How to choose a graduate field of study

Good grad school advice from Tyler Cowen:

A loyal MR reader asks:

I am now beginning the process of choosing classes for next year. I thought your advice might again be useful. I am in the unusual position of finding nearly all fields potentially interesting. I also feel relatively capable of pursuing most of them, with the exception of pure theory or pure econometrics…I am tempted to do economic history + something else. If I do history, perhaps I ought to do finance, micro, or metrics in order to signal technical capability?

If you were in my place, what fields would you choose? Are their particular people…at XXXX…whom you would absolutely want to take a course with/work with? Is it possible to be a macroeconomist without doing extremely technical work? Are some fields more tolerant of heterodox views than others? You told us [once] that you thought econ. grad. school should be Micro 1 – Micro 16. Does this mean I ought to take more micro next year? Given my limited ability to know where my interests will lie in the future, how should I think about this decision?

My advice here is simple:

1. To potential academic employers you are defined by your job market paper, your letters of recommendation, and by your publications, if you have any. Your formal “fields” aren’t that important, nor are your classes per se.

2. Pick classes to learn skills and choose your classes on the quality of the professor, not on the topic per se. A quick classroom visit often reveals this quality within thirty seconds.

3. Pick a mentor that you, on a personal basis, relate to very well. This is of extreme importance. If he or she doesn’t like you, all is lost.

By the way, here is Ben Casnocha’s advice on how to be a good mentee.

If you want to do all of the above, plus save the world, see my previous post here.

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