Who am I to give grad school advice?

In 2004, I received my Ph.D. in Political Science from the Department of Government at Harvard. That’s part of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, which is an academically-oriented graduate school that aims to produce PhDs.(As opposed to the Kennedy School of Government, which produces mostly MPPs — Masters in Public Policy – and MPAs — Masters in Public Administration — along with a handful of PhDs; the Kennedy School is a professional school that aims to produce people who will do rather than teach stuff.) I defended my dissertation in September 2004.

I’m not a practicing academic, though I do try to keep a toe in academic waters with a little bit of teaching and research. That’s by choice, though I did (and still do) flirt with the possibility of an academic career, and my preliminary forays into the academic job market have suggested to me that I would probably be pretty marketable if I took the time to publish some of my dissertation research in peer-reviewed publications. But since I’m not in the academic loop nor a one who has emerged from grad-school to grab the brass ring of a tenure-track job at a major research university, you may want to take my advice with a grain of salt. Also bear in mind that I started graduate school in 1995, so things may have changed a bit: for all I know Harvard now clones its incoming grad students from mutant sheep DNA.

But my experience in grad school suggests that things don’t change that quickly in the university world, so I suspect that at least some of my experience and insights could be useful to others looking to navigate the grad school application process. Since I’m not in academia myself, I’m a little bit freer to disclose some of the state secrets around the admissions game. And if you are interested in grad school but not sure that you want to end up as a professor yourself, maybe my perspective on grad school as a route to a non-academic career can be helpful.

My complete guide to grad school applications:

Who I am: my faux qualifications for dispensing grad school advice
My story: how I survived the application process
My results: where I got in, and how I got funding
Questions to ask yourself: things to think about when applying
Questions to ask departments: things you need to find out for your applications
Acing the application: my tips for winning at the application game