View Full Version : Do econ depts hire mathematicians anymore? PhD in applied math vs PhD econ

02-15-2008, 08:40 PM
The setting:
i. a school where both the maths and econ departments are top (/equally good)
ii. research interests: math econ/theory/games
iii. background: masters in econ and another masters in maths.

The options:
(1) PhD in applied math with one supervisor from the maths department and one from the econ department and dissertation in heavy-in-maths economics
(2) PhD in economics as usual :)

Note: The coursework can be the same in both programs (core maths courses can be taken as optionals by the Econ PhDs and the same for core econ courses for Maths PhDs).

The questions:
Which of the (1),(2) offers an advantage for academic carreer? Carreer in industry? Large organizations (IMF,World Bank etc) ?

02-15-2008, 09:32 PM
From what I heard from many people is that a PhD in math is really ****** for an academic career. My school (SUNY Binghamton, maybe top 70 on national ranking in US News) has a math department that's composed almost exclusively of PhDs from Harvard, MIT, U Chicago and so forth. Thus, people coming from lower ranked schools must really end up someplace at the bottom... And when I was talking to one of my econ. professors, she told me many stories of math PhDs finding it impossible to get tenure (on the other hand, she might have been trying to discourage me from studying more math).

For the industry, I can only imagine how much a math PhD working on wall street is paid. So my guess would be that it's a better choice if you want to take that direction.

Tex Jansen
02-15-2008, 09:36 PM
There are math-econ positions, but they tend to be concentrated in top departments. Thus if you fall short at these departments on the job market, you can fall pretty far. I don't know about private industry.

My understanding is that academic math jobs are very tough to get, much harder than econ. Perhaps it isn't as bad in applied math.

02-15-2008, 09:58 PM
Just speculating, but I'd guess that you're better off with the econ Ph.D. Applied math programs seem to be more catholic about the discipline of their profs' degree--you see folks with degrees in engineering, physics, etc.--so perhaps an econ degree would be marketable for jobs in certain math departments. In the reverse direction, it does seem that you'd be limited to a very small pool of positions.

Outside academia, I'd guess that it depends what you want to do. I'd expect that the econ degree would be more marketable at places like the IMF, but the reverse might be true in industry.

Very nice that you have the dueling master's degrees, though. I envy you for your dilemma. ;)

Edited to add: Hmm... I wonder whether B-schools might be a good home for someone with a math Ph.D. but strong econ background?

Chronicle Careers: 6/6/2002: The Competition for Economics Ph.D.'s (http://chronicle.com/jobs/2002/06/2002060601c.htm)

02-16-2008, 02:12 AM
We can both probably name some very good economists whose PhDs are in math or applied math. So it looks like it could work out. But: as others have mentioned - below the top 50 departments, how many pure theorists and mathematical economists actually get hired? And wouldln't a lower-ranked research university (one where the teaching is considered somewhat important) prefer an econ PhD to a math PhD, since they'd be teaching econ students? I don't know much about the second point. If you're going for an academic job in math, be aware (as someone else pointed out) that it's a competitive market - and unlike in econ, your average math PhD (incl in fields like math finance, as far as I know) does a post-doc or two before getting a tenure-track position. So econ looks pretty attractive as a field to me.

Honestly, I think whether or not a math PhD makes sense would depend hugely on who your supervisor in math would be. Unless they're a big name in math econ, if you want an academic job I'd go for the econ degree. If you don't really care where you work - then go for whatever supports your research. If the math supervisor is a big name, and well known in econ, then perhaps the math degree makes sense if you'd get better supervision as a math student and if the supervisor has the reputation in econ to place you competitively on the econ job market.

As has been mentioned - I think industry would look fabourably on an applied math PhD, and there seems to be demand for math PhDs in industry; I'm sure there would be for someone doing math econ. There'd be demand in industry for someone doing econ too though.

The only other possible considerations I can think of would happen if one department offered much better funding or was substantially more supportive of its students.

02-16-2008, 03:10 AM
We can both probably name some very good economists whose PhDs are in math or applied math.

I reckon John Nash would be one?

02-16-2008, 04:28 AM
I reckon John Nash would be one?

Don't forget Clive Granger, another Nobel Laureate! And, unlike Nash, Granger has taught at Economics Departments throughout his life, and is actually regarded as an economist. Nash, strictly speaking, has never been an economist, despite his Econ Nobel Prize.

By the way, Ennio Stacchetti (NYU), an economist who works on theoretical micro, is a PhD in Computer Sc., and I remember there are a couple others with doctoral degrees in Operations who work at Econ Departments as well. If I'm not mistaken, Ivana Komunjer (Econ, UCSD) holds her doctoral degree in Management, and currently does Econometrics.

So, I think it is all down to the field in which you do your research, rather than the mere "title" of your PhD. Of course it seems easier to work at Econ schools if you have a PhD in Econ, but there are enough exceptions not to make it an absolute rule.


02-16-2008, 08:16 AM
I reckon John Nash would be one?

More recently, Robert Anderson was a student of Kakutani's at Yale. He's now at Berkeley in the econ department doing micro theory.

02-16-2008, 09:07 AM
Both Myerson and Maskin are applied mathematicians, Fisher Black (from the Black-Scholes model) was an applied mathematician; Tirole and Laffont both hold dual degrees in math and econ; Aldo Rustichini is also a mathematician; for sure there are some other examples. For instance, UIUC hired an assistant prof. last year who graduated from IMPA.

Economics itself looks more and more as a branch of applied math - if we set aside the foundational part of it. Even in my country some undergrad courses in applied math started to include economics as a field of specialization. Hence, I wouldn't be surprised if one from a math dept would eventually lend in an econ dept: it boils down to your work, if it's relevant or not for economics, no matter what your background.

02-16-2008, 09:16 AM
Thank you all for your insights!

Roger Myerson and Eric Maskin both have PhD in Applied Mathematics (Harvard of course) but (again of course) I do not see becoming near as famous as they are. :D

02-16-2008, 05:21 PM
Given that Maskin and Myerson are both applied math PhDs, I wonder
if I am still able to do micro/game theory in the future if I pursue an Econ PhD. I really think these mathematicians are robbing we economists of the
chance to get the Nobel.;)

OK,I don't really care about the diploma,but how is it possible for econ graduates with a taste for micro/game to power up their math ability sufficiently during the five years in grad school given that it takes at least a full year to learn their core subjects(analysis,algebra,topology,I suspect)?
Not to mention things beyond the cores (modern math,as far as I know,are more or less based on the three subjects). Obviously it's not quite possible,so does it mean that the chance of doing modern micro/game theory is very slim? I just don't think I have the ability and time to study math as thoroughly as I did to undergrad stuffs--I did 50% up of the problems in baby Rudin and Apostol. Must I do the same thing to adult Rudin and Royden?
Well,my way for learning math is to DO ALL THE PROBLEMS,this is necessary for me to get some sense about what a subject is murmuring about.

Even with a B.A. in math(double), Econometrica still looks pretty Greek to me most of the time(or am I just too weak?):doh:

02-16-2008, 06:23 PM
I just don't think I have the ability and time to study math as thoroughly as I did to undergrad stuffs--

Certainly we are not as "fresh" and "thirsty/hungry" as when we were undergrads (my undergrad is in econ and few years later I did the MSc in math) but perhaps we know how to study more efficiently or why exactly we are studying. As concerns time...many people I've met have studied math on their own and they publish well doing a bit more "intuitive" research.
By the way, I think econometricians, empiricists and applied theorists have way more chances getting a job than math economists.