This is what I would do if I were graduating from my PhD today

In the 1960s, young PhD graduates interested in sub-Saharan Africa headed to the continent to teach and engage in academic life there. One of my PhD advisers, David Leonard, taught in Dar Es Salaam for a few years when it was the intellectual hub for emigres and revolutionaries and future Presidents. He went on to become a Professor at Berkeley. Two of my senior colleagues at Yale, David Apter and Bill Foltz, spent time working and teaching in Africa in the early years of Independence before going on to distinguished careers. I tried my best to soak up some of their stories before they passed away early into my time at Yale. It’s hard to imagine their later success without their early unorthodox choice.

When I graduated in 2007, this option was much less attractive. Most African countries were growing, but their universities struggled for a lack of funding, swollen student rolls, and discontent. Few universities seemed to be the sources of intellectual vibrancy in their country.

In Liberia, for example, the President’s office seemed more dynamic. In East Africa it was the newspapers where I thought the more vibrant work was going on. None were paths that fit for me. I figured I could do more good, for others but also for me, by taking a US post-doc and job and spending a few months a year abroad. But I missed my chance to immerse myself in a place. Visiting for weeks or even months was no substitute.

I’m happy to say that I think this is changing. Here is one example:

The African School of Economics (ASE) invites applications for postdoctoral fellowships starting in January and September 2017. Postdoctoral positions are contracted for a duration of 6 months to a year; appointments can be renewed for an additional semester or a year. Successful candidates will be required to teach at least one course and to engage in research activities in ASE’s research institutes (Institute for Research in Political Economy (IERPE) and Institute for Finance and Management (IFM)).

The ASE was started by Princeton political economist Leonard Wantchekon and strikes me as one of the more important educational experiments on the continent. I urge newly minted PhD students to apply.

And if you are a donor organization, I urge you to take a close look and consider fostering what I think will become the training ground for the continent’s 21st century leaders.

10 thoughts on “This is what I would do if I were graduating from my PhD today

  1. While I understand the sentiment – and I agree it would be great for academics who study Africa to spend more time there – I have to strongly disagree with this particular endorsement. Admittedly, it has been a couple of years since I have visited, but have you, Professor Blattman, ever been?

    Since I haven’t kept up with the internal happenings at the ASE, I won’t go in to the problems I saw in the past. But all we need do is peruse the current website.

    First, where are the pictures of the campus? Most universities are proud of their campus, and ASE held a groundbreaking ceremony many years ago. So where is it? I’m guessing that ASE is still housed in a single building, located quite far outside of Cotonou, that is home to Prof. Wantchekon’s master’s program (The Institute for Empirical Research in Political Economy). I don’t know of any serious universities that are housed in a single suburban office building.

    Second, the faculty page. Which of these people actually works at ASE? Most of them seem to be people with full time jobs elsewhere. What are their positions at ASE? What are their departments? What courses do they teach? What papers have they published? I’m not saying they haven’t published any papers, but please point me to a paper that has been published in a prominent journal where the lead author’s affiliation is the ASE.

    The “News and Media” page is long and detailed. To say that the endorsers and affiliate partners are prominent would be an understatement. But what lies beneath this shiny veneer? Where are the course syllabi? Where are the students’ theses? Is this “university” even accredited by the Beninese government?

    I am all for promoting African scholarship and local scholarly institutions. I am also a proponent of spending real time in the region one studies. I am not, however, for stalling the careers of newly minted PHDs (who have a hard enough time as it is). If prominent scholars think that the ASE is a good cause, let them be the ones to fully invest. As far as I know, even Prof. Wantchekon, “ASE President and Founder,” doesn’t spend much time there.

  2. Anon, could you please be clear on the problems that you experienced in the past so as to bury the hatchet with whomever. The website contains up-to-date information about the school and has no problems as far as I am concerned.

    The African School of Economics (ASE) started and kicked off in 2014, two years ago. The pictures of the campus is available should you be interested to see them. No doubt, the school is housed in a single building located at Abomey-Calavi, the school still has an extension at IITA junction which houses different lecture halls, academic and board room, offices and Information Technology room. If you need to see these, pictures are available for you to see.

    The faculty page comprise of visiting professors and other resident professors including Kagba Kousse, Markus Olapade, Bonou Alica, Sam Aguey, Rachidi Kotchoni, David Gbaguidi and others. Part of the long-term goal and plan is to recruit best graduating students who complete their PhDs in the nearest future. Our professors are junior professors like those obtainable in developed countries. They have room for publishing in journals as well.

    The course syllabi are readily available if you want to see them. Several copies were covered by professors and visiting professor in all subjects ranging from Seminar in development economics, Econometrics and Impact Evaluation, Development Finance, Portfolio Theory, Political Economics, International Macroeconomics and Trade, Topics in Econometric Theory, Time Series Econometrics, Seminar in Applied Micro economics, Seminar in Macroeconomics, Macroeconomics I & II, Microeconomics I & II, Econometrics I & II, Advanced Game Theory, etc.

    The theses of the students are available for you to see if you want them. For example, I worked on conflict and my results show that from evidence poverty causes conflict using the regression analysis and difference-in-difference approach. I intend to go further by using an instrumental variable approach and also test “during bad weather conditions, do people conflict more” These questions are best and standard practices as highlighted by Andrew Ted Miguel whose work on climate and conflict has been highly rated.

    The school is also fully accredited by the Beninese government. Evidence of this fact is available for you to see as well.

    Professor Leonard is a tenured professor at Princeton University and he spends time here at ASE. He visits bimonthly and spends reasonable amount of time during his visit.

    From all of the above, it is evident that you’re only out to tarnish the image of the school and the founder. I am only here to correct your fallacious response as they appear to be misleading and false.

    Donor agencies, please support a good cause without being mindful of the comments of Anon who appears to be without a name.

  3. Dear Anon, I don’t know who you are and if actually you have visited ASE. However, I am Gaetan Nandong Pre-doctoral fellow at ASE. Let me elucidate briefly what I have done during my thesis as it seems like even miles away you want to keep in touch with ASE’s activities.
    Here is the title of my MA thesis: “Public Service Management: An analysis of the maternal and infant health in Cameroon”. Using a theoretical and empirical analysis I prove that the front-line service provider lack of incentives really undermines the quality of maternal and infant health. The theoretical part of my thesis is based on the paper by Banerjee (1997) “Theory of Misgovernance” where I extend by further assuming that the government acts exogenously and the patients have different tastes, and the results complement Shleifer and Vishny (1993), Ashraf et al., 2010, Cohen and Dupas, 2010 etc… The empirical part of my study is quite compelling as my findings corroborate seminal articles like Dupas and Miguel (2016), Kremer and Miguel (2007) etc… The IV, Ethnolinguistic Fractionalization, like Mauro (1995), vindicates the findings of my thesis. I can’t explain you everything but to send you the paper if ever you want to familiarize yourself with. And stop being injudicious in regard of African who strive and wrestle with impediments like you in order to change the world. I think that’s why in some respect, Africa is still lagging behind.

  4. Dear Chris,

    i like reading your blogs. I too am interested in African development but from health care policy point of view. I would like to ask you to recommend research centers/universities in Africa, aside from the UN agencies, that offer healthcare/epidemiology internships with a superb supervision? I know this isn’t your field, development and healthcare are heavily interlinked with each other.

    I look forward to your response

  5. Thanks Chris for sharing the information about our call of applications. For those who would like to know more our post-doc program, please contact Meritxell Roca, at [email protected] or our Dean, Fr Claude Domfang at [email protected]
    Please note that Meritxell is based at the Princeton office of ASE (located in the Politics Department)

    Thanks also to Chinasa and Gaetan for sharing some of the new developments at the school as well as an overview of your thesis. Keep up with great work!

  6. I completely agree with Anon. Please Anon, do not worry, Gaetan knows the truth but … He cannot say something different because he is a student from that school. This post from Blattman is to mislead young people. ASE is a fake school of economics. How many people (faculty including staff) have left the school the last two years?, more than ten people. In reality, there is NO research center at ASE. Institute for Research in Political Economy (IERPE) is not a research center. It is only a center for data collection. Nothing else. Otherwise, if it were the case, where are the papers published by this center during its life? Institute for Finance and Management, even does not exist, it only exists online, as many other information! Unfortunately, Africa is poor and there are some crazy Africans who are ready to take advantage of that poverty. Those who created this fake school will NEVER send their kids or their relatives to study there! But they will gather poor young people, of course because of poverty. There is no difference between IERPE and ASE! It is the same thing, same building, same staff, etc. No difference! My post is a warning for any young student who will believe in this school. He could ask some former students about what is going on there. Those who got a scholarship (of course, a fake one) are summoned to pay back 50% of what they received. Gaetan, of course, Africa is still lagging behind when students like you who received the so-called scholarship should pay back the 50%. By the way, Gaetan, have you already paid the 50%? Maybe you will be exonerated after your post. But what about the other worthy students? Can someone tell me in which planet a scholarship should be reimbursed? This is why I am saying it is a fake scholarship! For prospective students, be careful, think two times before going to that school. Do not make a choice you will regret after! For those who will be interested in that post-doc program, first, ask yourself why ASE is looking for postdoctoral fellowship when there are more than 15 faculty members on their website? You have the response. It is because, in reality, they do not have many faculty to teach there. Except five faculty who are permanent faculty, the other faculty members are full-time professors elsewhere! How could they be faculty members at ASE? This is another sign that ASE is built on fraudulent information. I am pretty sure that the current Dean who is a father, if he is a true father who loves the truth, he wont last long at ASE. For donors, please look for the right information before funding this school. Do not fund a school that will benefit a family thinking that you are helping Africa. The name of Africa is only used for vested interests, not to help Africa for human capital building. You could reach former students, staff or faculty to get the right information. The website is misleading. There are too things to say about this fake school of economics, sorry, the African school of economics.

  7. There are many credible and long-established graduate programmes in economics in Sub-Saharan Africa. These already bring students to the level necessary to begin PhD studies in economics in the US or Europe. Established researchers, working on political economy issues in Africa, should know this.

    Certainly, more scholarships for SSA students to attend world-class programmes would help. This would not solve the problem that there are so few jobs, even for educated people, in most of SSA. But, at least these young people would then have the chance to compete on the world market.

    Chris Blattman, look for the dirt behind the shine. The real story is in the comments. And maybe also in the reasons why nobody is running with them.