Which is for you: MPA, MPA/ID, or PhD?

Note: This post is a bit out of date and MPA/ID focused, and I updated it October 2013.

Students often ask me about the MPA/ID program at Harvard’s Kennedy School, a course I completed about six years ago, before going on to do an economics PhD. (For those who are unfamiliar, the program is similar to a standard Master’s in Public Administration, but with a heavy emphasis on international development–hence the “ID”–and on advanced economic analysis.)

The most common question I receive is “should I do the ID program?”– a question that is usually shorthand for: “Is it better than an MPA?”, “Is the math too hard?” and “Is it a substitute for a PhD in economics?”

I polled some classmates, and jot down their thoughts (and mine) below. A number of more recent IDs read this blog, and I encourage them to comment as well.

The short story: whether an ID-focused program is right for you depends largely on you. The ID is probably ideal if you want to work in a large development institution, but still very good if you plan to work in another field of development. If you don’t get in, or you fear the math, don’t despair; it is a simple thing to create your own ID program at whatever graduate school you land. I have many, many friends who did an MPA at Harvard or elsewhere who are doing incredible work.

Is it a substitute for a PhD? Not if you want to be a researcher, in my opinion. But for a professional career in international development the ID is probably the superior option. Should you consider doing the ID program before a PhD? Yes but mostly no, a point I return to at the end (and also discuss here).

First, let me summarize a number of the pros and cons of Harvard’s ID program. Let’s start with the (copious) pros:

  • Job placement has been outstanding, especially if you are interested in working for one of the IFIs (international financial institutions like the World Bank or IADB). The ID brand is exceptionally strong there. I think this is a reflection of great screening and selection of students, but also a superb network and a terrific environment and teaching.
  • The class is likely to be more diverse and international than any other program you will find. The new perspectives this offered in and out of the classroom were real and meaningful.
  • Your professors are in this game because they care about changing the world. A lot. Most academics are passionate and generous people. The MPA/ID faculty devote their lives to making better policy for poor people, and seldom lose focus of that.
  • Your professors are well-informed, opinionated, influential, funny, and contrary. They will challenge orthodoxies and make you think differently than when you came in the door. That is why the program is not simply a screening device for prospective employers.
  • You will be pushed intellectually in a way that my friends in MPA programs were not. An MPA may push you in other ways, but the ID program was undoubtedly more intellectually intense and intimidating, primarily because of the economic theory. (Note that this is not universally agreed upon as a pro.)
  • A classmate who later attended a PhD at another Ivy lamented the absence of other professional schools there. One of the advantages of Harvard is the presence of a public health, business, law and education school with superb courses. Another classmate was most pleased to have access to faculty at Harvard and MIT, and also Tufts, BU, BC, …
  • From a classmate now working in private finance, “I feel very comfortable in gliding between hardcore finance and public policy and sometimes the line dividing them is very fine, and those are the times when you value your MPA/ID lessons. I guess once my international workload picks up, where institutions cannot be taken for granted, MPA/ID learning would prove invaluable. I may not remember the maths but ideas are still very fresh in my mind.”
  • The Kennedy school has a non-stop set of prominent speakers, often every day. I saw 25 current or former heads of state speak in my first year alone. Of course, you get to enjoy this from every program.
  • One classmate suggests that the program is a superb entry point into the international development world and the US job market for anyone coming from overseas, especially because of the high proportion of non-Americans in the class.
  • Program Director Carol Finney will become your second mom.
  • From another classmate, my favorite pro: “To find a brilliant spouse.” I think you could probably do that from an MPA, of course. And I found my brilliant spouse in the slowest Internet cafe in Nairobi, which goes to show you just can’t plan these things.

Now, some cons I’ve experienced or heard from classmates (sorry, Carol!):

  • From a classmate now working in the humanitarian field, the program really doesn’t prepare you for fieldwork and grassroots development work (prepare even in the theoretical sense–naturally you will only get field experience in the field). This lack of micro focus was my experience as well. At least at the time I was there, the faculty was dominated by eminent development macroeconomists, and there were few field economists doing applied micro work. Thus when I arrived at Berkeley I knew little about microeconomic development–a field that would later become my life and love. The applied micro focus may be better now, especially with people like Rohini Pande around, but I’d like to hear from more recent IDs on this point.
  • There appears to be less placement into the US government, UN, and humanitarian agencies, and the network feels smaller there. I’m told the ID “brand name” has not carried that far, even within USAID and MCC. There is a beeline to the IFIs, however.
  • If you don’t want or need PhD-level economic theory, then maybe you don’t want or need PhD-level economic theory. An MPA might be a better choice. I have a close friend who created her own ID-focused MPA, with a foreign policy and aid focus, and is now quite senior at the State Department. But (as someone noted in the pros) you may find the math is good for you in the long run.
  • You have almost no course flexibility in the first year, and it is not until your second year that you can branch out and begin meeting non-ID people, even at the Kennedy School. This was my experience, and I’m an extrovert by nature.
  • The career services group seems to be universally derided. I have no personal experience with it, however, since I went straight into academia.
  • Another classmate reminds me that the program was expensive. Some other schools (e.g. Woodrow Wilson at Princeton) are essentially free for the majority of students. I still have Cdn$60k in debt, for instance, which is no small burden (and I had a half-scholarship). I just try not to think about it, especially since I now earn US dollars and the Canadian dollar has appreciated almost 50 percent since I borrowed. Is it selfish and impersonal for me to secretly hope that Canada’s natural resources and industry dry up in the next year?
  • It’s not yet clear if there is a glass ceiling for IDs in professional economics positions, especially where PhDs have historically dominated. In World Bank operational jobs, my sense is that there is no ceiling so far, and in fact IDs have been doing exceptionally well. In more research-y jobs (think impact evaluation or tasks requiring advanced statistical analysis) I think the glass ceiling has already become clear in a handful of places. A couple of friends have bumped their heads against that ceiling already. But these jobs are probably a very small fraction of the total. Outside the professional research positions, I think an ID will get you further ahead than behind.

Now, to the PhD questions. Is the ID a substitute for a PhD? A precursor? My answer is weakly “no” to both points, but it is better if I explain.

The best reason to get a PhD is if you want to be a professional researcher. Some would go even further, and say that a PhD is appropriate only if you want to take a position as an assistant professor. Dani Rodrik has blogged this opinion (and he is the Director of the ID program). My sense, however, is that a PhD is also right for people who want to do institutional research as well–statistics for the World Bank or census bureaus, impact evaluation for MCC or the Poverty Action Lab, and probably senior macroeconomic policy at places like the Fed or IMF.

Is the course work similar? The microeconomic and macroeconomic course sequence were very close to what I covered in the PhD program at Berkeley (although the general equilibrium training was weak the year I did the ID). In contrast, the PhD econometrics coursework was orders of magnitude more advanced. If your goal is applied statistical analysis, a PhD may be a better option.

For all other development careers, I would endorse the ID program with gusto. Yes, a PhD program has its benefits, but the opportunity cost in terms of alternative experience (and foregone earnings!) is enormous. A PhD makes you a one-trick pony. An MPA or MPA/ID plus three or four years of work experience makes you a handy jack of all development trades.

Should you do both? That’s what I did, and that’s what Dani did too. Many of my classmates have gone on to PhDs as well. In general, however, if you are pretty sure you want to do research and you can get into a top PhD program, then go straight there. An MPA or ID will be a pleasant detour, and will inform your work and research, but better just to get the PhD done. Fast.

If you hesitate between practice and research, an MPA or ID program is terrific. It helped me, Dani, and many others sort out our priorities. The program also gave me the breadth and field experience that was of great benefit in my own PhD (although it meant I was the old man of the class). In my case, it also gave me the training and credibility I needed to get into a top PhD (although I could have done that with an economics MA, I suppose).

If you do go the PhD direction, see my post on how to get a PhD and save the world.

Former IDers: comment away. This will be a much more helpful post to future inquisitors if you applaud me, harass me, or tell your story and experience.


UPDATE: Marshall Jevons (that can’t be his real name) lists other excellent ID programs.

Also, Dani responds here. As I hoped, he notes that the ID program’s focus on micro development has increased.

And as for whether long posts are good for my career, well, everyone needs a hobby. I do appreciate the concern, and it might be warranted. I’ll make my the-blog-is-not-a-career-death-move-and-might-even-help-tenure argument another time. The short answer: every single thing I’ve ever done in academia that people have liked has begun with conventional economists (Dani is not one of these) telling me it’s not a smart move. I like to follow my instincts and, as I mentioned above, do what I love. It’s an experiment. I’ll let you know how it works out in, oh, about seven years.

Hopefully on this blog.

44 thoughts on “Which is for you: MPA, MPA/ID, or PhD?

  1. This was so helpful!
    Is HKS the only place that offers an MPA/ID program? What are some other good options for an ID program?

  2. Dear Sir/Madam, Thanks for the material you posted that has been an immense succour to all readers like me.
    Please can one be admitted for a PhD study with MPA degree? If possible, Please kindly link me with the addresses/web links of these Universities to enable me apply.
    I appreciate your kind concern now and always!
    Gideon Nwaogu

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  4. Am transitioning from a career in law, want a strong background in econ and would love to work for the Fed or maybe World Bank or similar. If I love studying econ, might subsequently apply for PhD programs. School choices right now are HKS MC-MPA (11-month mid-career MPA), SAIS’ new 11-month MIEF or SAIS MA. Any views on which program is best?

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  7. Chris, others – Thanks. Very informative and useful. I have an admit both from HKS MPAID and MPA Princeton, Woodrow Wilson. What are your thoughts on the comparison between the two? The Princeton MPA is fully funded, while I do not have HKS funding decision yet. Any advice would be extremely useful, since I will need to make up my mind in the next 15 days or so.

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  9. Great post Chris. Very informative. Has anyone looked up (better yet attended) Oxford’s MPhil in Development Studies?

    See here: http://www.qeh.ox.ac.uk/study/courses/mphil

    I guess this program would kick MPA/ID’s ass on any given day but I am not sure. I would like to hear from someone who graduated from Oxford’s program please. Also Chris, could you post anything about comparable programs at other schools. There must be people out there who would like to study development, but not interested in Harvard. Thank you

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  11. I wish all the good sides of the MPA/ID also applied to the MPP. I have an MPP from Harvard and now aiming at a PhD in Political Science. The only pro I would agree with from Chris’ list is the one about the amazing speakers coming in all the time. Otherwise, the program is pretty disastrous. They admit more students that they can handle (think: cash cow), the level is abysmally low, faculty are disinterested in students, and career outcomes are poor at best. (we had a second year career talk where international students we told “You are not going to find a job in the US”). I was preemptively treated like an idiot in the GSAS PhD seminars I attempted to enter simply for being an MPP student.

    I would vote for a PhD program hands down in terms of how much you learn, the quality of your peers, the attention you get from faculty and funding opportunities. The professional added value of a PhD is higher than the MPP per se – but of course the opportunity cost of time to get PhD and the lost work experience makes the MPP more attractive for ‘real-world jobs’. However, I still feel there are few jobs I could now do with the MPP I could not have applied for with simply an BA – or at most an MA in politics.

    I think that US schools brand themselves so successfully, especially if they can back up the offering with the magic word ‘Harvard’ that students and prospective applicants do not really see what they are getting. I would caution anyone away from the MPP, unless they are looking for an easy time and a ‘legitimate break’ and don’t mind the financial/time cost.

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  13. Great info here.

    I am especially interested in the MBA vs MPA/ID debate. Specifically, can anyone speak to the pros and cons of getting a joint MBA (from a top 5 b-school) and MPA/ID degree (from Harvard)? I am very interested in getting pursuing a career in development after gaining a strong foundation in a career in business.

    Thanks for any insight you might be able to offer

  14. Hello. That was really a nice and informative post.
    I am an Economics Undergraduate from University of Delhi, India and now for past 5 months have been working as an RA at the Centre for Microfinance, IFMR. I am deeply intrested in development economics and have got one paper published related to developmental issues in India.
    Sir, I want a degree wherin i can do some research in ground level development economics/public policy and later can go in a PhD program in Economics.
    I am planning to apply to MPP/MPA programs at Harvard, Princeton, Brown, Chicago and Ford School at Michigan. Can you please guide me regarding, if getting a degree of MPP from places like ford school and making it a bit more quantitative will create a ground work to enter into a PhD Economics program later?? Is it the right way??

  15. Go for a Ph.D praveen. One of my cousins had the same background as yours…did a PhD in public policy and does teaching, research now

  16. I’m currently in my last year of my BA in International Relations and Economics. I’m very interested in pursuing a masters in either econ or doing the MPA/ID program. From the sounds of it, it seems as though MPA/ID program requires more experience, and I was wondering if doing both an MA in econ and an MPA/ID program would be too redundant. If you could comment on pursuing such route, that’d be very appreciated. Thanks so much!

  17. ID folks,

    I’ve only recently come across Chris’s blog, and coincidentally enough today – I came across the London School of Economics newest MPA in International Development program planned to commence in autumn of 2009. Thought it might be of interest to people who are currently exploring enrollment into an ID degree – and might also hopefully expand your choices as you consider and compare similar degrees across reputable universities.

  18. For past three months, I have been collecting information regarding Ph.D. in Eco. and MPA/ID and similar other programs. I have gone through other blogs as well. However,I am still not decided about Ph.D. or MPA/ID. I like economics. I have basic undergraduate degree in Eco. and Mathematics. Thereafter, I received MBA(Finance) from Calcutta University (India) and Masters in Public-policy and Management from IIMB (Indian Institute of Management, Bangalrore, India). I am part of permanent Indian civil service (IRS – Indian Revenue Service, to be precise) with around 10 years of experience in Central (Federal) direct tax department, Ministry of Finance, Govt. of India – at operational as well as policy level. I am aged 35 years.

    I want to work for IMF/WB or consulting organization. I also like academics/research.

    In such a situation -What should I do? MPA/ID or Ph.D.in Eco?


  19. For past three months, I have been collecting information regarding Ph.D. in Eco. and MPA/ID and similar other programs. I have gone through other blogs as well. However,I am still not decided about Ph.D. or MPA/ID. I like economics. I have basic undergraduate degree in Eco. and Mathematics. Thereafter, I received MBA(Finance) from Calcutta University (India) and Masters in Public-policy and Management from IIMB (Indian Institute of Management, Bangalrore, India). I am part of permanent Indian civil service (IRS – Indian Revenue Service, to be precise) with around 10 years of experience in Central (Federal) direct tax department, Ministry of Finance, Govt. of India – at operational as well as policy level. I am aged 35 years.

    I want to work for IMF/WB or consulting organization. I also like academics/research.

    In such a situation -What should I do? MPA/ID or Ph.D.in Eco?


  20. For past three months, I have been collecting information regarding Ph.D. in Eco. and MPA/ID and similar other programs. I have gone through other blogs as well. However,I am still not decided about Ph.D. or MPA/ID. I like economics. I have basic undergraduate degree in Eco. and Mathematics. Thereafter, I received MBA(Finance) from Calcutta University (India) and Masters in Public-policy and Management from IIMB (Indian Institute of Management, Bangalrore, India). I am part of permanent Indian civil service (IRS – Indian Revenue Service, to be precise) with around 10 years of experience in Central (Federal) direct tax department, Ministry of Finance, Govt. of India – at operational as well as policy level. I am aged 35 years.

    I want to work for IMF/WB or consulting organization. I also like academics/research.

    In such a situation -What should I do? MPA/ID or Ph.D.in Eco?


  21. chris,

    excellent blog – i found it extremely useful.

    the mpa/id seems policy-heavy. is it a good course for a budding social entrepreneur or would an mba be better in your view?

  22. I am graduating this year from the MPA/ID. I got what I wanted. I even got much more than I expected. The curriculum has a huge chocolate cake filled with Microeconomics, Macroeconomics and Econometrics models and real life examples.

    On top of that, you can add 10 pounds of cherries of courses on negotiations, finance, entrepreneurship, agribusiness, design, democracy and/or leadership. The MPA/ID gets you into HKS, HBS, MIT, Tufts.

    I am convinced that much of the positive change needed in the world comes from people that had been able to change their personal mental models and had been able to innovate and challenge the systems from the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

    In my personal experience, the MPA/ID is a good fit for candidates with a sound quantitative background that want to move to a change maker career in development. If your goal is to become a RA, a bureaucrat, the head of a central bank, don’t waste your time and get your PhD. To what extent the PhD will provide the necessary skills to do the job is another story, but at least it will send a stronger signal.

  23. Great post & interesting comments.

    The MPA/ID is an absolutely fascinating program if you love development AND economics (but don’t want to do a PhD). As someone who falls into that category, for sheer enjoyment of the subject material covered I cannot think of a better or more interesting program. Moreover, there is a great opportunity to expand your horizons with a class or two at the other grad schools/depts at Harvard & MIT(law, business, PhD econ dept etc…). And you will meet amazing and inspiring class mates.

    That said, the MPAID program has its drawbacks when it comes to getting a job (Harvard name aside). Serious economist positions seem out of reach…and it feels employers value the MBA more for many other jobs (e.g. development consulting, project management jobs, priv. sector development, even many NGOs…). If you are trying to transition into development, a degree in development counts for much less than relevant field experience.

    So, if you want to work in development, but dont want a job that entails too much research or economics, a year or two of field experience plus a top MBA will probably open more doors for you.

    If you want the economics, the MPAID is great and really enjoyable but fighting it out against PhDs in the job market may be hard work.

  24. Chris – thanks for a balanced and interesting posting. It seems little has changed in the syllabus in the last 6 years, but the people taking the class have changed – fewer frustrated PhDs. Many of this year’s MPA/ID class are heading for consulting because we don’t want to end up as RAs at the Bank (or anywhere else). The only people going into governments or donor agencies are people from developing countries where a Harvard degree is respected – if you’re from the US or Europe (like me) it’s almost a disqualification for a public service job. I’m still convinced, though, that with the quality of the people who take the program, we’ll change that opinion!

  25. I had to smile when I read this . . . “most alumni in these roles head back for PhD a couple years later after growing tired of being second class citizen in their groups and facing the prospects of a career as a research assistant” . . . this is exactly what happened to me.

    The network and training of the MPA/ID enabled me to find a respectable research assistant gig at the WB. As I didn’t get into development to spend my career staring at a computer in DC, though, I hoped to make the jump into a more operations-based position after a year or so of research assistance. This was a lot tougher than I thought – operations want people with specialized knowledge, either of a sector or a country. Owing to my inexperience when I entered the MPA/ID and the program’s generalized approach, this was something I didn’t have. After a couple of years of being told I needed to get a Ph.D. if I wanted to go anywhere in the WB, I finally just relented and went back to get one.

    I still consider the MPA/ID useful as: (a) I never would have got anywhere near the WB without it; and (b) whereas I had little interest in pursuing a Ph.D. when I entered the program, the coursework gave me an interest in academic research and the basic skills I needed to perform such. Quite simply, the MPA/ID took me to places, both academic and professional, that I could never have gone without it.

    The question as to the program’s average utility, though, is an open one. When I went through the program a number of years ago, the MPA/ID was still attempting to mimic the first year of an economics Ph.D., which I think was a huge mistake. I believe they’ve relented somewhat since then, but evidently not enough. The issue the program faces, I think, is that there isn’t much middle ground between the kind of “concepts-based” intermediate micro / macro sequence that is taught at the undergrad level and the “calculus-based” advanced micro / macro sequence that is taught to first year Ph.D.’s. The program thereby faces a dilemma of either re-teaching concepts most of its students grasped firmly as undergrads or laying on the problem sets laden with calculus (Jeff Frankel’s course is one of the few exceptions I can think of which managed to go above and beyond what is taught to undergrads, without miring students in the math). I agree that the vast majority of students get very little out of the latter, but I don’t think the program had much choice if it is to justify itself as a 2-year program (development studies at LSE solves the problem, I guess, by being only a 1-year investment).

    I think the MPA/ID, as it currently stands, is probably an excellent choice for those who want to work as RAs at the Bank and probably an even better choice of those who want to work in evaluations of development programs (one of the few areas in the development workplace which combine serious management challenges with serious academic challenges and which is therefore well-suited to the skills the MPA/ID aims to impart). I agree with anonymous, though, that those who can get into a top MPA program and are interested in more entrepreneurial or managerial positions in the development workplace should opt for the MBA. Those who want to work in IFI operations, the UN, or at NGOs are probably best served by getting a job in the field (even as a volunteer) and then saving time and money at LSE’s development studies master’s.

  26. Chris,
    Great to see more balanced analysis of the MPA/ID program. I think “anonymous’s” post above on MPA/ID versus MBA raises a critical point: the MPA/ID program has misleading marketing and is only a good match for a very small portion of the students that actually go through it. The program is designed for people that:
    1) want PhD’s that can’t (or don’t want to) go directly to PhD
    2) want to work in academic-like setting of the research parts of IMF or World Bank, a think tank, or research lab (and are fully aware of the fact that most alumni in these roles head back for PhD a couple years later after growing tired of being second class citizen in their groups and facing the prospects of a career as a research assistant).

    For the vast majority of people in development careers that are looking for preparation to be future managers and leaders in development world, this is quite a poor match. It is a pre-PhD program and, despite its marketing, it is not an MBA for the development community. This is a shame as I think original idea of program (reflected in its marketing) is great, but I will never understand how they ended up concluding that 20 page calculus problem sets are an efficient, or even relevant, way of teaching development practitioners. Perhaps just another example of what can happen when too many economists and too few people with real world experience are involved in a project?

    And I disagree with Rodrik’s comment that Pande, Khwaja, et al somehow make it more micro, field relevant. Perhaps they are more applied when compared to classic economist work and teaching, but still at least 90% of the teaching is staring at derivations and equations that have almost no applicability to students that, for the most part, really just want to understand the intuition and the difficult task of applying to real world situations. Some people above seem to suggest that you can only learn academic, “book-ish” things in school. I disagree and think that just a walk across the river to the business school can show some fairly effective and refined ways of preparing students with skills and concepts that are actually useful to probable careers. Sadly the teaching in MPA/ID program just feels lazy and for most part I think a regurgitation of lectures, problem sets, etc that professors had in their PhD programs.

    So anonymous, I would strongly recommend looking at your goals and if they do not involve getting a PhD, go to a good MBA program and take as many development-related classes as you can on the side. Of course check out the MPA/ID program but make sure you sit through as many of the undergrad-like core course lectures as you can, look through the problem sets, etc., but I am almost certain that if you are considering an MBA you share a hands-on, applied interest with many of the students that are poorly served by the program’s overwhelming academic and theoretical focus.

  27. Thanks for some helpful advice. It would be great to see a post outlining where, in general, the job opportunities are for development economists. Aside from the obvious – universities, the World Bank, national development agencies and a few think tanks – it’s not clear to me where the interesting jobs are. I’d love to hear your insights.

  28. Wonderful topic. Here’s my accumulated wisdom:

    – For those that want to work at the World Bank or IADB, the MPA/ID is a ticket unmatched by any other program – and that very much includes economics doctorates at top-ranked programs. It’s true that the “brand” is strong at these institutions, but what will ultimately give you a job is the network of faculty and alumni, which is simply amazing.

    – If you want a job at the IMF, get an economics doctorate and spend your spare time building a time machine that will take you back to the age when anyone actually had a use for the institution.

    – Jobs at the IFC seem to mostly go to those with BAs and consulting / i-banking experience. My sense is that they don’t like policy wonks much there.

    – The African and Asian Development Banks recruit in strange ways no one I know seems to know much about.

    – For NGOs and most UN agencies, my experience informs that personal connections and field experience matter much more than any academic qualification. In fact, for those interested in doing substantive humanitarian work for the rest of their lives, I’d venture to say that most post-bachelors programs (save the mid-career master’s) are a complete waste of time and resources.

    – For government / donor agencies, the technical rigor of the MPA/ID (and economics master’s) may actually be detrimental to one’s career prospects. A vanilla master’s degree from any “name” public policy institution will suit you fine and, contrary to the MPA/ID, won’t set you up for a career of being consistently vexed at the fluffiness of your co-workers.

    – Regardless of what anyone wants to do with the rest of one’s life, those who can get into top-5 b-schools should not pass up the chance opportunity. Consulting firms will take public policy graduates, but only after they’ve explained themselves to death.

    – The only option for anyone that wants to ask interesting questions and come to serious answers is a Ph.D. All but the most extremely time-efficient do not have the time to embark on serious research endeavors during a master’s. Those who think they might be interested in research but just aren’t sure should find Ph.D. programs which award master’s to those who decide to depart early and stay well clear of policy schools, which wil only waste the time and money of those who decide later they really want to do some serious research.

  29. I’ve actually ruled out the PhD. I’m not a researcher. But I am torn between an MPAID and an MBA.

    Ten years ago, this wouldn’t have been a problem. But MPAs and MBAs overlap more – in terms of course content and career outcomes – nowadays. Compare the staffs at the IMF, micro-venture capital funds like Acumen, and USAID.

    Business and development folks have different foci, though. Businesses try to answer “what’s causing my customer pain? what’s the smallest thing I can do to aleviate that pain?” type questions. IDers try to find ways to create more customers – whether they’re businesses or end-product consumers.

    The different foci suggest that the degrees will remain distinct, right? So how do folks in the development community compare MBAs and MPAIDs? Any suggestions as to which way to go?

  30. Hmmm. As a current MPP at UC Berkeley, I find myself wanting to duck into the econ department a lot…any sense of how other institutions fare if they don’t have a development curriculum as part of the branding?

  31. A couple of points of disagreement from an MCC person: first, we do have a number of MPA/ID folks. In general, our program officer positions get filled by people with masters’ from programs like SIPA, Woodrow Wilson, etc. The MPA/ID is certainly not “branded” in the sense that it is viewed as inherently superior to those programs, but an MPA/ID will not make it hard to get a job at MCC. It’s just hard to get a job at MCC period.

    Secondly, I don’t think anyone in our monitoring and evaluation shop has a PhD. We do have PhD economists who evaluate the economic logic of the programs and inform M&E, but if you want an M&E job at MCC the MPA/ID would be a better route than an econ PhD.

  32. CDS is one of the best such institutions in Asia, I’ve been told by a American economist.

  33. >Marshall Jevons (that can’t be his real name)
    yes, it is not my real name

  34. I largely agree with your advice (and I think we’ve discussed many of the points), but I would argue that I have yet to see a graduate program that prepares students for ‘real-life’ experiences like fieldwork. School is set up to relay book-ish things and my general recommendation to students (wherever you go) would be to spend your time (and money) in school on the things that school is best at feeding you, and the things it is really really hard to teach yourself (like linear algebra or regression analysis). Employers that are interested in fieldwork are not going to care if you took a class in it, but rather that you have done it. Those employers are generally less likely to care about what you studied in any case, so if you know you are ready for fieldwork and don’t have a passion for learning economics, then I would probably recommend a program with more course flexibility (and also that costs less). Not surprisingly, the employers that value the MPAID value research and also do some of it, so even if you are not going for a research job, the org may want you to talk intelligently with the economists down the hall, and be able to comment on their findings.

    If the blog readers can’t tell, I am a huge ID fan and supporter, and I think the strongest argument that Chris makes for the program (*if* you are sure that you are a development person) is that your classmates rock. The professors, the math, the hard courses, the course variety, and being at Harvard are good too, but I have made lots of great friends (like Chris!) and colleagues for life.

  35. Chris,

    Thanks very much for the comments. I can’t say that I’m much closer to knowing which direction to go but you have convinced me that the MPAID is worth consideration. Working as a research fellow in a think tank I have access to a great network of economists – I guess mining their experiences will be as good a way as any to find out.


  36. @charlie: You generally don’t get course credit in PhD program for anything, even other schools’ PhD courses.

    As for business versus bednets, I think you’re dead right. The next guy that opens a factory in Uganda will do ten times for development what I will do in a decade.

    On whether MPAID will reveal whether you’re of top assistant professor caliber, I doubt it. Even when you’re nearly done and on the job market, it’s half mystery, half crapshoot where you’ll end up. Do a PhD because you love research, and you’ll probably find a job you’re happy with. Job satisfaction is very high among assistant economics professors, regardless of ranking. In fact, higher rankings probably mean lower happiness.

  37. Chris,

    Very interesting article. Were you able to skip the first year of PhD study as a result of course overlap with the MPAID? This is an important factor for those chosing between then MPAID and a PhD as doing both is possibly 7 years of school!

    On a broader note, I am grappling with the issue of which to study because of two problems:

    i)It is not obvious what the most effective path is to become a development economist. Having taken the decision to delay graduate school in favour of working, my eyes have been opened to the realization that business seems to achieve far more in terms of poverty alleviation than either the World Bank or the IMF achieve. As someone said to me, mosquito bed nets don’t really make a difference, factories do. That’s a gross oversimplification but the main idea is there. Business can be empowering to get things done whereas the IFI’s tend to not.

    ii)To be an assistant professor would be great. Teaching can be fun and the freedom to grapple with ideas is very liberating. However, it is also true that only the small minority of PhD’s are of the caliber to become professors at a top institution. There are therefore discovery costs involved with a PhD.

    The path you seem to be suggesting is to use the MPAID as a intermediate step to really get a sense of (i) and to discover (ii). The question is can one’s budget handle both?