Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Not Alone in Narcissism

The folks at William and Mary have had a series of surveys about the IR profession for the past decade or so, know as the TRIP project.  The most recent results for the US were released on Foreignpolicy.com today.  Happy New Year of Navel-Gazing!  I was a big fan of TRIP even before I got drafted to help with the Canadian franchise. I will report the survey results of Canada once I have them. Pre-draft, I was on a panel at last year's ISA that did all kinds of fun stuff with the data they had collected

I don't have any comments on their rankings of MA programs since I have no clue about them (but will next year once I have a year teaching at an MA program).

But let me take a few issues with the rankings of PhD programs and the stuff that either the TRIP people or the FP folks put with the list.

In brief, the list is:
  1. Harvard
  2. Princeton
  3. Stanford
  4. Columbia
  5. Yale
  6. Chicago
  7. UC San Diego
  8. UC Berkeley
  9. Michigan, MIT
Some qualifiers here--this seems not to be about Poli Sci programs but about IR programs (the giveaway is the listing of IRPS at UCSD and not the poli sci dept), but I am sure the folks surveyed probably did not consistently make that distinction.  So, you can read this as top Poli Sci/IR programs.

I would probably rank Stanford ahead of Princeton and then Harvard, but, of course, this raises the question about what the hell is being ranked?  Scholarship (quality? quantity?)? Quality and placement of their PhD students? I am not sure.  I tend to care more about breadth and depth of a program (which also means for IR--how good are their comparativists) and whether and where they place their students. If one is ranking IR Phd programs, then it really is about the outcomes, right?  And yes, we have lousy data about placement, despite some new efforts to get honest about it.  We lie less than law schools, but that is not saying much.  My impression has been that Stanford has consistently produced some of the most interesting, well-published, and influential graduate students.  More so than Princeton, more so than Harvard, but I am not as well versed in the quality of new phd students, so take this with a grain of salt.

I would rank UCSD fourth because, well, that is where I got my degree.  So, it makes me feel good.  Oh, that's right, people will tend to rank the schools they came from highly.  Why? Self-esteem.  I also have more information about the place, including the quality of their PhD students since I keep meeting them.  I also remember their affiliation more than the impressive students I meet from other programs.  Moreover, UCSD's IR folks are mighty deep because it is not just IR/PS but those folks and the IR folks (and Comparativists) in the department.  My diss committee included folks from both parts.

I would probably put Michigan next--they are very, very good at what they do, and what they do is pretty central, if the stereotypes are still accurate--mostly high tech quantitative work.  Yale is stronger in comparative than IR.  Columbia would probably be next--they have a very good crew of IR folks.  Chicago, well, I would not rank so highly as they tend to drive away some of their more eclectic folks, and because their primary flavor of IR is quite narrow--Mearsheimer's realism.  In the past, they produced great IR folks, but I would need some prompting to remember who they have produced recently.

Berkeley simply should not be on the list.  It is simply not a top ten IR program unless you count comparative very, very much as the heart of your program.  While the listing of "Stars" on the FP page is probably fairly ad hoc (David Lake should be listed for UCSD, for instance, especially since he was the advisor the guy behind the TRIP project [quite the party foul, Mike!]), it is telling that Berkeley is the only one of these ten listed that has only one star listed.  Obviously, UCB has other excellent scholars, but who has been very productive the past ten years in IR besides Robert Powell and Barry Eichengreen?

Instead, I would probably list Minnesota, Ohio State, and George Washington in some order as they have heaps of sharp folks doing interesting work, and OSU produced one of my co-authors, so there you have it (oh, and Stanford and UCSD produced a couple of my other co-authors, so now my ranking scheme is becoming obvious).  Oh, and Cornell perhaps.  By the way, Dartmouth might be listed here if only it had PhD students, as it, along with William and Mary, has an incredibly strong IR crew.

About the stars:
The Stanford list had me giggling.  Condi Rice!  Hee, hee.  If one is asking about Phd programs, the real value in stars is in supervision of Phd students and getting them placed.  My guess is that Rice had a slim record before she became the worst National Security Adviser in US history and has not accumulated heaps of phd students since leaving government.  I doubt that Fukuyama supervises heaps of Stanford Phd students either. But someone has been doing well with the ones I have bumped into over the years.

Harvard and Princeton have the biggest names listed as their stars.  Colombia should list Jack Snyder since he has supervised numerous folks.  Yale's list is reveals that someone who is not at TRIP made the list of stars: Bruce Ackerman is not an IR prof.  Yale's real strength is in its recent IR hires and in their comparativists.  One of the schools in the this list has a "Star" whose most central work has been ripped apart in APSR and elsewhere for basic selection bias problems.  Hmmm.  Again, plenty of IR folks at UCSD not listed as stars but should be.  Michigan should have James Morrow and Allan Stam listed as stars.

Other info on the page:
Time to graduate: almost honest here.  Most of the schools list 5-6 years, when 6-7 is more realistic (fieldwork does take time).  Much longer than UK.  But then again, most US Phd programs do not count the MA coursework students received elsewhere.  So the time includes the 2-3 years of courses and exams and then the dissertation research.

The good news is that all of these places seem to give guaranteed funding for five years or so.  In my day, it was four years of guaranteed, and uncertainty but still probably funding for a couple more.  What does funding mean?  No or little tuition and then a stipend of some sort--enough to live on as a graduate student but not super-comfortably.

Entering class size--that is interesting info.  Bigger programs mean less attention, more weeding unless there is a big number of profs.  Again, this is a deceptive list since the UCSD list, for instance, is for the entire political science dept, with 1/4-1/3 being IR. 

Anyhow, interesting results, and notice I have already applied wuffle's lawCheck out the rest of the stuff that they are reporting.  I may have more thoughts as I go through the rest of this stuff.


Mike Tierney said...


Have a little faith. We had nothing to do with the additional information that was provided about those universities. All we did was conduct the survey and provide the list. Note: FP actually says this, "These rankings are part of the Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) survey, conducted by Paul C. Avey, Michael C. Desch, James D. Long, Daniel Maliniak, Susan Peterson, and Michael J. Tierney. All additional information provided was added by Foreign Policy and is not part of the survey results."

I have no idea how FP picked the "stars." And, you are right, it is clearly the case that when survey respondents were ranking PhD programs they were NOT ranking the professional school at UCSD, nor were they thinking about PhD training by Condi Rice at Stanford!

Have some faith. Look at the actual data on the TRIP website. We list the actual question as it was asked and provide descriptive stats.

Steve Saideman said...

I have heaps of faith. I was teasing you about the Lake stuff. As I looked closer at the stars, I realized there is no way you guys had anything to do with it.

Good stuff and congrats on the play this stuff is getting.

Anonymous said...

John Schuessler is a Chicago product. IS & PoP articles in his first 2 years ain't bad.