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Brown vs UMich
I'm interested in development and applied micro economics, and need to choose between these two options.
Historically, Michigan has had much better placement. But, they lack of senior faculty in development in particular now. They do have a lot of interesting APs joining this fall though. Brown has incredible senior faculty - some of whom have joined in the past few years, but I don't think that their placements have quite caught up yet.
Brown is a riskier option (don't know if the placements will catch up) - so not sure whether I should go for the place with more interesting senior people or the program that has a higher median placement.
I'd actually weigh junior faculty slightly higher than senior faculty in development, so it seems like Michigan is a better choice. Development is a rapidly changing field and it's not always the case that a 50+ year old senior is a better advisor than a newly graduated AP (who would have 5-6 years of experience by the time you're on the market).
It's nice to have at least one active senior to advise you, but Dean Yang at Michigan should count (unless there's news about him moving that I'm not aware of).
What type of development are you interested in? Field experiments with RCTs like what Esther Duflo is doing, or rather quasi-natural experiments like what Nathan Nunn is doing?
If it's the former, I'm not sure, but for the latter, I would tend to think that Brown is better. In fact, in general, I would think Brown *now* is quite strong in applied micro (thanks to its recent hires of John Friedman, Emily Oster, and Jesse Shapiro). I know it's a bet but I'm certain it's on the rise and will continue in that direction. So, I would personally have chosen Brown.
I think lots of people have this debate, which highlights how close the two schools are.
I think most people would agree with two things: 1) Michigan has a stronger program right now; better placements, strong tradition of advising and caring about Ph.D. students, etc. and 2) Brown is likely to improve over the next few years. They are also both good "full service" programs in terms of having good coverage even outside of development in case your interests change.
That said, if you look at the history of U.S. News Rankings (obviously not perfect, but maybe the best option) or other rankings, you will see programs in the top 20 almost never move; and, if they do, it's pretty slow.
In other words, there certainly is probability that Brown will be a better program in 5 or 6 years, but it's likely less than 50%. I know people in this position who have taken both; in my limited sample, more have chosen Michigan, but that may change.
Overall, I would say that if you're really unsure I would recommend Michigan, but if you have a gut feeling in the other direction, I would take it.