How He Converted ‘Dumb Questions’ Into Serious Research: Conner Martinez, Class of 2021 M.A. Grad, on Getting Into a Political Science Ph.D. Program

Conner Martinez (M.A. ’21, Political Science) is heading to Indiana this August to begin a doctoral program in political science at the University of Notre Dame. He plans to study federal and state anti-immigration policies and their impact on U.S. politics and on Latinx political involvement. 

Martinez grew up in the Southwest and has been involved with different organizations in the region focused on immigration policy and human rights at migrant detention centers. His interest in Arizona politics and time spent at home last year during the pandemic resulted in a piece that was published in Jacobin about what he terms his home state’s botched coronavirus response and reopening. He credits a Writing Politics course taught by Professor Peter Beinart (GC/CUNY Newmark J-School; Political Science/Journalism) for encouraging him to pitch articles to different publications. 

He spoke to The Graduate Center about why Notre Dame was the right school to pursue his Ph.D., his advice for master’s students on applying to doctoral programs, and why it’s tough to brew beer in New York City.

The Graduate Center: Tell us about your research and why you chose Notre Dame.

Martinez: I am really interested in questions surrounding immigration politics, specifically in the anti-immigrant policies that we saw from the Trump administration and earlier in California with Proposition 187, and in Arizona with SB 1070. And, again and again in different states, how this has impacted our politics, how this has impacted Latinx people becoming more politically involved, running for office, and how this has also been impacting white Americans and how the opinions of white Americans have either been driving these policies or if this has been a kind of top-down thing where more elites have been actually trying to impose these policies with not as much support from the public. 

Notre Dame is the perfect place to do this. There are a few faculty members that are focused on these issues, such as immigrant inclusion, immigrant participation, and Latinx politics broadly. I was really excited at the opportunity. 

GC: What advice would you give to a master’s student who's thinking of applying for a Ph.D. program?

Martinez: I would say the biggest thing you could do is talk to the people around you, the students and the professors that you feel your work aligns with. Reach out to people. There are some incredibly hardworking and brilliant students and just by being around them in the master's and the Ph.D. programs, you'll learn about your own research, how you can better your research, and also how you can go about applying to a Ph.D. program, and be accepted.

GC: What do you think set you and your research apart? What got you noticed?

Martinez: I think the first thing is always fit. But, to set yourself apart if you're a master’s student, pushing out early on a handful of projects, maybe just one that is really important to you and that you want to work on for a very long time. You can present that project to the different school admissions committees and they can see that there's something you're going to be passionate about and committed to, and they're going be willing to take a chance on you. The Graduate Center helped. A lot of what I wrote in my proposed projects were things that started out as kind of dumb questions to my professors that became more well-thought-out serious questions that set my application apart.

GC: Do you want to stay in academia?

Martinez: I am really interested in teaching. One of the things that drew me to CUNY was how much students teach and I was fortunate enough to get to spend some time assisting in classrooms at Baruch College and to engage with some professors there. In the long run I hope that I can be in the classroom myself, become a professor, and stay in academia. I understand that right now the reality of that is like aiming to play a professional sport. I'm still shooting to get there.

GC: We read that you were the head of the brewing club when you were an undergraduate at Pitzer College in California.

Martinez: I'm very sad that New York doesn't allow for the space to do that. You can't brew much beer in a New York City apartment.

Published by the Office of Communications and Marketing.

Submitted on: JUN 1, 2021

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