Finally, the Master’s degree designed for people who want to do serious research or a PhD

When I arrived at Harris earlier this year, my eyes popped out a little when I found out this program existed: a Master’s degree that is part public policy degree, part research apprenticeship, and part intensive research methods training. It’s designed to be a stepping stone to either a PhD or serious quantitative research jobs in academia, think tanks, or policy organizations. If this sounds like you, apply.

It’s called the Master of Arts in Public Policy with Certificate in Research Methods, or MACRM. If you’re thinking of applying for a policy masters (or even if you’ve already applied to the Harris MPP) give this one serious thought.

  • It’s only 15 months long, running from September to the following December
  • In addition to the policy courses available in your area of interest (e.g. conflict, development, labor markets, education, health…), you take the Harris PhD courses during the academic quarters, focusing on economic theory, game theory, advanced statistics/econometrics, political economy, and quantitative modeling
  • You work on a faculty member’s research project for 10 hours a week during the academic quarters and during the summer as a research apprentice

Typically you come in designated to work with specific faculty. We like this program so much, that those of us associated with The Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts are going to get heavily involved in this program and try to recruit and train the very best people.

Besides me, those faculty include Jim RobinsonOeindrila DubeEthan Bueno de Mesquita, Jeannie AnnanRoger Myerson, Luis Martinez, and Austin Wright. That’s not counting some of the amazing hires we hope to be announcing in 2017.

Other international development and political economy people associated with Harris and the program include Konstantin SoninMichael Greenstone, Anjali Adukia, Ofer Malamud, and Alicia Menendez, as well as Jens Ludwig and Jeff Grogger on crime issues. Harris is also a place where there are a huge number of people studying US/European politics, social policy, labor markets, and public finance.

The program has been small and dormant for a while but we Pearson faculty are looking to adopt it as our primary recruiting area for graduate students. As a group, we expect to have just 3-5 MACRM students associated with us a year, so we can make this a more intensive training experience.

Of course, all of us do the majority of our teaching in the MPP program at Harris. This is the bigger and more sensible route for students wanting careers in policy. The MACRM is really for the minority of students who want to be professional researchers, and are prepared for PhD-level quantitative coursework. Other relevant Master’s programs at U Chicago include the one-year MA Program in the Social Sciences (MAPSS), or one-year MA in international relations.

The MACRM has more of a hands-on and methodological focus than these other degrees. I expect that students coming to work with me will work on data analysis during the year, and travel to Latin America or Africa to work on crime or conflict-related field work during the summer.

For example, currently I have graduate students working on a few different projects: a meta-analysis of the conflict literature; machine learning methods to predict local violence and crime; field experiments in policing and crime reduction; mapping and modeling gangs and criminal organization in Medellin; and globally scaling up and testing promising interventions such as cash transfers for poverty relief, or cognitive behavior therapy for reducing violence (including some ambitious experiments). About half my past PhD students and RAs have gone on to become coauthors on a project.

Faculty members also serve as “placement directors” for students pursuing admission to PhD programs after completing the MACRM. But beyond shepherding students into PhD programs, I also intend to work to link students to research jobs, whether that be for 8 months between the end of the MA and the PhD, or more permanent employment. I’ve helped past students into consultancies and jobs at the World Bank, the US government, the research group at the International Rescue Committee, Innovations for Poverty Action, the Poverty Action Lab, among other places. I think MACRM graduates will be in high demand.

Right now applicants are eligible for most of the same financial aid as other Harris students. The main thing I don’t love about this program is that, if you don’t get financial aid, you are paying for your degree plus apprenticing for free. Personally I’m working to raise funds for the program so that students coming to work with Pearson faculty get more aid. I hope for good news next year.

In the meantime, if you want the quantitative training, I think this is still a better bet than other Master’s degrees because it’s 15 not 21 months (thus cheaper than most other policy or economics MAs), and you are learning by doing. What distinguishes it most of all is the level of interaction with senior faculty (and opportunities for letters of reference to PhD programs). Also, I will feel really guilty until we get more financial aid, so trust that I will be working hard for my students on job and academic placement.

Some important things to know:

  • The next admissions deadline is January 20, 2017
  • If you’ve already applied to the MPP program at Harris, you can also be considered for MACRM at the same time (just contact Thayer Reed for this)
  • Candidates need to have strong math and quantitative training from their undergrad or previous degrees, similar to what you’d need for a economics PhD (certainly calculus and statistics, and ideally exposure to some of the following: economics; linear algebra; real analysis)
  • Research experience will also be valued, though not necessary (that’s what you’re coming here for, after all)
  • If you are thinking “why policy and why Harris?” then read this
  • For general admissions information go here