As the next round of admitted political science PhD students starts thinking about what they should be doing to prepare for the fall, I thought I would write down a few of my own reflections on what would have been best in retrospect. Granted, this is only based on my past ~0.6 years of PhD life, but some may find it helpful in thinking through their own preparation plan of attack.
Expand your studies of interesting faculty at each admitted institution - read their CVs, skim their major papers, and review what classes they teach. Make notes of who is most appealing and why. You already did this once for your applications but a second go-around is worthwhile.
Review the grad handbooks and understand the formal degree requirements at each institution. If needed confirm the rules with the subfield chairs, because written policies can be outdated.
If you are gainfully employed, start shifting your weekly expenditures to savings mode - you are currently wealthier than you will be for a very long time. In particular, try to save enough to pay for your living expenses for one semester - you could partially self-fund so that you don’t have to TA a class.
Starting thinking of how you can hedge your bets if an academic career doesn’t pan out. Plan your courses and skill development so that you are able to get a good job in industry if need be.
Develop a draft course schedule for the next 2 years, then discuss with current grad students. In particular, get their advice on workload, field exam preparation, and relevant courses outside of the department.
Work through Moore and Siegel’s “A Math Course for Political and Social Scientists”. One chapter a week is a reasonable pace. Write up your answers in Latex using RStudio+Knitr - here is an example template. In RStudio do File -> New -> R Sweave to start a new file, and check your RStudio options under Sweave and make sure that knitr is selected rather than Sweave.
Get the syllabi for your substantive field seminars from current students and buy the required books. Try to read 5 of the books in advance, taking notes along the way. If you can generate a one-page summary of each that would be ideal.
Start thinking about your NSF application - review the guidelines, deadlines, and set out a project schedule so that you get an application submitted in your first year. Ask NSF winners if you can take a peek at the materials they submitted.
Setup meetings with your current colleagues to discuss 1) research ideas, and 2) consulting opportunities - you would be surprised how many people will meet for coffee if you ask. Try to get 2 consulting projects confirmed before you leave for grad school.
Work through Chris Paciorek’s R Bootcamp (or similar intro), unless you are already very comfortable with R. Again, use Latex via RStudio+Knitr to write up any responses so that you can hit the ground running.
Take at least two weeks off before you need to move out for math camp. Go hiking, play guitar, veg out, read some fiction, get rid of junk, and start packing.
Even doing a few items from the list would be great. I’m sure others have their own advice (any comments are welcome!), and these suggestions are assuredly biased by my personal interest in methodology. Nevertheless, food for thought.