Saturday, November 04, 2006

Applying to Grad School

A student emails me a question about the strategy of applying to PhD programs in economics:

I am currently applying to Ph.D. programs in economics, and though my primary interests are teaching undergraduates and doing policy work, I am told to hide these facts from graduate admissions committees. Judging by your teaching and your "policy wonk" status, you obviously share my interests. Why is it that such interests are looked down upon my graduate committees, and what advice can you give someone like me?
There are many jobs a person can get with a PhD in economics, including those at research universities, teaching colleges, policy organizations, think tanks, consulting firms, Wall Street, and so on. But your adviser is surely right that what PhD admission committees most like to hear from candidates is a statement of deep interest in academic research.

Why? Because these admission committees are made up of professors at research universities. When you claim to be interested in academic research, you are saying to the committee members, "I want to be just like you." Their natural response is, "Here is a smart student with sound judgment."