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"If you get a PhD, get an economics PhD"


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Anyone else seen/read this blog post? I'll admit that there's some interesting insight into the structure of economics PhD programs and what happens in the academic job market for economists, but I take issue with the author's characterization of most PhDs as "lifestyle PhDs". I'd love to discuss this, since it's somewhat different than the usual "PhDs are worthless" and "Don't go to graduate school EVER" things that are often posted.

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My first thoughts upon reading this post:

 

If someone:

1) wants a job

2) wants autonomy

4) wants low failure

 

then they should get their CDL license and drive OTR trucks for a living.  Not much 3) intellectual fulfillment in OTR trucking (IMHO), but there are many other paths with higher liklihood for job prospects than PhD's, that's for sure...

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I am a Masters in Economics and I am choosing to do a PhD in Information Sciences. It's a decision that most of the people around me are looking with a sense of incredulity.

 

But he's got quite a bit wrong according to me.

 

Well, any PhD in a field which the industry uses gives you what the blog post talks about.

Engineering PhDs live a good life with good pay in good companies doing good research.

PhDs in Business pay much much more that a PhD in Economics even though both require very similar backgrounds and are often much easier.

PhDs in Finance and Stats trump a PhD in Economics in the job market

(Most PhDs in economics do work in statistics. My doctoral colleagues during my corporate stint never really went beyond econometrics. Ever. Rather boring mundane work for these economists.)

 

But all of this is isn't what it's about.
I think in the end of it all, you should do what you love doing. And I think most of PhDs are natural progressions to most people. They WANT to research and they do, in spite of a thousand blog posts such as this.


And am I the only one who is a little bored and tired of the methods of economists?

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Okay, so his characterization of "lifestyle PhDs" is totally off base.  I'm in a social science that's structured like a lab science (research labs, PIs, government grants, NIH money, the whole nine - I'm supported by an NSF grant, for example) but we definitely do not work only at our own pace, nor do I have any intentions of being a poor bohemian scholar.  I also wouldn't say that my destiny is completely out of my hands, though, nor that my life is at the mercy of one taskmaster and that my time is controlled by my advisor.  None of those things are true.  I also highly doubt that econ PhD students have that much more free time than we do.
 
Government agencies, think tanks, universities and hospitals hire my kind.  Business schools also hire social psychologists to teach their management and marketing classes, since both of those fields are just applied social psychology, and they pay more than psychology departments do.  I'm also not sure why he thinks finance and consulting are not jobs where you have to work 80-hour weeks and are stressed out, because those kinds of jobs are pretty notorious for being 80-100-hour-per-week jobs.
 
Your job prospects are partially determined by your broad field and more determined by what you DO.  I'm a social scientist with pretty strong statistical skills and I've picked up funding and part-time work by using those.
 
The other thing is that in order to keep a centrally planned job market with lots of opportunities, econ PhD programs have to limit demand.  Therefore, econ PhD programs are very competitive.  You typically have to have a strong mathematics background - three semesters of calculus, linear/matrix algebra, a semester or two of mathematical statistics and some research experience in economics or a related field (psychology, sociology) - not to mention some foundational economics classes.  If you weren't an econ major, you'll likely need an econ MA first, which costs $$$.  It's not like you can just walk into the program from a different major.
 
You also have to LIKE thinking very quantitatively and about economics.  Which is fine if you like math and statistics, but not fine if you don't.
 
Right now it appears the best fields to get a PhD in if you really want a tenure track job are accounting and nursing, and maybe management.  There are a shortage of accounting and nursing professors such that even PhDs from middling universities can easily get tenure-track jobs, and even top nursing programs have perpetually open tenure-track positions in nursing that they advertise on their main nursing websites.  But that's because those are fields in which it is often more lucrative to work in the private sector or non-academically than it is academically.  A PhD in nursing with experience can become the head of nursing or director of research at a hospital, or even do primary care if she's licensed to, and easily make six figures.  She won't if she's a professor.
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