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Political Science and Sociology: Short-Changed in Funding for Dissertation Fieldwork

- September 4, 2008

bq. Key philanthropic and government programs offering grants for Ph.D. students appear to be excluding proposals for graduate students in sociology and political science, while favoring proposals from those in history, anthropology and a range of relatively small disciplines, such as art history and ethnomusicology.”

That’s the lead in an Inside Higher Ed story highlighting research presented by Rina Agarwala (a sociologist at Johns Hopkins) and Emmanuel Teitelbaum (a political scientist at, ahem, George Washington) at the recently concluded annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. Agarwala and Teitelbaum “left little doubt that some social science fields get more than others. For the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad program, for example, 31 percent of grants went to those doing work in history, 30 percent to anthropology, and 16 percent to regional studies, languages and literature. Political scientists gained only 5 percent of the awards — less than the 6 percent awarded to arts and ethnomusicology. Relatively similar breakdowns were found in grants awarded by the National Science Foundation and the Social Science Research Council for similar programs supporting dissertation work abroad. Some of the data suggest that the trends are getting worse.”

Are political scientists and sociologists getting so few of these grants simply because they’re not applying for them, or when they do apply do they have less success than applicants from other disciplines? Agarwala and Teitelbaum’s data suggest that, at least insofar as the trend over time in these funding patterns is concerned, it’s the latter — a lower success rate — that largely accounts for the difference. As the Inside Higher Ed story summarizes their trend results:

bq. The drops don’t reflect a lack of applications, but lower success rates. Over the last 10 years of data for the SSRC program, anthropology’s success rate had one year at 4 percent, but was otherwise between 5 and 8 percent. Since 2000, political science has been between 2 and 4 percent. Sociology, which used to be close to anthropology in success rates, has fallen to the 2 and 4 percent levels in recent years. Notably, these shifts took place at a time that the composition of the selection committees for the fellowships was also changing. In recent years, the committee has had one or two each from political science and sociology, while three or four each from history and anthropology. While history has been consistently high, political science used to be its equal, and anthropology’s numbers have been growing on the panel as political science’s have been shrinking.

To read the full article, click here.