face value, so my threshold for antipathy, spite, etc. is quite high. But I have been told by a well-known (in the field) prof. at Wayne that Many Sighs comments are cantankerous. And, for this reason–this is the reason this prof. doesn’t have a blog. Hence, I have taken the time above to reply to Many Sighs comments at face value, because I strongly favor “open deliberation” as a “republican.”

    As for Many Sighs, I honestly don’t know who you are, I am not affiliated with you, and I ask that–since I believe you are a political scientist–that you don’t harm the field to which you belong. I have never deleted your comments, and I hope that my replies as “open deliberation” will not succumb to demagoguery.

    Thanks to everyone, especially Many Sighs, for giving more to think about–and write about–open deliberation in the field of political science.

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