View Full Version : caltech

115th dream
11-07-2007, 03:13 AM
is anybody here in (or know anything about, beyond whats on their website) the caltech program (PhD in Social Science)?

11-07-2007, 04:51 AM
I have the same question. Caltech seems to be a mysterious and prestigious name in social science. Any information or comments to share?

11-07-2007, 08:42 AM
I can't really add too much, but a guy I'm friends with had just started a PhD there. I really should drop him an e-mail and see how he's going. I think that in general you would only go there if you had quite specific interests. They are extremely good at experimental economics (Charlie Plott is based there - one of the founders of the area), and there are also some great micro theorists, especially in the areas of voting-theory type stuff (what my friend was going for).

The thing with Caltech is its VERY small as far as world-class research universities go. They have under 1000 undergrads, and around 1000 grad students, and I think 275-ish academics across every discipline. I don't know how many of those are economics, but I suppose that you would really only go there with a specific intent to study under a particular academic or in a specific area (which would have to be micro-related) rather than with most of these big places where you may have a number of areas of interest and can be comfortable that everything is going to be covered. Oh also - as 115th dream noted, it's not a PhD in Economics but rather a PhD in Social Sciences - because the Economics department is kind of absorbed as part of a bigger department there. But like I said there are some fantastic economics academics around still.

Also, I gather it's got quite the MIT style emphasis on mathematics. I once happened to play a round of golf with a Professor (of Chemical Engineering - not an overly useful connection :P) from there, he mentioned that even the English undergrad majors have to go through core sequences in chemistry, physics, and math...

11-07-2007, 04:40 PM
They have no macro program, so don't go there if you want to study macro.

They aren't structured like typical universities... that might take a little getting used to.

That's all I know.

11-07-2007, 04:45 PM
I'm pretty sure there's a member on here who goes to Caltech... if you look around maybe you'll find him (or he'll see this and respond!)

Also, in the absence of some real information, I have some that's second-hand, not necessarily accurate, and not hugely relevant... I considered going there for undergrad and I was told that among the undergraduates, there is a hierarchy of majors that one pursues depending on how brilliant/hardcore you are, and goes something like math>sciences (except biology)>engineering>biology>economics. And you're ranked on the totem pole as such. Considering it's a small campus, I could imagine this might impact the grad experience to a small degree, like if you have to TA a large number of people who hold contempt for your discipline, and the undergrads in your major have self-esteem issues...

Not that this is what you'd make your decision on, of course.

11-07-2007, 10:11 PM
I was admitted there last year and attended their fly-out. My impression is that they admit a pool of people who have very well-defined research interests already, at least in terms of the field they want to do. If you are interested in micro, neuro, experimental, or political economy, it's a great place. However, make sure you are really certain about doing one of these fields because other fields (except for a bit of finance) are virtually non-existing. Of course you can also take classes at USC and UCLA, but that won't substitute having an advisor in your field at Caltech.
I think the small size of the program is an upside, as is their generous funding, and the California weather :tup:. I think some of their research also tends to be more high risk than at some other places, and hence it could be very rewarding if you're that type of researcher.

11-08-2007, 12:06 AM
Grahamcoxon (http://www.urch.com/forums/phd-economics/66608-profiles-results-2007-a-2.html#post444675) is there now.

11-09-2007, 07:13 PM
The following joke has been floating around for a while: Somebody asked the chairman of the Caltech department why they didn't teach macro. His response? "We teach fiction in the English department."

I told this story to one of my friends in the economics program at the University of Copenhagen who is doing a study-abroad semester at Caltech; he's technically an undergraduate at Caltech, but takes the graduate level econ courses. When he looking through the Caltech course catalog back home, planning his semester, he thought that it might be nice to take a macro course or two.

To his surprise (but not mine), he couldn't find any!

11-09-2007, 08:34 PM
I suspect the real reason is that if they teach macro, then it won't be a PhD in "Social Science" any more, but a straight econ PhD. If you look at the first your course requirements you will see that all students are required to take a year long courses in Political Theory and "Foundations of Social Science". If the students had to take macroeconomics, then they wouldn't be able to take these other courses.

To me, any theory, micro or macro-based, that's not corroborated by empirical evidence is a fiction until proven otherwise.

11-10-2007, 09:23 PM
My program doesn't require PhD-level macro, mainly because the goal is to teach applied microeconomists. Tons of econometrics is much more useful than macro, which we would have to take (and then forget) at most other programs. Some other programs are starting to consider specializing more in the core, and shedding stuff that just won't be useful.

11-13-2007, 06:02 PM
They "lost" Matthew O. Jackson to Stanford so I would be careful going to such a small department only for one or two profs. See also UCLA losing profs to UW St. Louis.

But, said a million times, "applying" is quite different from "attending".
(strictly speaking "applying" should be a strict subset of "attending" i.e. apply to at least a couple of "safe" schools.)