Thursday, March 27, 2008

Where to go for graduate school

It is about the time now where student have to decide where to go for graduate school among the programs that accepted them. Let me add my grain of salt in this decision, assuming one is interested in pursuing a PhD in Economics.

Financial considerations are obviously an important matter, but academic ones are more important. A fellowship with no teaching assistant obligations is not necessarily better. Indeed, many graduates will ultimately be hired to teach, and teaching experience, especially an extensive one, is valued by many schools when it comes to hiring. We are obviously not talking about the top research universities, but while they are very visible and the dream job of many, they constitute only a minority of the market. So be realistic, most jobs are in teaching colleges.

Going for the top program can also have drawbacks: it is more difficult to pass the exams, classes are larger, and professors are less accessible than in the second tier programs. Second tier programs can still provide a world-class education. The top graduates from the top programs are those everyone talks about, but those coming after them are not getting top jobs just because they come from a prestigious program. While this certainly opens doors, especially in business schools and some foreign universities, gone are the days were any candidate from Harvard University was better than any candidate from, say, the University of Oklahoma. Many hiring departments are looking arbitrage opportunities (excellent candidates from lower ranked programs), including looking at job candidates from outside the US, the UK and Canada. So do not focus just on top US schools.

Geographic preferences should not be important at all. Studying for a PhD is not tourism, and an attractive place can be a distraction. Possibly the only exception is Washington, with many internship opportunities on location.

Finally, check that the professors you are interested in working are actually still going to be there once you arrive. Turnover is quite high, especially in the top programs.


Gabriel said...

It sounds fair and it supports my decision, so I concur. :-)

Other things...

I hate to say it but look into the ideology of the people there and especially how much ideological they are. In the end, it doesn't matter but it's a quality of life thing, plus, you'll need recommendations and support from these people, so make sure they're not batshit crazy marxists.

Take note of the date/year that rankings were compiled. For example, the rankings are from 2004 (2003 is the latest year in their dataset, afaik). Some schools are hiring and over the last 4 years changed a lot. -- With a little care you can get a real deal.

It's a good idea to find out which textbooks are used in the core curriculum classes. Is the school using Mas-Colell for micro? Romer for macro? -- There are some interesting correlations to be exploited here.

And then there's the student body.

Economic Logician said...

I agree on looking at rankings, but as I mentioned, looking for the highest ranking is not necessarily the best. And I prefer looking at the RePEc rankings, which are updated every month and thus are supposed to reflect the latest faculty movements.

Vilfredo said...

I agree with the post, except that hiring departments are still very much looking at where the candidate comes from. There are bad students coming out of Harvard and co. that get better jobs than better students from elsewhere. Tenure time corrects this only partially, as some journals are notorious to be more likely to accept a journal from "its graduates" than from others.