Political Science Alum Talks Political Theory, Graduate School and Steps for Success
May 12, 2014
Adrienne Girone, BA'13
Political science alum Adrienne Girone, BA ’13, has been accepted into the PhD program at Vanderbilt University. Her department fellowship will fund five years of study in their political science program.
We caught up with Adrienne to chat about her decision to pursue graduate school over law school, research plans for the future, and what advice she would give to younger scholars in the Department of History and Politics.
So what area of political science are you studying? What research projects are on the horizon?
Adrienne Girone: I’m planning to study political theory and comparative politics, with a regional focus on Latin America. My areas of interest for working projects include comparative political thought, decolonization and decolonial thought, social movements, indigenous rights, Latin American politics, critical race theory, and the concept of “refounding” in terms of national identity. I'm also drawn to the idea of exploring these theoretical concepts by drawing comparisons with pop culture and literature, with the hopes of making political theory more appealing to a broader audience.
How did you decide to pursue your graduate degree?
Adrienne: Like many political science majors, at first I thought I wanted to attend law school, so much so that I applied to Drexel as a student of the accelerated BS/BA/JD program. The more experience I gained with political science, though, law school just didn’t feel like the right option for me anymore. However, I didn’t quite know how else to turn political science into a career path, which held me back from immediately deciding to switch gears from law school.
Luckily for me, Professor Ciccariello-Maher was the first person to encourage me to think about a PhD as a graduate school option based on my aptitude and genuine desire to continue studying political science. Advice from Professors Corrigan and Hunold was extremely pragmatic while also encouraging, along with input from Kevin Egan, a political theorist who works outside the department directing Drexel’s custom design major program. Once I became aware that a PhD was a viable pursuit, I couldn’t imagine making any other choice.
Could you speak a bit about the actual process of applying to graduate school?
Adrienne: First and foremost, only apply where you can truly see yourself being successful, both in terms of the program itself and its location. Be extremely honest with yourself about this, because it is a significant decision. A helpful test (for any type of application) is to ask yourself: If I only receive one acceptance and it is from Program X, would I truthfully be happy to go there?
In terms of location, take into account both the geographic region as well as the city/town where the university is located. Keep in mind whether a program is in an urban or rural location; it’s important to consider the quality of life/cost of living.
Beyond location, the academic quality of the programs you apply to is critical. Talking with my professors at Drexel was a huge help in creating a preliminary list of programs that would be a good fit for my research interests. From there, I researched the faculty at each of those universities while also taking into consideration the quality of the program as a whole—an important balance to strike. As individual professors do change jobs or retire, you shouldn’t pin all of your hopes on one person as the reason to apply to a certain program. At the same time, do look for professors whose research areas are compatible with your own interests, as that will likely make for a better mentoring relationship.
Ask people who have gone through this process before to read your Statement of Purpose, which is an extremely influential piece of your application where you outline why you are pursuing a PhD. See if your professors who are writing recommendations for you will look it over and offer advice (in fact, they will likely ask you to send a copy to aid them in their letter-writing anyway!). My own statement improved drastically with the constructive criticism of several helpful readers.
Finally, take advantage of the recruitment events! Whether you think a school is the perfect fit for you on paper, or if you are second-guessing how well your interests mesh with a certain program, you won’t truly know unless you can experience it in person. Don’t let anyone at any program pressure you into making a decision before you give each of your options a chance by visiting personally.
So which political science classes at Drexel were most helpful to you, and why?
Adrienne: The one class I will say was useful that didn’t make my list of favorites was Research Methods. While it’s not a “fun” class, it is an essential one to learn the basics of how to research, write and present like a political scientist. I strongly advise you take this your freshman year or as soon as possible if you’ve transferred into the major, with Professor Hunold if he is teaching it. Once you make it through, if you’ve paid attention, you should be extremely well prepared to write successful papers in the rest of your PSCI classes.
Which political science classes were your favorites?
Adrienne: I appreciate this much more looking back on my time at Drexel, but I was so lucky to have been exposed to so much political theory in my undergrad classes. History of Political Thought with Professor Ciccariello-Maher was the beginning of my desire to specialize in political theory, even if I didn’t know it at the time. In a special topics seminar, Political Thought of Frantz Fanon, this interest solidified into a desire to turn this type of nontraditional theory into a career choice.
Beyond theory, I genuinely had wonderful classroom experiences across the board with the PSCI department. Professor Corrigan’s Constitutional Law class is phenomenal, as are any other electives she happens to be teaching. Food Politics with Professor Hunold is such a unique and fun elective, particularly if taken in the spring! Where else can you cook a meal with classmates as your final exam, while also learning some serious truths about food politics?
To wrap up, any words of wisdom for our younger students, especially if they are thinking about graduate school? What advice would you give to your undergraduate self?
Adrienne: Don’t be afraid to change your plans! When I first began questioning whether law school was truly what I wanted to do with my life, I was scared to leave the BS/JD program because I didn’t yet know what I would be working towards instead. Learning from Professor Ciccariello-Maher about other Drexel students’ plans to pursue PhDs helped me realize that this was an achievable goal to work towards.
Also, take advantage of professors’ office hours! As a freshman I was intimidated to visit professors unless mandated by the syllabus—I didn’t want to bother them, and I didn’t really know what to talk about. As I took more classes and became more confident around my professors, I started approaching them to set up meetings, not only to talk about particular assignments and upcoming exams, but also to have broader conversations about subjects I found interesting in class, or to ask for general career and life advice. Forming bonds with my professors was a huge factor in my ultimate realization that I wanted to get my PhD.