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Usefulness of policy PhDs?


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Hello fellow posters,

I come to you with questions regarding policy PhDs. I’ve been reading the admissions thread, and this issue was mentioned, but I guess I’d like to know more about your views on these programs. I’m very interested in schools that offer such degrees (WWS, Stanford, KSG’s Political Econ & Gov’t program) so I’m largely playing devil’s advocate here, just to hear what other people have to say about this.

OK so my main concern relates to the “usefulness” of public policy PhDs. First, say you want to work in academia, and really just conduct research: it seems to me that it makes much more sense to go after a normal poli sci PhD than a policy one, unless you specifically want to work at a policy school. Second, suppose you want to work in policy-related areas, and are looking to get this PhD to get some in-depth expertise before joining a think-tank, the IMF, what have you. In that case, is the PhD really necessary? Isn’t it sufficient to build expertise by getting an MPA/MPP then working as soon as possible and building your expertise as a practitioner? And even if your career goal is to go back and forth between the policy world and academia, I suppose you could still publish & teach a class or two once in a while (at least at a policy school) thanks to the expertise you’ve built in your job, and that a public policy PhD wouldn’t be a requirement to do that.

For those of you who are applying to both normal poli sci PhDs and such policy programs, what’s your rationale?

Thanks in advance for sharing! I’ve been debating this issue with myself only for too long and need outside input on the matter :lol:

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Firstly, I'd check out the Government Affairs forum since this topic has been discussed some there. However, I'm in a similar position as you--getting a master's right now from an IR policy school and thinking of doing a PhD a few years down the road. Honestly, the PhD isn't going to be a huge leg up for you career-wise...I think it's just good to do if you're truly interested in being an "expert" in addition to being a policymaker. Not to mention I'd like to jump in between policy and research institutions if I could, but we'll see how that goes. Good luck. :)

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Yeah, I'm having this issue too. I've applied to PhD programmes in political science, public policy, an dpublic health. My masters is public health, and regardless of which PhD I end up wiht, I'll probably be looking first to schools of public health for academic employment.

My sense of NGO/UN orgs work in my area is that the PhD is actually important - the MPH is fine if you also have a lot of relevant work experience, but for someone trying to get their foot in the door, a PhD is the go.

In terms of choosing between the three disciplines (I realise everyone else will be choosing between two) - I think poli sci opens more academic doors. Schools of public health and public policy both routinely employ people with poli sci degrees. (Having said that, I think that would only by the case in the US; if I wanted to go back to my own country and work in a school of public health, I think my PhD would probably need to be in public health.) But, I think the poli sci PhD is the least useful for consulting - working for the WHO, in my case.

Edited by ridgey
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Thanks for your input guys. Yeah, I think I may have read a thread in the past in the Gov't section, but I still had questions & I guess I also wanted input from this year's batch of poli sci applicants who have applied to both types of programs. :)

My feeling so far is indeed that it isn't necessarily going to make a gigantic difference in your professional life. Perhaps in some areas such as public health, a policy PhD is required. But, I've interned at the UN, and although there were a few people who had gotten a PhD, most of them simply had an MPA/MPP. So in terms of getting your foot in the door of these institutions, my feeling is that a PhD can help but isn't all that necessary; however, I don't know whether it makes a difference in terms of promotion & moving up the ladder later on. I guess the exception would be the IMF, which seems to have a strong preference for econ PhDs (although I'm sure people from the Political Econ program at the Kennedy School would have no problem getting in).

Sigh. This is such a confusing issue to me! The thing is, I'd absolutely *love* to get a policy PhD in political economy, but 4/5 years is a long period of time to be spending in school when you're not 100% sure the PhD is going to make a big difference in your career relatively to just getting an MPA.

Edited by Parisienne
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