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Relative Competitiveness of PhD Disciplines


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Some programs are more competitive than others. Does anyone have a sense of the relative competitiveness of the following?


I'm interested in studying (and even developing) applications of behavioral science that achieve social impact. This means that there are several PhD-paths to the same research-destination: Public Policy, Economics, Statistics, Decision Sciences (a la CMU), and even Marketing. I just need a combination of graduate-level statistics, microeconomics, and psychology.

However, my application is not particularly strong:

Undergrad Institution: Boston University

GPA: 3.7

Major: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Philosophy (double)

GRE Quant: 166

GRE Verbal: 164

Work experience: extensive experience at an applied behavioral economics think tank and a higher education consulting company; none in policy

I'm pretty sure economics programs are out. Does anyone have an opinion, however, about how competitive I might be fore the following PhD programs?

UChicago, Harris: Public Policy

Stanford, GSB: Marketing

CMU: Decision Sciences

Harvard, Kennedy: Public Policy

Harvard, HBS: Marketing

UC-Berkeley, GSPP: Public Policy

What other programs might you recommend?

More generally, which programs tend to be more competitive: Public Policy, Marketing, Decision Sciences (often in business schools), ...?

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Your intended field is so broad. What kind of social impact are you talking about: education, health, environmental issues, consumer behavior? What methods do you want to use? I think the latter question is the most important. You can study the same question in a variety of fields, but what changes from field to field is the methods that you are taught and the approach you are indoctrinated with. I'm in public health and we encourage a structural, ecological level approach - large-scale epidemiologic studies, long-term ethnography and interviews as opposed to - say - experiments or data mining. You can examine the exact same research question in public policy, economics, and decision sciences but your approach will differ based on the field. Even from program to program - some policy programs will take a more sociological/structural approach and some will take a more economics/econometrics focus. And you can always make up for what's missing in a postdoc. I want to learn more statistical and epidemiological methods so I'm planning for that in a postdoc.

I'd say a secondary concern is...marketing is different from public policy. Public policy focuses more on public sector type stuff and you'll be doing a lot of policy analysis; marketing is more about consumer behavior and private/corporate stuff unless you go to a program that has a strength in social marketing or health communication or something. Also, although the lines are becoming more fluid, what degree you get will more or less determine where you teach. Do you want to teach in a business school afterwards, or in a school of public policy? A PhD in economics or decision sciences can get you a job in either (economics definitely, decision sciences probably).

Also consider looking at programs that allow you to study bot. There's the choice of an interdiscplinary PhD (like mine, which allows me to combine a social science and public health, or Princeton's PhD that allows you to combine social policy with either psych, sociology, economics, politics or population studies). There are also less formal options - like looking at PhD programs that have a lot of flexibility in course requirements so that you can take clases at the business school or the public policy deparment, and schools that allow you to earn a certificate in another field.

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