It’s that time of year. Kids are starting college. Near graduates, terrified by the job market, are wondering whether they can just stay on for an MA. People who have been working for a few years have become wistful about going back for grad school. And many indulge dreams of starting a PhD.
Let’s start at the beginning, with 10 things not enough kids know about college, my post at Vox. There I tell you why you should to learn how write well, choose courses based on teachers not topics, and do more technical classes. But my most controversial point is don’t spend too much time on languages:
Languages are hugely important. And you should learn another (or many others) besides English. But I think they’re better learned in immersion, during your summers or before and after college. Maybe take an introductory course or two at university to get you started, or an advanced course or two to solidify what you already know, but only that.
Statistics are not more important than languages. But the opportunity cost of skipping a statistics course is high because it’s hard to find ways to learn statistics outside the university. Remember you only get 30 or 40 courses at university. There are a dozen other times and places you can learn a language. Arguably they’re better places to learn it too.
For people interested in professional careers in policy, I’ve recently updated this post on how to choose between Master’s programs. One of my favorite bits is this:
in the US I would be cautious with simple MA programs in political science and economics. These are usually money-making programs for the school and core faculty are seldom involved. There are exceptions, but I don’t know what ones are good or not. Since I’ve spent years teaching and on admissions committees at many good schools, that alone should tell you something about these MA programs.
Last, there are doctorates. I recently updated my PhD advice: Should you do a PhD, where, in what, and how to get admitted to a top school? Note this is mainly useful for people in my fields. Also, why you shouldn’t do field experiments for you dissertation.
I’m helping run admissions to the Chicago Harris PhD in Public Policy this year, so you will hear more from me on that. If you are interested in political economy of development, we aim to be the best. You can see some of the amazing action and people here. And we are recruiting some freaking amazing people right now. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, one of the weirdest things about my blog: the single most read post, visited by hundreds of people a day, every day (still!), is about when you’re too old for a PhD. I seem to have tapped into some deep well of angst on the Internet. And no, my answer is definitely not “you’re never too old.” This ain’t the Hallmark channel, people.
Finally, I give you the post that you could say started this blog: How to get a PhD and save the world. I’m still figuring that question out. Maybe the most important piece of advice: “Hang in there”:
In the first year of any grad program you will encounter a lot of required material that will feel too theoretical, too divorced from social change, and (occasionally) like too much nonsense. Much of it is good for you (see point 1), even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. After a year of metrics and micro theory, I was ready to run to the real world to do what I thought I really wanted to do. The best advice I ever got (from one of my pre-PhD advisers) was, “Shut up and hang in there; by your second to third year you will discover all the people doing interesting applied work soon enough and be free to work on whatever you want by your third year.” He was right.