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Thread: Go for a PhD in economics? Sociology? Or carve out some other path? (seeking advice)

  1. #1
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    Go for a PhD in economics? Sociology? Or carve out some other path? (seeking advice)

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    Hi all,

    I find myself at a bit of a crossroads -- or rather, I see myself arriving at one in the not-so-distant future. I've been working in the field of policy research/analysis for quite a few years now and have a master's under my belt, but I'm beginning to feel like unless I acquire a PhD I may never reach the professional level I'd like to, which is to say that I'd like to lead research one day and am worried that I'll always be stuck in a purely supporting role in the think-tank scene.

    The thing is, I really love my work; I love contributing to policy research from within a think-tank-y type of organization and feel strongly that I'd like the rest of my career to play out in this sort of environment. While a career in academia has some allure on account of its own unique research (and teaching) opportunities, I have a bit of a fear about 'screaming into the void' so to speak, doing great research that no one ever reads. I know this isn't always the case in academia, and I know going the think-tank route doesn't mean the impact of one's research is guaranteed to be any more potent -- but let's just take my preferences as a given.

    What worries me is that my academic background is pretty lackluster in terms of grades, predominantly because, frankly, I didn't break my neck to do as well as I might have. Hindsight is 20/20, but when I was in my BA and MA programs in both cases I was convinced that I was taking a last step in my higher education; a PhD was only for those that wanted to be university professors (or so I thought).

    At any rate, I feel like an Econ PhD would not only provide the most rigorous quantitative / research methods training, but would open the most doors at the sort of think-tank organization at which I presently work/see myself a part of in the future -- but it's here that I'm most concerned about my academic background. Admittance into a sociology program seems more feasible, and I'm sure I could craft my own experience in such a way so as to make it a strong quantitative methods learning experience -- but the tradeoff here is that it seems like a slightly less relevant degree, with fewer doors being opened as a result.

    Here's all of my background that I think could be relevant to an admissions committee:

    Undergrad: BA in economics + BA in English, University of Michigan

    Graduate: MA in policy studies, UC Berkeley

    Research Experience: 1 year social work research --> 1 year education policy research --> (grad school w/ policy internships) --> 2 years health policy research --> 1 year education policy research = 5 years and change of university and think-tank policy research (w/ quantitative emphasis)

    GRE: I took this back in 2011 (would need to retake) but I believe my percentiles were 94 across the math, verbal, and writing sectionsLetters of Rec: I could get good recs from current/former employers/professors, the best of which would be from a current colleague who is an econ professor at a top 15 school (formerly the chair of its econ department)

    Relevant Courses & Grades (here's where it looks ******):

    (UofMich) IntroMicro A-, IntroMacro B+, IntroStats B+, Calculus II B, IntermMicro B, IntermMacro C*, EconStats B, EconDev B, EconDev II B, Econometrics B-, EconDemog B, BehavioralEcon A-

    (UCSD summer) Linear Algebra A

    (UC Berkeley) SpatialDataAnalysis B+, Land&HousingEcon A, Calculus III (Pass), RealAnalysis (dropped)

    *PSA folks: maybe don't take your major's hardest theory course in the same semester you enroll in organic chemistry 'for fun'

    TL;DR: I'm interested in pursuing an economics or sociology PhD for the purposes of developing my research skills and advancing my career in policy analysis, but although I'm not necessarily a trash candidate, my economics/math background is pretty mediocre, basically a straight B average. Is there any value in trying to go the EconPhD route, maybe shoring up my application by taking some math courses at a local college? Or is something like a top-25 school too much of a longshot that I should drop hopes of the econ and pursue the sociology route instead?

  2. #2
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    Re: Go for a PhD in economics? Sociology? Or carve out some other path? (seeking advi

    Why not look into Public Policy PhD programmes?

    A B average is definitely not enough to make it into a top 25 Econ programme.

  3. #3
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    Re: Go for a PhD in economics? Sociology? Or carve out some other path? (seeking advi

    You are right. PhDs lead research at think tanks while MAs do the research. However, those who lead research also tend to be the more established experts in their field rather than fresh PhDs. I know several very prominent health economists in their mid 40's, and even they aren't "established" enough to garner interest at most think tanks.That said, you are at a think tank right now. Maybe your colleagues could give you more efficient guidance than us.

  4. #4
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    Re: Go for a PhD in economics? Sociology? Or carve out some other path? (seeking advi

    A PhD in sociology is a straight path to lifelong irrelevance.

    I think a PhD in Public Policy at places like HKS or Chicago would be the best option. If you can't get in those, there's a scattering of other interdisciplinary policy PhDs among the top 10 or so programs.

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