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Thread: Importance of dissertation topic

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    Importance of dissertation topic

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    My question is about the dissertation topic. I look at jobs on world bank, IMF or some development banks, and they have some job titles like economist or agricultural economists. The requirement for this jobs usally call for people who have a PhD in economics or a 'related discipline' and some years of experience in the particular area in question. So what does a related discipline me?

    Let's say I do my PhD in public policy or political science, but my dissertation focuses on an economic, development or agricultural issue. Is it possible for your career to somehow go from there to eventually getting one of those jobs?

    The reason I ask this is that I have a professor at my school who studied and teaches political science, but her papers and research focused on development studies in Africa and Turkey joining the EU, next thing you know she's a lead 'economists' at ECB.

    Basically, I have a double major in philosophy (bleh) and in Economics and a masters in public policy, I enjoyed doing research but I have many areas of interest. I feel that economics is the area I really enjoy but may be punching above my weight by doing a PhD in it, if that makes sense as I only have calculus 1. So I was leaning towards public policy or political science.
    I did internships at a bank and worked summers as a robot, I mean writer for a database company and I knew that traditional job was not for me. Having experienced research I know I want to do that but not certain what path to take.

    Thanks

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    Yeah you can look at a variety of development issues in political science and sociology as well as of course policy. If you want to get on the public health side of things sociology or these "social policy" programs offered by sociology departments probably aren't a bad bet. These won't be wildly different from policy programs, I don't think. The advice, regardless PhD program is pretty much always that you should look at the recent working papers that the department's faculty are doing, and especially the sort of stuff the recent job market candidates are doing. You can hopefully triangulate that with the different focuses of the development institutions you'd be aiming at longer run, and try and track in a specific direction. So yeah I'd look at ag econ programs, policy programs (especially these), maybe some sociology programs who do lots of medical and development sociology (I don't know yet what development sociology is, but I suspect it's scarily statist and Marxian), and maybe some poly sci. That's vague, but Google is your friend here, and I think you've generally got the right idea. Good luck.


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    Really helpful. Thanks

    Quote Originally Posted by Humanomics View Post
    Yeah you can look at a variety of development issues in political science and sociology as well as of course policy. If you want to get on the public health side of things sociology or these "social policy" programs offered by sociology departments probably aren't a bad bet. These won't be wildly different from policy programs, I don't think. The advice, regardless PhD program is pretty much always that you should look at the recent working papers that the department's faculty are doing, and especially the sort of stuff the recent job market candidates are doing. You can hopefully triangulate that with the different focuses of the development institutions you'd be aiming at longer run, and try and track in a specific direction. So yeah I'd look at ag econ programs, policy programs (especially these), maybe some sociology programs who do lots of medical and development sociology (I don't know yet what development sociology is, but I suspect it's scarily statist and Marxian), and maybe some poly sci. That's vague, but Google is your friend here, and I think you've generally got the right idea. Good luck.

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    I don't think development issues are considered "proper" political science by most political scientists. I'm interested in both development and political economics, so I've spent quite some time looking for people in political science departments who do development-related research. There are very few. Besides, even if you end up doing development or broadly economics-related research in a political science program, you're still expected to use formal models or quantitative evidence. You might even need to be better at math/stats than a comparable economics student because people will be generally skeptical of your training. My advice is that you try to get a strong quantitative background if you want to do economics-related research, regardless of what path you choose to follow.

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    Quote Originally Posted by chateauheart View Post
    I don't think development issues are considered "proper" political science by most political scientists. I'm interested in both development and political economics, so I've spent quite some time looking for people in political science departments who do development-related research. There are surprisingly few. Even if you end up doing development or broadly economics-related research in a political science program, you're still expected to use formal models or quantitative evidence. You might even need to be better at math/stats than a comparable economics student because of your background. My advice is that you try to get some of that quantitative training, regardless of what path you choose to follow.
    Are political scientists much more concerned with the functioning of modern (as against underdeveloped or developing) States, their interrelationships, and so forth? And what's up with the obsession with finance outside of economics? IPE people are all crazy about global financial flows, no? And there's all these sociologists wetting their pants about "financialization" as well. I would be more interested in what these people had to say if they gave standard monetary theory its due. I don't trust scholars who will not confront the other side.


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    In fact, I have a hard time understanding why most political scientists care about the things they care about. As far as I can tell, much research in political science is done with some a priori belief that it is inherently interesting to know about how politics (domestic or international or comparative) works, even if that has no policy implication or relevance to human welfare. It's not something I can relate well with. Economics students are accustomed to the general utilitarian or "welfarist" spirit that economists motivate their research with. Disciplines like pure mathematics and political science do not have the shared enthusiasm for making their research "useful".

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    Quote Originally Posted by chateauheart View Post
    Good economics students are accustomed to . . . making their research "useful".
    ftfy.

    I read a methodologist on this point (sort of) once. If you're a mathematician you have to believe the world is made of numbers. If you're a political scientist you have to believe the world is made of politics. If you're an economist you have to believe the world is made of markets. And so on. I think each discipline takes for granted that it's already struck the "root" or "core" of something that has far-reaching implications. And as you're pointing out that's how theorists get lost in their own armchairs.


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    Quote Originally Posted by chateauheart View Post
    As far as I can tell, much research in political science is done with some a priori belief that it is inherently interesting to know about how politics (domestic or international or comparative) works, even if that has no policy implication or relevance to human welfare.
    I disagree. While a lot of political science research is just as useless as pure theory here are also plenty of papers written (e.g. regulation, lobbying, political advertisement, analysis of transitional government bodies, conflict studies etc.) that have plenty of useful policy points. The problem as in economics (except in IO and at places run by economists FEDs, WB, IMF) is that good policy proposals have almost no influence on what policy makers decide to do. Still, there have been some useful political science work coming out of academia--some bayesian models have been used to predict which foreign elections in regions vulnerable to corruption had a high chance of being fixed (e.g. Iņaki Sagarzazu).

    Anyway, economists really don't have much moral higher ground considering for decades we had theorists filling out the field of public choice, the application of economic theory to the most esoteric of political problems. We even gave Sen the nobel prize, not for his work on droughts but for his work on public choice.

    Quote Originally Posted by Humanomics View Post
    I think each discipline takes for granted that it's already struck the "root" or "core" of something that has far-reaching implications. And as you're pointing out that's how theorists get lost in their own armchairs.
    So true. I was once in a low level political science class where the prof was explaining how political science is all about how to decide to distribute some scarce resource. Doesn't that sound familiar? Obviously, I agreed with him, and decided from then on that he's right--political science is a field of economics.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Walras View Post
    Obviously, I agreed with him, and decided from then on that he's right--political science is a field of economics.
    Wait, WHAT?! Now that's a joke. Economist usually think it's the other way round, not that I agree with either side though.
    PhD Econ at AU, Washington DC

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    A century or so ago, we were basically one field: political economy (which included sociology). For a number of reasons (many having to do with the expansion of colleges and universities in the 20th century and the need to organize them into manageable units), the social sciences split into many fields. We're slowly seeing convergence in methodology and a lot of cross-pollination of ideas. It's not yet an optimal levels IMHO, but interdisciplinary study is becoming more and more common.

    In my view, the optimal thing would be to move toward the Caltech model where there is just a "PhD Social Sciences." We share a common language and methodology and then apply/develop the theoretical frameworks with some awareness of what others are doing to study the same problem. We've made good progress on the methodology: political scientists and sociology programs that require strong quantitative skills are not that much less rigorous than comparably ranked econ programs. But we're still speaking different languages, or at least different dialects. Unfortunately, given the incentives facing academics, there aren't a lot of reasons to push toward consolidation. Although at some point in the not-too-distant future, budget realities may push some schools (probably lower tier public universities) toward consolidated departments and degree programs.

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