PhD and post-doc advising

A note to new PhD applicants: I often get emails from prospective students asking if I would be their advisor if they joined the program. The short answer: I happily meet with University of Chicago PhD students on any topic, and if you’re in a program here and working in my general area, then it would be natural for me to be a regular adviser. In the case where I’m one of your main advisers, you can read more about the regular advising group below.

Do you need an adviser lined up in advance of your application? No. Given the overwhelming number of applicants to these programs, it’s uncommon to speak with faculty in advance. Merely explaining in your application letter which faculty you would like to work with and why is sufficient.

A lot of applicants ask me for advice or meetings during applications. Since I generally can’t meet these requests, I’ve written up some advice on applying to PhDs.

Current U of C PhD students: I am always happy to talk to Chicago PhDs student about their work, regardless of field. Please do contact me or sign up for office hours online to discuss. New students should feel free to come by just to chat generally, especially first year PhDs. The advice below applies mainly to regular visitors and (most of all) people who will have me as a primary adviser.

Before coming to see me, however, do look at the advice posts on the side bar first, to see if they apply. That way we can skip generalities when we meet and get to the meat of the discussion.

General suggestions

Here are some ways that I think advising works most effectively:

  • I prefer you to send concise written updates (a couple of paragraphs or pages by email) a day or two before meeting. I will read it and we can discuss.
  • If you are working with data or theory, I recommend bringing figures/tables to our meetings to discuss–it’s much easier to give concrete feedback.
  • Like other faculty (especially ones with small kids) I usually need advance time to review something
    • A day or two to review a 1-2 page summary
    • A week or two for a paper or memo
  • When I say I will do something by a certain date, I will usually do it, and if I don’t, I ask you to poke and remind me because sometimes things get missed
    • Similarly, if I haven’t responded to an email in 24 or 48 hours (which is rare), please remind me, since it means it may have been overlooked by accident
  • I will make extensive notes on any memos or papers you send me, often electronically, so if this is something you want, please email as a PDF, with sufficient margins for me to write electronic comments (e.g. wide margins, double spacing, no small fonts)
  • In general, faculty will start to forget your work if you only see them every four months, so visit regularly
  • I would normally expect my core students to be seeing me, showing me tables/figures, and discussing progress once or twice a month

Finally, I can focus on your specific work in more depth if we jump past all the generic advice. Please take a look at the advice posts at left.

Guidelines for core advisees

I encourage students to seek me out regularly, whether I’m in your field or not, or a main advisor or not.

In the case of students for whom I’m a primary adviser (i.e your dissertation chair or sponsor), such as a committee chair, I think it’s useful to have regular, structured meetings all together. If you think you want me as a primary adviser, come see me about joining these meetings.

The main reason for the group is simple: I think a little structure, commitment devices, and  more regular feedback will help students write better dissertations, faster, and get better jobs. At the same time I think there are economies of scale in terms of certain advice and our advising time.

It’s partly a substitute for for office hours, though I still expect to see my students one-on-one a lot.

Key features would be:

  • A focus on a peer group of 2nd to 5th year students
  • I expect the peer group to consist of about 8 to 12 students all working on themes broadly related to certain areas: the political economy of development, violence, crime, poverty, etc.
  • I expect my political science students to take the formal theory and statistics sequences, plus some of the strongly recommended courses (see below)
  • I will have weekly meetings during the regular semester
    • In every meeting, everyone should give a quick update on work done and progress since the last meeting
    • One student will also present something more extensive, having provided a short memo (and ideally figures/tables) 24-48 hours in advance
    • Everyone will be expected to read these in advance and give feedback
  • Since so many students’ work is field work, there will also be a focus on funding graduate study and field work, helping you identify project partners and funding sources, and advising you on proposal writing and project management
  • I discourage being away during the semester or living in other cities, except for field work or urgent family reasons of course

Please come talk to me if you think I might be an appropriate primary adviser. It’s not supposed to be an exclusive club. And again I welcome students in office hours whether or not I’m a formal adviser at all.