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Thread: Profile Review and Specific Questions

  1. #1
    Trying to make mom and pop proud
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    Profile Review and Specific Questions

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    Hi everyone,

    I am posting to ask for recommendations on where/how many schools to apply to this fall, and to get an honest review of my profile. I am also trying to decide on two things:
    1. If I should retake the GRE given my scores below, and given that I have very limited time to study between now and application season. Is it worth the time, money and potential risk of scoring lower?
    2. I have spent the last year taking one class a quarter at night while working in order to bolster my math background. I know my math background is still not as robust as other people I see on here. How badly will not having taken topology or differential equations or additional analysis courses hurt me? If I do not get in this year, would it be worthwhile to take another year to take additional courses?

    Profile:
    GRE: 167 Q, 163 V, 5 AW
    Undergraduate education: UCLA
    Undergraduate Degree: Double Major in Economics and Political Science
    Undergraduate GPA: 3.96
    Math Classes: Calculus I (5 on AP Test), II (A) and III (A), Linear Algebra (A), Real Analysis (taking currently online through UMUC), Statistics 10
    Economics Courses: Applied Econometrics (A-), Topics in Micro: Mathematical Economics (A), Statistics for Economists (A), Intro Macro and Micro (both A), Intermediate Macro (A), Intermediate Micro (A-), International Trade Theory (B), Economic Models of Public Choice (A+), Theories of Economic Growth (A+), Economic Variable Topics Research Seminar (A), Economic Forecasting (Advanced Econometrics with Time Series) (A-)
    Other Courses: A bunch of game theory political science courses (As in all of them).
    Research Experience: Currently working on a project with a distinguished labor economist, wrote capstone paper for Political Science Research Seminar that analyzed World Bank data to characterize the labor market in China, worked one summer as a research fellow for a public policy think tank with published pieces in Fortune and publications posted on the think tank's website.
    Teaching Experience: Was a paid grader of the final exam for Theories of Economic Growth Class at the request of the professor.
    Letters of Recommendation: One letter from the economics professor I am working on a research project (also had him for the econ research seminar), one letter from the professor I graded the final for, and one letter from a political science professor who I know very well. Potentially an auxiliary letter from my a economist (PhD) at the consulting firm I work for.
    Work experience: 1.5 years at a forensic economic consulting firm dealing with discrimination and wage and hour issues. Experienced with big data and STATA, UNIX and advanced statistical techniques. I am not sure how academics view this, as I have heard mixed things.

  2. #2
    An Urch Guru Pundit Swami Sage
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    Re: Profile Review and Specific Questions

    1. When you're applying, you can choose which score to send for your GRE. Given the low cost, it seems sensible to give it another try.

    2. The lack of topology won't be a problem. Some adcoms won't like the online courses, but I guess there's nothing you can do to change that. In any case, your quant background seems fine and I wouldn't spend another year on it. My main suggestion is to get an additional course in proof-based probability theory, if statistics 10 doesn't cover too much of it.

    3. I think you can apply across the top 25 econ programs next year, but I strongly recommend that you consider the top 2 public policy PhDs and top 5 poli-sci PhDs. Though you haven't mentioned your research interests, I think you're in fact likely to be a better fit for either of those. You're also almost guaranteed to get into a top program in those two disciplines, whereas your chance at a top 15 econ offer is more uncertain. At worst, think of them as a back-up option.

    (Generally speaking, any two of these things: {major in poli-sci, letter from poli-sci, think tank experience, econ background without a lot of math} suggests that an applicant should strongly consider the top policy/poli-sci programs. You hit all four.)
    Last edited by chateauheart; 07-01-2017 at 12:35 AM.

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    Re: Profile Review and Specific Questions

    Thanks for your suggestions! I think I will try and retake the GRE one more time.

    I also appreciate your application suggestions. I guess to shed more light on my situation, your intuition was correct about my research interests - I am mainly interested in economic public policy. So I have thought about a public policy PhD, but have always leaned towards econ because it is more rigorous in terms of quantitative methods. I have never heard of a job in government or the private sector that a public policy or political science PhD could do that an economist could not, while I have heard of the converse situation. Is my last statement true? I guess another question is about the job market for political science and public policy PhDs: is it as good as that for economists?

    Thanks for your help!

  4. #4
    An Urch Guru Pundit Swami Sage
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    Re: Profile Review and Specific Questions

    Your concern is not unusual for students with your background and situation. In my opinion, the disciplinary distinction is not as important as is generally thought, especially if your research area is empirical micro, labor, or experimental. HKS's Public Policy PhDs regularly place some of these graduates in economics departments (including one that ended in Princeton economics), so it is quite possible to get a wide range of placements. Or to give another example, a political science PhD graduate from Harvard, who had an economics undergrad, is now heading the Behavioral Economics unit for the government of Australia.

    I don't want to mislead you, there are some disadvantages to not being in economics. Even at top departments like HKS, Harris, or the top 4-5 poli-sci departments, you are likely to encounter some senior faculty who simply don't have a conception of how to do rigorous quantitative research. The same "uncertainty" or "variation" in rigor applies to some of your peers, and occasionally, your coursework. You'll need to develop your discernment of whom to learn from or engage with, in your limited time.

    Nonetheless, in my opinion, the tendency for some students in your situation to choose economics, for increased rigor but less fit, is too idealistic. You probably underestimate the benefits of going to a top ranked program like HKS or Harris where you'll have access to a much greater variety of opportunities and resources than as a random econ student at, say, Cornell or Texas-Austin. You'll be engaging daily with students and faculty with similar interests in empirical microeconomic analysis, and you'll additionally get important professional or qualitative experience about public policy or political economy.

    In contrast, you probably under-estimate how easy it is to just pick up a graduate econometrics reference text and learn whatever you need to produce good research, if you ever feel your training is insufficient. At the end of your program, you'll be mainly judged on your ability to implement and justify your empirical methods in a job market presentation or interview. There will be a surprising number of econ PhDs and public policy PhDs on both ends of this spectrum (in terms of how well they understand applied econometrics and research design). Most people who work in empirical micro understand that there's a large variation in student ability regardless of what type or tier of program they come out of, so rest assured, you'll be judged without a strong prior for academic jobs. For non-university jobs, such as WB/IMF, consulting, or industry jobs, being from a more famous university would generally benefit you.

    Additionally, your aversion to political science may also be more indicative of your experiences in your undergrad poli-sci major - which, in most colleges, will be awful compared to your econ major. There *is* a similarly sized gap in technical difficulty at the graduate level, but only because PhD econ curriculum is so mathematically demanding (to an extent that's not helpful for empirical micro students). A good PhD in public policy or political science is actually similar to an undergrad econ major in rigor, and as a matter of fact, a significant proportion of your peers will have been economics majors during their undergrad.

    The underlying assumption here is that you're very likely to get into a top public policy program or political science program, but not likely to get into a top 10 econ program. You can of course target a wide range of programs in your applications, and decide on your own implicit ranking (e.g. I'd put HKS's public policy as comparable to a #6-#10 econ program for your preferences).

    There are only a few rare cases where I think a tier-2 economics PhD is preferable to a top PPOL/poli-sci program, conditional on your known interests. First, if you have a strong personal interest in teaching, and you want to teach undergrad economics in particular, you may choose an economics program so that you'll have teaching jobs as your back-up option in the job market. Second, if you really are interested in macroeconomic aspects of policy, such as international financial/monetary topics, you'll generally get better macroeconomic training in econ programs. Though I should mention that there are still some good faculty working in these areas in Harris, HKS, or even Harvard's department of government.
    Last edited by chateauheart; 07-02-2017 at 07:03 AM.

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    Re: Profile Review and Specific Questions

    That is very helpful,. I appreciate the depth of your answers. I think I will add some of those top programs to my application list. I had one other concern: from my current understanding funding appears to be more frequently or universally awarded to econ PhD, whereas even at top public policy programs, like HKS, it appears to be need based or more difficult to acquire. Is this true?

    I am deeply interested in political economy, and I am thinking of applying to some of those programs too. Are PhDs in political economy generally viewed as equals to pure econ PhDs in the job market and academia?

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    Re: Profile Review and Specific Questions

    I think there are four top programs in political economy or public policy: Harvard/HKS PEG, HKS Public Policy, Stanford GSB Political Economics, and Harris Public Policy.

    From all that I've heard, students in all those programs receive fully funded offers, i.e. a combination of stipend + teaching guarantees. Someone should PM me to correct me if I'm wrong (i.e. they had received a non fully funded offer for their own applications).

    My suggestion is that you simply apply to all four of these programs, and learn more about their individual strengths and disadvantages later (if/when you get an offer).

    PEG is generally considered comparable to a top 5 econ program in the econ job market, while Stanford's political economics graduates predominantly go into the poli-sci job market, so they do not have a clear track record in the econ job market. But again, the economics demand-side honestly doesn't care about your pedigree too much if you're in empirical micro or development.

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