Chris Blattman

How I manage PhD and post-doc advising

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A note to new PhD applicants

I often get emails from prospective students asking if I would be their advisor if they joined a PhD program here. The short answer: I happily meet with University of Chicago PhD students on any topic, and if you’re in the Harris PhD, a related PhD program, and working in my general area, then it would be natural for me to be a regular adviser. In the case where I’m one of your main advisers, you can read more about the regular advising group below.

Do you need an adviser lined up in advance of your application? No. Given the overwhelming number of applicants to these programs, it’s uncommon to speak with faculty in advance. Merely explaining in your application letter which faculty you would like to work with and why is sufficient.

A lot of applicants ask me for advice or meetings during applications. Since I generally can’t meet these requests, I’ve written up some advice on applying to PhDs. And here is information on the Harris PhD. It’s arguably one of the best places to study political economy of development, among other topics. It’s also one of the only places you can get rigorous training in both political science and economics.

Current UChicago PhD students

I am always happy to talk to Chicago PhDs student about their work, regardless of field. Please do contact me or sign up for office hours online to discuss. New students should feel free to come by just to chat generally, especially first year PhDs. The advice below applies mainly to regular visitors and (most of all) people who will have me as a primary adviser.

Before coming to see me, however, do look at the advice posts first, to see if they apply. That way we can skip generalities when we meet and get to the meat of the discussion.

General suggestions

Here are some ways that I think advising works most effectively:

  • I prefer you to send concise written updates (a couple of paragraphs or pages by email) a day or two before meeting. I will read it and we can discuss.
  • If you are working with data or theory, I recommend bringing figures/tables to our meetings to discuss–it’s much easier to give concrete feedback.
  • Like other faculty (especially ones with small kids) I usually need advance time to review something
    • A day or two to review a 1-2 page summary
    • A week or two for a paper or memo
  • When I say I will do something by a certain date, I will usually do it, and if I don’t, I ask you to poke and remind me because sometimes things get missed
    • Similarly, if I haven’t responded to an email in 24 or 48 hours (which is rare), please remind me, since it means it may have been overlooked by accident
  • I will make extensive notes on any memos or papers you send me, often electronically, so if this is something you want, please email as a PDF, with sufficient margins for me to write electronic comments (e.g. wide margins, double spacing, no small fonts)
  • In general, faculty will start to forget your work if you only see them every four months, so visit regularly
  • I would normally expect my core students to be seeing me, showing me tables/figures, and discussing progress once or twice a month

Finally, I can focus on your specific work in more depth if we jump past all the generic advice. Please take a look at the advice posts.