Chris Blattman

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


16 Responses

  1. 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.

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  2. 2018 Cohort admits over 20 people and none of the international students have financial aids. You can only take electives of your own interests at your last quarter. I’d say many of the merits listed here are not accurate. The curriculum is not very flexible.

  3. This sounds like a very exciting program and I’d be very interested in applying.
    One question that I have is regarding my background, which I believe is not quantitative enough. This is a deficit that I was planning to overcome by studying for an MPP, however I would very much prefer the more academic outlook of the MACRM, as I am interested in applying for PhD programs further down the road.

    Would you know whether it’s possible or acceptable to proof my quantitative skills for admission to the MACRM by taking classes online, e.g. On EdX or Coursera? Or would you suggest I stick to my original plan to pursue an MPP degree in order to prepare for doctoral studies? I have some preparation in the form of Micro + Macro I and statistics, all of which I finished with very high grades. I also feel completely confident that I will succeed in all quantitative aspects of the degree, however I don’t have sufficient credentials.

  4. Wow I wish this had existed (or I had known it did!) when I was deciding between Harris and the MPA-ID and wanted to stay in Hyde Park!

  5. “Serious Research” = Quantitative policy analysis? If the headline contains a fallacy, what else might we be missing??

  6. Thanks for the post and responses to previous comments.

    How does this compare to the MAPSS/Economics concentration? Additionally, is the MACRM also good for those interested in macroeconomics?

  7. Zach S:
    Was I wrong that this new program requires fewer courses? I guess I’m not sure why a program that doesn’t emphasize a broader social science outlook is being touted as better for researchers. It seems to prioritize quant knowledge over all else. I’m all for quant research skills, but the emphasis seems misplaced by highlighting it to such a degree that a broader education in social affairs is diminished. Also, shouldn’t all your students have a shot at working with faculty? It’s your school, of course, but I often advise students looking at policy schools, so I am interested in the reasoning.

    1. @Doug Hess. I think the program is well designed for students that know what their policy interest is an that see an opportunity for them to participate in some of the great research happening on campus. In this way, the student can get their research experience in the class and in an applied setting. They will get breadth and depth about their policy area from the research experience and they will hopefully use their electives to get a broader outlook by exploring other policy areas that are related to their concerns or other methodological approaches like Program Evaluation, Next Generation Data, or Survey Research Methods. This program certainly isn’t for everyone. And our most popular degree is still the MPP which encourages students to become knowledgable of all fields of policy and then specialize in one or two.

      I think that most of our students still have ample opportunity to work with faculty. Outside of research assistanceships, students have the opportunity to work on faculty-led projects through our Policy Labs, our local and international Practica, and as Teaching Assistants.

      I appreciate your questions. As any school should, we like to consistently be introspective to make sure we are providing students with the best training and experience while at Harris Public Policy. If you’d like to speak with either me or my colleague Jenny, we would love to hear more of your input and answer questions. You can email us at

  8. PhD students go to most programs regardless of their income or financial background because they can support themselves with TAships or RAships. But the Harris school says that “the average offer is 25 percent of tuition costs for two years.” The fact that your new degree will be the “primary recruiting area for graduate students” in your PhD program limits the pool of Harris PhD students to those with financial means.

    I certainly would not have been able to do my PhD if I had had to pay for 75% of my tuition – or if I had been forced to add to the debt from my undergraduate days. Many of my PhD classmates are in the same situation, particularly those from developing countries.

    I expect better from a program and a faculty that does so much work with the developing world.

    1. Hi @Economics PhD Candidate. I think you are jumping the gun a little bit. Harris continues to accept qualified PhD students without Masters students and gives full tuition plus a stipend. I think the ‘primary recruiting area’ comment is taken out of context. I believe Professor Blattman – referencing his role as a member of the Pearson Institute – will primarily be recruiting students for research assistanceships from this degree program.

  9. Check out the University of San Francisco’s Master’s in International and Development Economics – very quant heavy, you work on faculty research projects, great prep for a phd or a research heavy job that only requires a master’s. Tuition is about $24,000 a year as well, comparatively not too bad.

  10. Hi @Doug Hess. We have an MPP program as well. The MACRM program is specialized in that it serves to place each student with a faculty member who will be their adviser in research projects and will move on to be their ‘placement director’ as they go on to search for research jobs or apply to the PhD. This one-on-one hands on research experience with a faculty member who will become a mentor after graduation is something that goes above and beyond the MPP. Because of the focus on research, there is only room for three electives compared to the eleven electives our MPP students get. That being said, our MACRM candidates get an in depth and applied education of their policy interest through their research position.

  11. I wish policy schools would come together on naming their degrees. If they are going to call this something like a MPP, then it should be two years long and have several required research and methods courses. That is what most MPP programs have. So how is this different? Just seems to confuse the field with a “slightly more than one year” degree that is title something very close to MPP.

  12. Hi @Dan. My name is Zach and I work for Harris Public Policy Recruitment. We are anticipating that our MACRM students will make up a decent chunk of our overall Masters class. That being said, we’re more concerned with getting quality students than putting a certain number in each degree program.

    Typically about 50% of our applicants receive an award in the form of a scholarship or fellowship. Additional financial aid is also available from the University of Chicago and third-party sources.

    I hope this helps. I encourage you to email for all inquiries about Harris Public Policy and our admissions.

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