A young and still hopeful reader of the blog mailed me some days ago and asked: What does it take to enter a Ph.D. programme in Political Science?
My immediate reaction was to think that I was the wrong person to ask as I have never been on a committee which assesses applications for Ph.D. programmes. But then again I’ve met a number of Ph.D. students over the years so maybe I have learnt something along the way.
Perhaps I should start by pointing out that in Sweden and Denmark accepting a Ph.D. student is an investment for the department in question. Unlike in Germany, the programme has to be financed in advance, and departments (or rather faculties) receive payments for the number of Ph.D. students who pass their programmes. So, first of all: The department, or the committee, wants to be reasonably sure that you will deliver a dissertation. Of course, things happen: Life has its nasty surprises and students may discover that spending life in academia is not their real goal in life. But if taking your MA took ten years and you have a nasty collection of 2s and 4s on your papers, you may as well forget about it. On the other hand, you do not need a full collection of 12s to get accepted. I know people who never got a 12, or the equivalent, and have made nice careers.1
My guess is that dependability, rather than talent, is important. Research is also a craft to be learned and applied. And we know that not everyone is an Einstein. In fact, a discipline full of Einsteins may not be a good thing.
When it comes to your application or your project, I would say that having an idea about the current theoretical discussions and the state of the art with regard to empirical or theoretical research topics helps. But this is something you can use your masters thesis for.
Finally, my recommendation is that you pay the chair of the local Ph.D. programme a visit. This could also give you an idea about what type of applications and applicants they are looking for. Oh, and taking your Ph.D. somewhere else than where you took your MA is not necessarily a bad thing.