Summer institute helps first-gen and minority students apply for political science Ph.D. programs
On Saturday, June 18, the Political Science and International Relations (POIR) Ph.D. program at USC Dornsife hosted the inaugural POIR Predoctoral Summer Institute for First-Generation and Minority Scholars. The institute was designed for first-generation and minority undergraduate, master’s or law students who are thinking about pursuing a Ph.D. in political science or related fields such as sociology, economics or public policy.
Christian Grose, director of the POIR Ph.D. program and associate professor of political science at USC Dornsife, introducing the day’s agenda.
The goal was to bring students from across Southern California together to learn more about these programs and to receive feedback and specific advice on how to craft a successful and competitive application for admission. Five USC Dornsife political science faculty members and six current POIR Ph.D. students were on hand to work directly with institute participants.
There were nearly 100 applications for 25 places at the institute. Given the great demand, organizers are aiming to host again. We spoke with Christian Grose, director of the POIR Ph.D. program and associate professor of political science, about the event.
Laura Paisley: What problem is this event intended to address, and how does it do so?
Christian Grose: One of the “wicked problems” in political science and international relations — and many other social sciences — is creating greater access to graduate school for first-generation and minority students. In political science and international relations at all U.S. universities, there is an increasing diversity of undergraduate students majoring in these fields, but less diversity among graduate students and particularly among tenure-track and tenured professors. There are many first-generation and minority students being taught, but very few doing the teaching and conducting the research.
The POIR predoctoral institute is a first step in increasing the diversity of the applicant pools for the best Ph.D. programs in political science across the country, including our program at USC. The institute brought together undergraduate students from many universities in Southern California. Some of the students who participated have few interactions with faculty at research institutions, and one of the institute’s goals was to create new avenues to learn what it takes to get a Ph.D. and succeed in academia. Other student participants have interactions with research-active faculty but could benefit from additional mentorship and networking with other faculty and students, which the institute also provided.
The institute’s ultimate goal is to increase the pipeline of minority and first-generation Ph.D. students and professors. Secondarily, we hope the institute will create an increase in the diversity of the applicant pool for the POIR and other Ph.D. programs at USC. The USC Graduate School generously offered to waive the application fees of any of the students who participated in the institute as part of USC’s new Graduate Initiative for Diversity, Inclusion and Access.
The POIR Ph.D. student panel talks to institute participants while Christian Grose moderates.
LP: What advantage(s) come from earning a Ph.D. in political science and international relations compared to a bachelors or masters?
CG: A Ph.D. in political science and international relations prepares students to enter academia as professors. The Ph.D. is required in order to conduct research and teach in political science and international relations. Many first-generation undergraduate students are passionate about research and excel in the classroom but are not aware of how to apply to Ph.D. programs. Further, many do not have the mentorship or knowledge to know that a Ph.D. trains them for a career in academia and what to expect if one pursues this career.
LP: What top three things did participants learn to keep in mind when applying for a Ph.D. program in political science?
CG: First, the students learned what goes into an application for a Ph.D. and how their specific research questions and interests can be shaped to fit more broadly into the disciplinary fields and subfields of political science and international relations. Many students have specific questions they want to study but have difficulty figuring out how their research interests both translate into the broader discipline and match with the research interests of faculty at Ph.D. programs to which they are applying.
Second, particularly for those students who are in their junior year or below, we stressed the importance of garnering research opportunities with their own professors at their universities or in other settings. Many were interested in a Ph.D., but the best way to both learn about the work of a professor as well as to enhance one’s Ph.D. application is to seek out opportunities to conduct original research and to learn directly from research-active faculty.
Third, the students at the institute received specific advice on how to shape and frame their Ph.D. applications. There are many factors that are important when applying for a Ph.D. program, but two important parts of the application are the CV and personal statement. Participants received direct feedback from USC faculty and Ph.D. students on what to include in their CVs and personal statements when they apply for a Ph.D. In addition, faculty promised to follow up with students as they continue to craft their personal statements for their Ph.D. applications.