Thursday, August 11, 2011

School's Out. Let's Talk About School

Several interesting posts from people who know well the pro's and con's of advanced degrees and life doing foreign policy stuff.  Check out the discussion spawned by Andrew Exum and Erin Simpson and then commented on by Dan DreznerRobert Farley and James Joyner.

Most of these folks have more policy experience than I do (one year), more experience with policy schools (none yet, although IR/PS was near the UCSD poli sci dept and I worked with profs who were based at IR/PS), but I have had students move on to policy positions and most of my PhD students have found tenure-track positions.  So, I have heaps of opinions about this stuff but I can summarize it in one line, given this job market
  • If you do not have a deep curiosity about politics, a PhD in political science is not for you. 
 The PhD is no guarantee of a job, and it does represent a serious opportunity cost (see Farley) in terms of time.  Once you are in a PhD program, it becomes mighty hard to leave as sunk cost logics tend to overcome arguments about exiting.  Having a PhD does open up some interesting alternatives but strangely closes others as one becomes over-qualified in some eyes.  Policy PhDs and academic PhDs are entirely different beasts with only some programs doing a good job of providing people enough of a background in each.  It really is a case of path dependence--you can get off the path, but it has costs.

I do disagree a bit with Joyner who basically says don't go to a school outside the top ten or twenty-five.  Rankings are far from perfect, as I have noted beforeAnd one can end up doing great in grad school (great idea, great execution, strong pubs)* so that a very good program can be good enough.  But there is a point--that the worse the reputation of a school, the more you are daring the fates.  You can get a great education in a middling program and get a good job, but it is riskier.

* Not referring to me, as I had good idea, good execution and no pubs.  

Grad school is a reasonable choice, if you go in with your eyes open to what opportunities that it may or may not open up.  But there are tradeoffs, so it is not a great idea for those who simply want to delay "real life" a  few years. 

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