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BROADENING THE PATHWAY FOR GRADUATE STUDIES IN POLITICAL SCIENCE

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 October 2019

Fernando Tormos-Aponte
Affiliation:
University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Mayra Velez-Serrano
Affiliation:
University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras
Corresponding
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Abstract

Type
Spotlight: Building, Sustaining, and Supporting the Race, Ethnicity, and Politics Community
Copyright
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2019 

Between 1995 and 2005, Latinxs comprised 8.6% of political science undergraduate students in the United States. Yet, during this period, Latinxs comprised only 4.1% of PhD recipients. Since then, the share of Latinx PhD recipients has plateaued at 5% of political science and government doctoral-degree recipients; although more Latina women receive bachelor’s degrees in political science, the share of women decreased considerably at the PhD level (Monforti and Michelson Reference Monforti and Michelson2008, 161). The slow pace of progress in this arena should come as no surprise because undergraduates from underrepresented groups seeking to pursue graduate studies in political science continue to face significant hurdles. This article briefly discusses the challenges that students from underrepresented groups face as they transition into graduate studies. We develop a series of recommendations for addressing these challenges.

The challenges that students from historically underrepresented groups face in gaining admission and finishing their doctoral degrees in political science are numerous. They include lack of funding, mentorship, opportunities for collaboration and coauthorship, and social support. First, lack of funding not only shapes students’ decisions to pursue graduate studies and attend a graduate program, it also hinders their ability to complete a doctoral degree (Bair and Haworth Reference Bair and Haworth1999; Cusworth Reference Cusworth2001; Monforti and Michelson Reference Monforti and Michelson2008). Second, students also cite lack of effective mentorship as one of the constraints to their academic success (Monforti and Michelson Reference Monforti and Michelson2008)—specifically, the opportunity to benefit from apprenticeship experiences, including research and teaching assistantships, coauthorship, and networking opportunities (Monforti and Michelson Reference Monforti and Michelson2008; Turner and Thompson Reference Turner and Thompson1993). Third, an important determinant of underrepresented student academic success is social support. Students who have positive interactions and relationships with other students, faculty, and staff within their departments are more likely to graduate (Bair and Haworth Reference Bair and Haworth1999).

Undergraduates in Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) also must contend with the decline of state funding for their institutions of higher education and the impacts that these budget cuts have on counseling services, hiring of faculty, and creation of a climate conducive to academic excellence. For instance, in a survey administered to current and recently graduated political science students from the University of Puerto Rico (N=78), we found that 78% of survey participants reported that they like doing research. However, only 23% had the opportunity to present their research at a conference or a symposium, and only two students had their research published. Students also reported that two of the greatest limitations they faced were the lack of mentorship opportunities and the time to work on or improve their research project. Furthermore, students reported their desire for more advanced methodological training in preparation for their graduate studies.

Motivated by our findings and with the aim of upending these tendencies in political science, we developed the Minority Graduate Placement Program (MIGAP). During the next two years, we will pilot this program in Puerto Rico and support undergraduate political science students at the University of Puerto Rico as they navigate the graduate-school application process. On completion of the pilot program, MIGAP will be scaled up to serve underrepresented minority students at MSIs in the continental United States. With the generous support of the APSA Second Century Fund, and in partnership with doctoral-degree–conferring political science departments in the United States, MIGAP will (1) arrange campus visits for prospective applicants; (2) provide small faculty–undergraduate collaborative-research incentive grants; (3) host a research-methods training camp during the summer before their application; (4) provide graduate-school and funding-application workshops; (5) add program participants to the APSA Minority Student Recruitment Program database; and (6) match students with potential mentors.

MIGAP is aligned with previous research that identifies the positive impact that undergraduate research experiences have on a student’s graduate experience (Hathaway, Nagda, and Gregerman Reference Hathaway, Nagda and Gregerman2002; Pascarella and Terenzini Reference Pascarella and Terenzini2005). Undergraduate research experiences also allow students to develop strong mentor–mentee relationships and improve their self-efficacy and self-confidence (Hu, Kuh, and Li Reference Hu, Kuh and Li2008).

This program also supports women faculty and faculty of color, who often are overburdened with supporting women and minority students who do not see themselves represented in anyone else in their departments and in the discipline more generally. This type of programming is particularly needed in institutions facing financial hardships, such as the University of Puerto Rico, where there is comparatively little institutional investment in student counseling. Alongside the burdens of tenure-track and family responsibilities, “inhospitable” institutional climates, and research norms that discount collaborative work that could nurture women’s careers, a leaky pipeline further exacerbates the issues that political scientists from underrepresented groups face as they navigate the profession (APSA Task Force 2011; Sinclair-Chapman Reference Sinclair-Chapman2015).

Alongside the burdens of tenure-track and family responsibilities, “inhospitable” institutional climates, and research norms that discount collaborative work that could nurture women’s careers, a leaky pipeline further exacerbates the issues that political scientists from underrepresented groups face as they navigate the profession (APSA Task Force 2011; Sinclair-Chapman Reference Sinclair-Chapman2015).

Ultimately, MIGAP will contribute to developing what Sinclair-Chapman (Reference Sinclair-Chapman2015) called a “diversity infrastructure.” Along with APSA’s Diversity and Inclusion Programs, this project broadens APSA’s diversity infrastructure by developing a pilot campus-visitation program; fostering informal mentorship relationships; preparing students for summer research opportunities (e.g., the Summer Research Opportunity Programs, Leadership Alliance, and Institute for Recruitment of Teachers); helping them navigate graduate-school applications; and fostering their participation in the APSA Minority Fellowship Program and Ralph Bunche Summer Institute. Furthermore, we seek to improve retention and graduation rates by fostering collaborative relationships across institutions of higher education and by mobilizing support for students and faculty in MSIs. These relationships are key components of a strategy for diversifying political science (Beckwith Reference Beckwith2015; Mealy Reference Mealy2015; Sinclair-Chapman Reference Sinclair-Chapman2015). Collectively, these coalitions will allow us to seize a particularly opportune moment for developing a holistic approach to diversifying political science. It comes at a time in which APSA status committees have sought to increase their collaborative work around pipeline, recruitment, and retention efforts (Mealy Reference Mealy2018).

Although recruitment and retention of Latinx students has proven to be challenging, we argue that this is far from being an intractable problem. Rather, we can leverage what we already know about supporting students and faculty from underrepresented groups to design and implement programming that enables their success.

References

American Political Science Association. 2011. “Political Science in the 21st Century.” Report of the Task Force on Political Science in the 21st Century. Washington, DC: American Political Science Association. Available at www.apsanet.org/portals/54/Files/Task%20Force%20Reports/TF_21st%20Century_AllPgs_webres90.pdf.Google Scholar
Bair, Carolyn R., and Haworth, Jennifer G.. 1999. “Doctoral Student Attrition and Persistence: A Meta-Synthesis of Research.” Paper presented at the meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, San Antonio, TX, November 18–21.Google Scholar
Beckwith, Karen. 2015. “State, Academy, Discipline: Regendering Political Science.” PS: Political Science & Politics 48 (3): 445–49.Google Scholar
Cusworth, Sarah. 2001. “Orientation and Retention of Counseling PhD Students: A Qualitative Study.” Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the American Psychological Association, San Francisco, CA, August 24–28, 2001. Available at https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED458513.pdf.Google Scholar
Hathaway, Russell S., Nagda, Biren A., and Gregerman, Sandra R.. 2002. “The Relationship of Undergraduate Research Participation to Graduate and Professional Education Pursuit: An Empirical Study.” Journal of College Student Development 43 (5): 614–31.Google Scholar
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