I just finished screening dozens of applications to join our MA programs in Political Science at #UAlberta. Here's what struck me most. (Thread)
Application numbers are up this year. Way up. Especially among people who completed their BAs over a decade ago. The pandemic and economic downturn have a lot of people seeking to return to school. Our provincial govt is slamming the door on most of them.
Some lessons for future applicants, based on the top files I reviewed:

GPA matters, but it's not everything. Meeting the minimum standard is a must. But strong, authentic, targeted letters of intent and reference can go a long way to support a strong application w/ a lower GPA.
If you have a lower GPA (which, in today's competitive schools is below a 3.7/4.0), make sure your referees draw attention to your most recent grades and/or those in your chosen field. If those scores are in the high range, adjudicators might give you a break.
If you had a bad semester or two, you might want to explain why. Some applicants open up about mid-degree changes in their field of interest. Others are open to disclosing personal challenges, in broad strokes. Some adjudicators appreciate this (I do), but others don't.
When choosing referees, it's important to select wisely. Ideally, you'll want someone with a lot of experience (so they can rate you highly amongst a larger pool of students, and so that adjudicators might know and respect their advice)...
...You'll also want someone who knows you well. This usually means an instructor who's taught you more than one class, or who has supervised your research. Not everyone has these types of people in their lives...
...but if you have the option of selecting courses and supervisors at this stage in your program, you might want to keep that in mind.
When asking someone to serve as your referee, remember to ask them if they can write you a *solid* letter of reference. If they can't, you should ask someone else. Many applications get screened out for lack of strong references.
The flipside of this: many applicants receive either boilerplate or overly-generous reference letters. These contain no specific references to the applicant's performance, and offer general superlatives about their greatness. These are bad...
...To help your referees, you might want to provide them with some prompts about specific feedback they've given you on assignments, or qualities they've noted about you. They can incorporate these into their letters.
Your letter of intent is the most crucial aspect of your application that's entirely within your control at the time of application.

To make it count, you'll need to establish why you're a good fit for the institution.
This means emphasizing why University X is the ideal place for you to study.
A lot of students start off their letter of intent with a childhood story about why they first became interested in politics. 90% of letters start that way. Very few of these stories serve to distinguish the applicant from others.
Other students start their letters by indicating what drew them to University X. The most persuasive of these letters go beyond general superlatives (like "University X is a top school in the global rankings" ) to detail why the specialties of the dept are a good fit.
Even better letters go on to state that the applicant has contacted prospective supervisors in the department, who have agreed to oversee (and even fund) the proposed research. Top students will have identified more than 1 potential supervisor (letting each know about it)...
..This is crucial. Better schools won't admit students they can't supervise. In my view, the best schools won't admit students they can't fund (through the dept or through faculty grants). Finding at least two potential supervisors will help you find a good academic home.
Your letter is also a chance to demonstrate your ability to formulate a clear research question & research design. Adjudicators are looking to make sure your question aligns with your chosen method and/or theoretical framework, & that your project builds on your previous work.
Ensure you copyedit and proofread your letter. Imprecise and unclear writing can doom your application.
Some application processes require you to submit a writing sample. Choose something that's published or earned you an A. And make it something from the field you're seeking to study. (Don't submit a linguistics paper for a political science program.)
Schools are also very interested in students who have taken the initiative to secure scholarships and awards prior to applying. In Canada, this means applying for SSHRC funding the Fall prior to applying for grad school.
These are only my observations, of course, based on 3 years spent on our grad admissions committee. I welcome your thoughts on how best to prepare our students to apply for grad school.

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More from @DrJaredWesley

18 Dec 20
With Alberta about to embark on a constitutional referendum in less than a year, it's important to understand what's at stake (and what's not).

This gambit isn't about the equalization principle in the constitution, let alone the formula. (Thread) #ableg #cdnpoli
To some observers, this equalization referendum is the Kenney government's attempt to change the channel on its handling of the pandemic and economy...

...by shifting blame to the federal government and the rest of Canada.
The premier has publicly admitted that this referendum is not really about removing the equalization principle from the constitution. That would require the consent of Parliament and other provincial governments (many of whom receive equalization payments).
Read 18 tweets
17 Dec 20
It's confirmed: we'll be holding a referendum "to scrap equalization from the Constitution in Oct 2021." Here's why that's a risky idea: albertaviews.ca/referendum-goo… /1
Here's how Albertans felt about this idea in August 2020 (courtesy: @cgroundpolitics). /2
Here's some background on the politics of equalization. /3

Read 7 tweets
4 Dec 20
We can learn a lot about who politicians refer to as their "friends". In speeches & responses to questions, the people they choose to mention offer us insight into whose interests they're considering. (Thread) #ableg #COVID19AB
A few weeks ago, Premier Kenney talked about his encounter with a small business owner, who thanked him for his reluctance to lock down the economy.
In the same press conference, he mentioned his "friend" the ICU nurse. She was concerned about the health care system's capacity to withstand another surge of #COVID19AB cases.

Read 20 tweets
4 Dec 20
How has the pandemic impacted the practice and study of politics in Canada?

Share your insights at a virtual workshop as part of the @cpsa_acsp Annual Conference. (Thread)

Part 1 will explore theoretical and empirical insights gleaned from early research on the pandemic, including studies of political behaviour, public administration, political theory, and other subfields. Completed studies and research designs are welcome.
Part 2 will delve into the impact of the pandemic on political science pedagogy, inviting participants to share lessons and promising practices in the areas of teaching and supervision. Empirical studies of different teaching methodologies (e.g., remote teaching) are welcome.
Read 6 tweets
22 Nov 20
(And to state the obvious: looking at Alberta through the eyes of Joe is wrought with issues intersectionality. It helps us understand why, for instance, the government fails to see the #shecession as a problem, let alone one worth solving.)
Or why they feel emboldened to hire curriculum advisors that seek to whitewash Alberta history, to create a War Room, to take on doctors & fill ICUs during a pandemic... Put simply: the UCP doesn't think Joe Albertan cares about those issues more than jobs and the economy. #ableg
The thing is: our research shows that Joe is not the median Albertan voter. Joe is who we think the average Albertan is. But he is not an aggregation of Albertan attitudes. He's a myth.
Read 8 tweets
22 Nov 20
A great question. I can offer a partial answer.

Governments are motivated by a host of factors, including their party's ideological principles, public opinion, and their sense of what the community will accept.

The latter is what many call "political culture." (Thread)
Political culture is the unspoken norms that guide politics in a particular community. These values define the boundaries of acceptability - of what's okay to say, think, or do.
In the case of pandemic response, political culture is embodied in our collective sense of "what Albertans will accept," whether it be mandatory masking, vaccination, or lockdowns.
Read 16 tweets

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