Why you or your students should apply to the PhD program at UChicago Harris


Professors who advise students on PhDs, and students thinking about a PhD: if you read this blog, there’s a good chance you should consider the PhD in public policy at UChicago Harris Public Policy.

The Harris PhD has a cohort of about 10 students per year. It has traditionally been strong in several areas: applied microeconomics, political economy of democracies, energy/environment, health, and education. The core PhD curriculum combines traditional economics training (microeconomics, applied econometrics) with political economy methods (i.e. formal theory).

Recently we’ve grown the political economy of development and conflict group. This is partly thanks to The Pearson Institute here at Harris. Between the new concentration of faculty, and the emphasis on the most rigorous training in economics, political science, and field methods, we think Harris has become one of the best places for a PhD student to come if they are interested in the political economy of development, conflict, or crime.

For instance, my fellow political economy of development faculty at Harris include Maria Bautista, Ethan Bueno de Mesquita, Oeindrila Dube, James Robinson, Luis Martínez, Austin Wright, and Jeannie Annan. We’re currently hiring more faculty in this area.

Other scholars focused on international political economy or development at Harris include Fiona Burlig, Anjali Adukia, Amir Jina, and Konstantin Sonin. Also, my colleague Jens Ludwig founded and runs the UChicago Crime Lab. Plus we have a huge number of applied microeconomists and formal political theorists.

Meanwhile, there is lots of advising and courses across campus. Most Harris PhD students have committee members from economics, Booth, law or political science, and take courses in these departments.. For instance, in political science there are Ben Lessing, Paul Staniland and Paul Poast. In development economics more broadly there is Marianne Bertrand, Leonardo Bursztyn, Adam Chilton, Michael Greenstone, Chang Tai Hsieh, Anup Malani, Rebecca Dizon-Ross, and Alessandra Voena.

Besides the famed Chicago interdepartmental seminars, like the Becker Friedman workshop, we have weekly external speaker series in public policy and economics, political economy, and development economics. Our new development PhD course sequence will be taught by me, Jim Robinson, Leonardo Bursztyn, and Alessandra Voena, plus others.

There are lots of opportunities for funding field work for your dissertation. The Pearson Institute provides generous funding for graduate research into conflict. Jens Ludwig, Oeindrila Dube and I lead JPAL’s Crime, Violence and Conflict sector, and I coordinate IPA’s Peace & Recovery program. Students of the many JPAL and IPA faculty on campus are eligible for funds from a range of JPAL and IPA initiatives. Finally, the new Tata Center for Development is a also great source of funding for graduate student research in India.

An important note on preparation and entry requirements: Because of the economics and formal theory core, applicants need to have a minimum of multivariate calculus and statistics training to enter the program. Traditionally, linear algebra is strongly recommended and real analysis is an advantage.

We understand, however, that not all political economy of development and conflict applicants will have this training, especially those with more of a political science background. We strongly encourage you to apply, even if you are uncertain whether they have all the requirements. If we accept you, it will be because we expect you will be able to handle the rigorous first year core, or because we believe we can help you get the additional math preparation you need before or during the program.

As one of the co-Directors of the PhD program, I hope to see some of you applications come in this fall. If you feel that the application fee is a barrier to you applying, please contact the office of admissions to request a waiver. We do not want this to be a barrier to you.

But given the overwhelming number of applicants to these programs, it’s uncommon to speak with faculty in advance. Like most economics and political science PhDs, we do not expect you to have developed a relationship with a faculty member in advance. Merely explaining in your application letter which faculty you would like to work with and why is sufficient. The office of admissions can explain other questions.

Like a lot of faculty, I cannot keep up with all the individual emails and inquiries I receive. I’m sorry if you do not get a reply. My approach is to focus my energies on admitted students and my advisees. Because I can’t answer individual emails, I’ve written a huge number of PhD advice posts (see right). The most relevant for admissions include these: