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Lingua Franca's Real Guide to Grad School—Social Sciences

Table of Contents


22.   Introduction
21.   Graduate Student Existence
22.   The Rise of the Research Scholar
23.   Finances
24.   Admissions
25.   Rankings
26.   Teaching


27.   Anthropology
28.   Archaeology
29.   Communications
10.   Economics
11.   Geography
12.   History—American
13.   History—European
14.   Linguistics
15.   Political Science
16.   Psychology
17.   Sociology


18.   Museum Studies
19.   Performance Studies
20.   Cognitive Science


222.Hirings and Tenurings


Maybe it's a passion, an instinct, or a quirk of character. Maybe you like to wrestle with complex problems. Maybe you cannot rest until you track down the missing pieces of an intellectual puzzle. Maybe when you helped run a psychology experiment you felt you had found your calling. Perhaps specialized prose, or political theory, or Chomskyan linguistics no longer intimidates you. Maybe at this point you simply know that you want to go on to graduate school but are not interested in going into business, law, or medicine. Or maybe you just like what you've seen of the life your professors lead. There are hundreds of good reasons to go to graduate school—but let's get real.

No matter what your motivations, to decide to get a Ph.D. in the humanities or social sciences at the beginning of the twenty-first century takes guts. Your favorite undergraduate professors may have already warned you about the relentless pace of the work, the often petty disputes among different factions within a discipline, and the capriciousness of the academic job market. But you've probably already made the decision to pursue your passion about a subject no matter what the challenges.

Having a passionate commitment is one thing, but knowing how to choose among hundreds of graduate departments is something else. Of course, you can ask your favorite professors about particular departments in a field, but even the most helpful and well-connected professors can't always maintain a grasp on the whole of their individual disciplines: They often contain too many subfields. So how else can you learn about what's out there? Those guidebooks currently available are either "how-to's" about a single facet of graduate school (admissions, financial aid, the dissertation, the job search), or compendia of departmental addresses, phone numbers, and degrees offered—valuable information, but useless when it comes to deciding which department is best suited to your interests and goals. And most of these guides provide no analysis of the disciplines and never stick their necks out by identifying particular departments and scholars.

Let's say you are an aspiring geographer who is interested in global politics, comfortable with digital technology, and intrigued by the spatial organization of large cities. Knowing what the usual guides tell you won't help determine how friendly a given department is to the latest theories of world political systems, nor will it help you grasp the issues raised by the popularity of computer mapping, and no guidebooks inform you of how scholars interested in the city are viewing urban geography today. Lingua Franca's Real Guide will not only brief you on the debates between traditional geographers and Marxist theorists but it will also tell you about the latest work by computer-mapping whizzes and feminist geographers, as well as the ways that theorists of geography are now making connections between local and global issues that affect city life. And we'll tell you how the job market in the field has shaken out in recent years.

Your first scholarly task as a prospective graduate student, then, is to meld the advice you'll get elsewhere with the analysis and guidance that Lingua Franca's Real Guide offers. Many graduate students and professors have told us that they went into graduate school flying blind. No one had ever outlined for them more than a subfield or two of any discipline, and apart from what they learned in introductory undergraduate classes, no professor had talked with them about the history of a discipline, from its origins in the research university to its present dimensions. And when they did discuss their graduate school plans with faculty, the talk seldom touched upon the deep intellectual currents that roil beneath the surface of today's debates. Unlike other graduate schools guides on the market, then, which organize columns of information on a school-by-school basis, Lingua Franca's Real Guide approaches the topic discipline-by-discipline, giving you a better sense of each field's development and of how different programs compare within a given field.

Each chapter begins with a couple of brief biographies of your future comrades—grad students currently working on their doctorates within each discipline. While no one student is representative, these profiles are meant to bring the graduate experience to life—the breadth of a field and the myriad expectations and aspirations that students have about doing graduate level study. Some have known from an early age that they wanted to be professors; others experienced an intellectual epiphany in high school or college; still others find themselves in graduate school almost by chance—you'll be sure to find examples of all of these types in any graduate program. More significantly, some are engaged in work that is at the cutting edge of the discipline, while others are firmly rooted in traditional approaches—you'll likely find students all across this spectrum, as well, regardless of which school you choose.

The Why Study It? section provides a general sketch of a discipline's aims and suggests a few of the major questions you'll need to consider before making your decision about which program—and even which field—you'll apply for. You may, for instance, find that your growing interest in sociolinguistics is better explored in an anthropology program, or that your love for Buddhist sculpture would find better expression in a religion than an art history department. While this section may disabuse you of some idealized notions, it should replace them with a real sense of what it's like to do work in the field as a graduate student and a professor and what the intellectual issues are that you will be facing.

How Has It Taken Shape? gives the history of each discipline to the present day, since an educated decision about graduate school depends not only on knowing what the current intellectual climate is, but also on understanding how it got that way. How, for example, did art history come to be divided between object-oriented scholarship and theoretical work? Are all economists allergic to philosophical questions? What's the difference between a Ph.D. in religion and one in theology? Or between one in historical musicology and one in ethnomusicology? What do cultural anthropologists and physical anthropologists have in common? Seminal thinkers, books, and articles that have had an impact are mentioned, and it will be worth your while to acquaint yourself with the ones you don't already know—after all, this sort of independent research will be expected of you as a graduate student, and there's no time like the present to become accustomed to it. And if you do go on to graduate school, you'll be expected to know the discipline's history as well. (You may even want to reread this part again on your way to your new academic home just so that a professor's offhand reference to "the De Man affair" in comparative literature or "the Vail model of training" in psychology won't catch you totally unawares.)

We know, though, that what really brought you to Lingua Franca's Real Guide is the information contained in What's Your Next Step? Here we present a current snapshot of the discipline, the sort you might hope to get from consulting an impartial and omniscient senior professor in the field. Because no such creature exists, of course, we've assembled one for each discipline out of many interviews with senior and junior faculty, as well as administrators and grad students, at colleges and universities around the country. Here's where you'll find out not just which departments have the top professors in the discipline overall, but also which ones have noted specialists in the subfield that really interests you; not just which schools offer the best libraries, labs, or museums, but also which ones offer the most support for their graduates on the job market; not just the schools with the biggest funding packages, but also the ones with the most pedagogical training—something that will mean a lot to you as you stand for the first time in front of a group of expectant undergraduates. Equally helpful will be the description of the hurdles you will have to clear during the early years of graduate school, such as language exams and core curriculum requirements.

We began collecting this information by looking at departments that are standard-bearers. Such departments, often at older and richer institutions, are the ones that students and professors mention most often as past models of excellence. Yet today's departments are much less likely to be patterned after a few elite models: While the professorial star system and institutional name brands are still significant, their importance varies greatly from discipline to discipline, and so we discuss the workings of the prestige system on a discipline-by-discipline basis. Though a degree from an Ivy League institution or one of the great public universities is often still valuable on the job market, to apply only to these schools is a grave mistake. We made a point of quizzing professors and graduate students about which lower-profile departments might be the best places to go to study particular topics or to employ particular research methods. Don't be surprised when this guide points to places you may never have heard of, and to areas of research new to you, since we identify departments according to their specialties—something no rankings have done. Which communication departments favor the study of the political economy of the media? Which favor media effects? Which geography departments will train you in Geographic Information Systems? If you're a linguist, where can you study dialectology, sociolinguistics, or cognitive science? For students of French, which departments specialize in Francophone studies?

Eventually, of course, you'll be looking for a job, and though it might seem premature, we offer a brief assessment of your possibilities in Are There Jobs Out There? After all, graduate school isn't just an intellectual labor of love, it's also training for a very specific profession—that of the research university professor—and yet increasingly these positions are few and far between. In most disciplines, you can spend several years after graduation in low-paid short-term or adjunct teaching positions (often working at several different institutions simultaneously) before finding a tenure-track job, and chances are good you'll end up at a school several rungs below the classic research institution you've been trained for. And then, you may not find an academic position at all. With that in mind, we also mention work possibilities outside of the university system—an increasingly common topic of discussion among grad students—and we even offer you some options if you leave school after receiving just an M.A.

And finally, in Where Can You Find Out More? we point you toward professional organizations, Web sites, books, and journals that will give you an even richer sense of what each discipline is about today.

You'll also find a number of smaller chapters. Some deal with issues that cut across the disciplines—like the place of teaching in your graduate school career and the problems with the university rankings released by groups like U.S. News & World Report, Princeton Review publications, and the National Research Council. Others chapters introduce some of the emerging disciplines that are springing up in the fertile soil between existing fields. In virtually every field, much of the most exciting work crosses disciplinary boundaries and falls under the rubric of one or more "studies": cultural studies, African-American studies, American studies, medieval studies, and many others. Only a few of these, however, have established themselves as free-standing, Ph.D.-granting departments. We cover three of them here—performance studies, museum studies, and cognitive science—and as more of these programs gain critical mass and become viable disciplines of their own, they will be covered in future editions of Lingua Franca's Real Guide. Caveat emptor, however: As you talk to professors about graduate school, it's best to ask realistic questions about the best places to do interdisciplinary work. Is such research better for your second book and not for your dissertation? Does everyone praise the latest work at conferences but then hire quite traditional scholars? You'll have to judge the state of the newest work in conversations with as wide a range of people within a particular discipline as you can.

As with every book you'll read in graduate school, Lingua Franca's Real Guide is only one piece of the research you'll need to do. It will answer many of your questions, but with luck it will raise others that you will have to answer through further reading and through discussions with professors and students at any university you consider. Because departments and disciplines are not static, you should verify that the information we have provided is still current and complete. Star professors in particular are highly mobile, and your dream of studying heterodox economics at a particular institution may be foiled by the departure of even one or two of a given university's faculty. Nonetheless, if you read our overviews carefully—along with the background chapters on graduate student existence, the research scholar, admissions, and finances—you'll have a much better grasp of the big picture than all but a few students. You'll come away with a realistic—and often hard-nosed—assessment of the terrain of the academic landscape, as well as your chances for finding a home in it.


Who Studies It?

Michelle Delair, now a beginning graduate student in economics at Washington University in St. Louis, took her first class in the subject as a freshman. "Everyone hated it," she says. "It was one of the most hated classes as an undergraduate. People still ask me, 'Why did you want to do that?'" Yet because she had had a strong background in mathematics, Delair found she actually liked economics. "It's one of the few disciplines where you can blend something very technical with an interest in human behavior: How do humans behave economically? Why do they buy the things they buy?"

Even she, though, didn't expect to go on to graduate study in the subject. After graduation, she spent two years at PricewaterhouseCoopers in its government consulting practice. She left, she says, because, "It just wasn't the area of economics that interested me. I was interested in a more academic environment." Her work doing econometric modeling of loan defaults, however, had led to an interest in housing issues, and she spent two years in the more academically oriented atmosphere of a Washington, D.C., think tank, researching housing policy issues. In the process she realized how much she wanted to do her own research.

"I applied to ten different programs," she explains. "I wanted to work in urban economics, and most schools don't have anyone in that field. You want to make sure there are permanent faculty members who have research interests more or less in line with your own interests." While it's still early in her academic career, Delair is aiming for a career as a professor: "You have the freedom to do your own research, while at a think tank there's an agenda given to you—they have specific questions in mind." And, perhaps thinking of her own early experiences as a student, Delair adds, "I think teaching would be fun. Economics could be made a lot more rewarding to undergraduate students."

Benjamin Balak started studying economics as an undergraduate at the American University in Paris during the late 1980s. It was, he says, "an exciting time: The courses dealt a lot with institutions, the forming of the European Economic Union, and the changes in Eastern Europe. The faculty was diverse in its interests, and the professors did a good job of making economics interesting." Like Michelle Delair, he enjoyed the interplay between the freedom of pure theoretical modeling and the necessity of being concerned with the social aspects of the discipline. And, like most graduate students, he also reports being severely tested by his first few years as a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "I had had only two semesters of calculus before then, so I worked hard to catch up. Still, I'm proud of myself for getting through—it was rewarding, in a sort of salt-mine kind of way."

Currently finishing a dissertation entitled "McCloskey: Ethically Deconstructing Economic Thought," Balak is engaged in what he describesas a "meta-critique" of the discipline, examining the history of economic thought and the field's methodology in light of recent thinking about the problems of realism and objectivity in science. This has required him to spend a lot of time, as he puts it, "educating myself outside of class in philosophy, history, and literary theory," and while Balak doesn't reject the central place of mathematics in contemporary economics, he does criticize the exclusivity of its position. Quoting Deirdre McCloskey of the University of Illinois at Chicago, he argues that economists have always recognized that "excessive specialization without trade with others eventually leads to diminishing returns.... By isolating itself from other disciplines, economics has fallen victim to this. And as economists, we should know better—we teach this in the introductory classes!"

Why Study It?

If you thought of all the 117,000-plus economists in the United States as members of a single mathematical set, you could organize them into different subsets according to a variety of criteria. For instance—orthodox or heterodox, saltwater or freshwater university training, capitalist or Marxist, Chicago libertarian or Princeton liberal, academic or public sector, and so on. However, according to most professors teaching in the field these days, whatever differences may exist between individual practitioners in terms of their orientation and employment, there is increasingly one single common denominator to all of their work—and that is, in fact, mathematics.

Thus, if you're considering a doctoral program in economics after undergraduate training in what one professor refers to as "the discursive side of economics"—courses in the history of economic thought with readings from Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and Thorstein Veblen and the assignment of essayistic term papers discussing the implications of various ideas—be forewarned. The high-level theoretical models being built in the discipline today depend on a solid mathematical foundation, and if you haven't had at least two years of math beyond calculus, you may find yourself scrambling during the "boot camp" of graduate school economics. In all but a few programs you will spend your first couple of years mastering highly abstract mathematical models, and these will often seem to be quite divorced from the practical, day-to-day economic issues that confront everyone from welfare recipients to corporate CEOs. Though all good economists are aware that theories—if applied—have an enormous impact on daily life, the degree of specialization required in the discipline often means that the practical side of the field doesn't get much attention. Indeed, graduate students often complain that there isn't much commerce between the university and the workaday world.

This doesn't mean that you'll have to spend your whole life dwelling exclusively in the higher realms of abstract mathematics if you don't want to. Your grad school years will be only the first step in an economics career with a surprisingly wide range of job options. Unlike many graduate disciplines that are geared almost exclusively toward the production of more research professors, economics sends only a bit more than half of its newly graduated Ph.D.'s to work in universities; the rest find employment as analysts and consultants in government, business, or industry, and even many who begin as academics move on to these sectors later in their careers. And you don't have to look any farther than your local newsstand or library to find respected academics who have turned their formidable analytic skills to explicating economic issues for the general public: Paul Krugman of Princeton University has published articles in Slate and The New York Times; Gary Becker of the University of Chicago has written a column for BusinessWeek for over a decade; Amartya Sen of Trinity College, Cambridge in England has written editorials and articles for papers from The Nation to The Observer; and Robert William Fogel of the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business and Stanley L. Engerman of the University of Rochester have used econometrics to analyze the institution of slavery in America in controversial books like Time on the Cross (1974).

In other words, economists of every stripe—whether they generate models within a university, argue policy inside the beltway, or make predictions inside a Wall Street citadel of steel and glass—grapple in some way with the global economic forces that are the engines of daily life. And though it's common to refer to economics as "the dismal science," you may find that, like few other disciplines, it equips you to have a significant impact upon the world.

How Has It Taken Shape?

From at least the time of Adam Smith, economists have prescribed economic policies as an emollient of for social ills—in this sense it truly is a social science. If an economist's prescriptions are perceived to be right, people will rally around, as they did with John Maynard Keynes. If proven wrong, people will judge him or her a quack and even burn the economist in effigy, as they did with Paul Volcker, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board from 1979 to 1987. Economists often find themselves weighing the relative security of pure research against the dicey nature of public policy to balance the peculiar burdens of their professional role.

Indeed, as you ponder graduate school in economics and find yourself estimating the costs and rewards of this trade-off you are reckoning with a tension that has shaped the academic economics profession from the outset. The American Economics Association (AEA) was founded when academic economists splintered off from the American Social Science Association (ASSA) in 1885. At the AEA's inaugural convention in Saratoga, New York, conferees could not reach an accord about their official identity and became embroiled in debates about the political stance that the association platform might take. The majority favored an apolitical platform that celebrated the research agenda of the modern university, while a minority hammered together a politically progressive platform that advocated the exposure and reform of economic exploitation.

The majority eventually won the battle over the AEA platform, but they didn't entirely eliminate the opposition, who continued to play a role in the public sphere. At a time when Gilded Age capitalists were crushing labor advocates—citing Smith's faith in the "invisible hand" of the market and those academic economists who advocated natural law theories of the economy—progressive economists refused to repudiate their cause. The most caustic critic of capitalists and their academic apologists was Thorstein Veblen, the son of scrappy Norwegian farmers who had settled in Wisconsin. Schooled in philosophy, anthropology, and psychology as well as economics, Veblen considered the organization of the economic system as extending beyond market interactions to include psychological needs, social institutions, and cultural values. Deeply influenced by Edward Bellamy's utopian novel Looking Backward (1888), Veblen lashed out against the unjust institutions and social mores that, in his view, corrupted the liberating force of technology and industry.

For instance, whereas natural law economists saw the individual as driven by the desire to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, Veblen, in The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), scrutinized a certain class of individuals—conspicuous consumers—who emulated each other to gain social esteem. Taking issue with how this class sponged off the productive labor of others, he argued that wealth and virtue are not synonymous. And whereas natural law economists saw equilibrating tendencies in business cycles, he demonstrated in The Theory of Business Enterprise (1904) that business cycles in the United States were constantly rocked by instability due to excessive capitalization and a predatory price system. Moreover, Veblen proclaimed that capitalists are not the engineers of progress but its enemies, for they place industry in the service of business and profits, and not the needs of the greatest number of people. Veblen died in 1929, just as the stock market crash seemed to confirm one of his fundamental points: The pecuniary demands of business and government turn the productive resources of an economy into a shambles.

At the same time as it may have confirmed Veblen, however, the Great Depression also gave birth to a new, more central role for many economists, that of the governmental advisor. Faced with severe economic crisis, the federal government and the Rockefeller Foundation poured money into resolving just why the Depression had happened, what the best way was to get out of it, and how to make sure it never happened again. Pre-Depression economics had concentrated on equilibrium-based microeconomics—investigating the balance of among different choices made by individuals under a particular set of circumstances, and how changes in those circumstances might affect their decisions such choices (how raising the cost of graduate school training in economics might affect the total supply of economists in the nation, for instance). As a result of the Depression, the discipline moved more toward considering how the economy as a whole functions as a whole, and many economists began to break with the innate faith of classical economists like Adam Smith in the infinite wisdom of the free market. John Maynard Keynes, in books like A Treatise on Money (1930) and General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936), proposed a more interventionist role for the government in the economy, replacing the invisible hand of the market with the quite visible hand of the government economist. Macroeconomics was born.

Significantly enough, however, the 1930s also saw the rise of more rigorously mathematical approaches to economics. The decade began with the founding of the Econometric Society, and with tremendous amounts of new data being accumulated by the federal government on the economic life of the nation—and with the help of an influx of European scientists and mathematicians fleeing the turmoil of their home countries for work in the United States—economics shifted in to take a significantly more scientific direction. These economists were deeply influenced by Paul Samuelson's Foundations of Economic Analysis (originally his dissertation, the weighty tome was first circulated among the elect in 1937 and finally published in 1947), which earned economics a place in the temple of the natural sciences. Samuelson graced the title page of Foundations with the epigraph "Mathematics is a language," a phrase originally uttered by Yale University professor Willard Gibbs in a debate over whether students should study mathematics or languages. In 1952, Samuelson admitted to having one regret about Gibbs's quote: "I wish he had made it 25 percent shorter—so as to read as follows: 'Mathematics is language.'"

The work of Samuelson can be thought of as antithetical to Veblen's and Keynes's brand of economics—even though he himself had started as a Keynesian. Crucially, Samuelson shifted the tone of economic research away from discursive, sociological arguments toward a terse style and formalist presentation that resembled articles in physics journals. To take one example, Samuelson modeled an understanding of utility on the laws and equations of thermodynamics, and vowed that, "Until the laws of thermodynamics are repealed, I shall continue to relate outputs to inputs—i.e., to believe in production functions."

In 1970, Samuelson received the Nobel Prize in Economic Science, and The New York Times dubbed the laureate "the Einstein of economics for developing a unified field theory of economic activity." The bestowal of the Nobel upon him symbolized the triumph of mathematical theory in the field, as, in fact, the very existence of a Nobel Prize in economics signaled the acceptance of the discipline's importance. (Though the Nobel Prizes were first awarded in 1901, economics had to wait until 1969 to be included.) Other major post-Samuelson economists and Nobel Prize winners include Kenneth Arrow, professor emeritus at Stanford University and author of Social Choice and Individual Values (1951), and Gerard Debreu, author of Theory of Value: An Axiomatic Analysis of Economic Equilibrium (1959) and professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley. Not only was their work crucial in demonstrating the necessity of mathematics in economics, but they exhibited the precise conditions under which a market equilibrium is efficient, in the sense of Adam Smith's invisible hand—conditions that turn out to be remarkably stringent. Given sufficiently incomplete information, for example, the invisible hand does not work as Smith surmised. By the early 1970s Chicago professor Robert E. Lucas (yet another Nobel recipient) was also publishing groundbreaking economic theory utilizing mathematics, and more and more economists were learning how to use computers to model data sets for theories. Today, articles permeated with mathematical models and theories still dominate the pages of the profession's top journals: American Economic Review, Econometrica, Journal of Political Economy, and Quarterly Journal of Economics.

Loosely speaking, economists who follow Samuelson methodologically are considered to be orthodox economists, while the followers of Veblen are referred to as heterodox. Not surprisingly, plenty of heterodox economists have criticized the rise of the orthodox approach. The New School University's Robert Heilbroner, for instance, claims that orthodox economics's drive for mathematical rigor comes at the expense of social vision. Orthodox economics, says Heilbroner, "comes more and more to resemble a game played with and against other economists, on whose outcome nothing much depends except academic prestige, rather than a serious undertaking that must be played out, for keeps, in the real word." A junior heterodox economist concurs: Orthodox economics restricts economics to mathematical techniques, he feels, "to get around the fuzzy moral problems that can't be modeled" but are still inherent to economic decisions. After all, he points out, Adam Smith himself wrote not only The Wealth of Nations but also The Theory of Moral Sentiments, which finds a place for altruism.

Nonetheless, for a number of reasons, orthodox economics has gradually come to be the dominant—if not virtually the only—approach to economics over the last twenty years. Partly this is because, as University of Pennsylvania economics professor George Mailath puts it, "Mathematics is a tremendously efficient way of communicating. Rather than thirty pages of text, I can send a few pages of symbols—there's less chance of misunderstanding." This opinion is seconded by Marcus Berliant, economics professor at Washington University in St. Louis: "Debates have occurred in the literature, consuming time, energy, and space, when the only differences have been in assumptions. Mathematical modeling avoids this, making assumptions precise and explicit."

The extent to which mathematics has become the common language of economics is revealed by an anecdote told by Robert Lucas: In a seminar he attended, the Stanford economist Thomas Sargent was unable to make a particularly intricate point understood in the discussion. At the talk's end, Sargent simply handed the seminar speaker a page of equations and said, "Here's what I was trying to say." (Tellingly, the speaker's response was to laugh and comment that "This is Sargent's idea of a conversation.") Because heterodox economists have tended not to speak this language, they have ended up being sidelined. As Berliant puts it, "If you're going to criticize something like orthodox economics, you've got to know it first. Students coming out of heterodox programs might not have enough exposure to it." The progressive Yale economist John Roemer states it even more strongly: "Any economist who wishes to have influence as an economist must master traditional, mathematical economics. Whatever heterodox message one has must be communicated with the standard language to have any impact."

More than this, though, orthodox economics has come to the fore because, as the mathematical models it has generated have been refined, these models have proven to be powerful tools for understanding economic activity. In the first place, mathematical models lend themselves more easily than logical argumentation to outside verification, which helps to avoid mistakes and to correct them when they do occur; mathematical models can also be transferred more easily from one context to another by merely plugging in new data. Secondly, though, just as physics has moved into areas like "fuzzy logic," orthodox economics has begun to try to account for some of the fuzzy problems that occur in the real existing economic world. For instance, the theory of rational expectations—most prominently deployed by yet one more Nobel winner, Milton Friedman, and later by Lucas—dictates that an individual will base decisions in regard to inflation and other fluctuating economic considerations not on past experience, but on an informed expectation of the future that assimilates all available data. This necessarily broadens the context in which the economist works.

The rise of game theory has also significantly added nuance to economists' ability to predict human economic activity. First originated by John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern in Theory of Games and Economic Behavior (1944), game theory expands on the classical-economics model in which the rationally acting individual acts in relative isolation—and in which, for instance, a decision to attend grad school would be determined solely by an interplay among the cost of tuition, the amount of money in your bank account, and the intensity of your desire to become an economist. Within game theory, on the other hand, the rationally acting individual also factors in the likely actions of others—you might attend grad school not because it's competitively priced or because you love economics, but because you expect your undergrad compatriots to start dot-coms that will fail miserably, thereby increasing your chances of getting a highly paid government position explicating the tricky nature of the New Economy. (This still assumes the standard economic model of competition, of course, and there are a few renegade economists who argue that you might better maximize your expected utility through apparently self-sacrificing acts, like joining one of your friends' start-ups and preventing its failure.)

But perhaps a final reason for the rise of orthodox economics has been that it has begun to move into areas once reserved for heterodox economics—the sociological realm which that considers the effects as well as the mechanics of the market. Nowadays, even economists highly critical of the deleterious effects of the market can be considered to be engaged in orthodox economics. Amartya Sen's 1998 Nobel Prize was awarded for his work investigating how societal resources are unequally distributed and how that impacts, to quote the Swedish Academy, "the most impoverished members of society." Stanford professor and former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz has publicly criticized the International Monetary Fund's macroeconomic policies as actually retarding the economic growth they are ostensibly designed to promote. Alan B. Krueger, Princeton University professor and editor of the widely read Journal of Economic Perspectives, is championing the need for theoretical economics to incorporate more empirical data—his current work assesses the importance of limited classes size for effective learning among poor children.

What's Your Next Step?

According to authors John Siegfried of Vanderbilt University and Wendy Stock of Montana State University (in a comprehensive study published in the summer 1999 issue of The Journal of Economic Perspectives), nearly two-thirds of U.S. doctoral candidates in economics come to graduate school with a prior degree in economics, which—paradoxically enough—may not be the best training. Because undergraduate programs are geared as much to the needs of future M.B.A.'s and J.D.'s as economics Ph.D.'s, they often shortchange the math that students need for graduate-level work in economics. In fact, only about 5 percent of American graduate students have an undergraduate or master's degree in math, although this is widely believed to be the best preparation for an economics Ph.D.

On the other hand, U.S. graduate programs in economics are increasingly filled with foreign students, who now make up about 57 percent of economics grad students in the United States, and most of these students do have a rigorous mathematics background, and often even prior work experience in their home countries. This sets the bar quite high, and as a result, many programs offer intensive catch-up courses in the summer before the first year. Ask about this at any schools you are applying for. An even better idea, though, would be to take as many math courses in college as you can. According to Marcus Berliant, "There is insufficient time in graduate school to be trained in both mathematics and economics. We can teach them the economics they need to know in a reasonable amount of time if they already know some math."

Economics B.A.'s will likely be expected to take the GRE subject test in economics, although if your undergrad degree is in the sciences, graduate departments will generally look at grades instead of the subject test scores. Once you're in, though, you've entered a homogeneous market environment, something akin to the phone system before it was deregulated. David Colander—a Middlebury College professor and co-author with Arjo Klamer, now a professor at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, of The Making of an Economist (1989)— estimates that 95 percent of all graduate programs in the United States teach an identical core curriculum. During the first year of study, students take the same set of courses: micro and macro theory, which draw heavily on matrix algebra and calculus, and econometrics, which is the application of statistics to economic data. Such graduate study, says Klamer, "builds vertically from undergraduate education.... It formalizes concepts the student met in undergraduate study—teaching new tools that can be used to analyze the same issues more carefully rather than teaching how to make better use of the undergraduate tools." But one Princeton graduate student goes so far as to say that, unless you majored in mathematics or physics in college, graduate school will "destroy what you brought with you so it can build you up from scratch." A Chicago graduate student agrees: "It's not like studying economics as an undergraduate. They have these tools that they want you to learn, and they throw them at you all at once. It's sink or swim."

The second year of grad school, say both the Chicago and Princeton students, promises a "reversal of fortune," since students can concentrate on mixing theoretical and applied work in field courses in areas such as like labor, international trade, industrial organization, and public finance. At the end of the first year (or second year at some schools), students take their examinations to demonstrate their knowledge of the core curriculum. By the third year they are participating in workshops and seminars, essaying gleaning ideas to prepare for the dissertation, which most students then start writing during the fourth year.

While there have traditionally been sharply drawn distinctions among orthodox programs, many professors report that the lines are fading, erased by faculty migrations and the increasing consensus among virtually all faculty about what future economists should study. For instance, the saltwater/freshwater distinction between programs on the coasts (like Princeton, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of California at Los Angeles, and UC-Berkeley, which have traditionally been Keynesian and applied in orientation) and programs around the great lakes (like the University of Minnesota at Twin Cities, the University of Rochester, and Chicago, which have been laissez-faire and austerely theoretical), is slowly becoming a thing of the past, although journals like The Journal of Political Economy (from Chicago) and The Quarterly Journal of Economics (from Harvard) still reflect the traditional orientations of their institutions. Meanwhile, the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the University of Michigan, once geographical holdouts in their long-standing devotion to applied economics and public service, have also begun embracing the theoretical orientation.

The corresponding ideological distinctions are also diminishing. Chicago libertarians once routinely scorned Princeton liberals, whose research supported a steady increase in the minimum wage. As recently as The Making of an Economist, Klamer and Colander asked graduate students to name which economist, dead or alive, they respect the most. At Chicago, the top five choices were, in descending order of popularity: Robert Lucas, Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, Gary Becker, and Paul Samuelson. The Harvard top five: J.M. Keynes, Karl Marx, Kenneth Arrow, James Tobin, and John Kenneth Galbraith. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology top five: Keynes, Samuelson, Marx, Robert Solow, and Joseph Schumpeter. The differences among these lists were striking, especially if you note that there was no overlap whatsoever between Chicago and Harvard. But even back in 1990, ideological differences took a back seat backseat to the same orthodox curriculum taught at Chicago, Harvard, and MIT.

This doesn't mean that there are no significant disputes within economics, but merely that they don't correlate easily with specific schools. Perhaps the most central debate you should be aware of concerns the very purpose and direction of the discipline, and particularly the dominant role that mathematical modeling has assumed. While no one within the broader orthodox camp rejects mathematics outright, increasingly there are voices arguing that "technique [has been] replacing substance" (to quote James Buchanan in his 1979 book, What Should Economists Do?). Alan Blinder, Princeton professor and former member of President Clinton's Council of Economic Advisors, has called much current economics research "theoretical drivel, mathematically elegant but not about anything real," while Deirdre McCloskey of the University of Illinois at Chicago has argued with great wit in How to Be Human, Though an Economist (2000) that economics, in seeking greater scientific rigor, has erred in pursuing the high-level abstraction of pure mathematics rather than physics (which, while highly abstract in itself, still seeks to explain actual phenomena in the world). There was even a weeklong conference in the summer of 1999, organized by the Social Science Research Council and funded by and the MacArthur Foundation, directed toward helping distressed first- and second-year doctoral students in economics find their way out of the labyrinth of pure mathematical modeling and into the world of applied economics.

In addition to these arguments from within orthodox economics, there are still a handful of heterodox programs that reject the orthodox mandate. Although their curricula may include econometrics and a heavy dose of mathematical theory, these programs are not exclusively mathematical in orientation. They consider such issues as power, ideology, community values, irrational behavior, and social institutions—as indeed some of the advanced game theoreticians do—but heterodox economists work from an interdisciplinary vantage point combining philosophy, political theory, institutional history, applied economics, and the history of economic thought. Of course, because you can only study so much in grad school, this necessarily means that you'll be studying less math, which could play havoc with any dreams you may have of becoming a research university professor. In the words of one Ivy League economist, "The major problem with those programs is that they encourage the view that it is unnecessary to learn standard economics. This is a gross disservice to students.... There are precious few graduates of heterodox programs with tenure in good universities."

Nonetheless, heterodox programs are home to institutionalists, Marxists, experimentalists, Austrians, and feminists. "Institutionalists" are the descendants of what was, through the early 1930s, the reigning school of economics in the United States. Predecessors include Veblen, who belittled the natural-law notion of Homo economicus for being "a lightning calculator of pleasures and pains." Among contemporary institutionalists, Heilbroner is exemplary. Describing the social and political organization and control of the economic system is, for Heilbroner, the central focus of economic thought, and judging the power relations that govern economic outcomes is its central aim. Institutionalists have a professional society, the Association for Evolutionary Economics, and a journal, the Journal of Economic Issues. Departments with a strong institutionalist bent can be found at the University of Utah, the New School University, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Texas at Austin, and Washington University in St. Louis, home base of the Center for New Institutionalist Economics.

Marxists, like institutionalists, argue that economic arrangements are social, not natural, in origin. What distinguishes Marxists from institutionalists is their radicalism and their belief in class struggle. Marxist economics commanded attention in the early part of the century and again in the 1970s, but the association of Marxism with the former Soviet Union has hampered it from without, while fighting among different Marxist schools of thought has crippled it from within. As a result, the influence of Marxists is much diminished. And, as radicalism is anathema to most academic economists, Marxist analysis has tended to be absent from the profession's flagship journals, though it fills the pages of Review of Radical Political Economy and Rethinking Marxism. There are Marxist camps at the University of California at Davis, the University of California at Irvine, UC-Berkeley, the New School, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Yale, traditionally a neoclassical school, has recently hired John Roemer away from UC-Davis.

"Experimentalists" argue that people sometimes act irrationally when making economic decisions. Contrary to Adam Smith's famous dictum, "it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest," experimentalists contend that the butcher's self-interest isn't so self-consistent, for it might just encompass something as unpredictable as benevolence. Though not allergic to mathematical modeling, experimentalists use it in an unorthodox way—to factor psychological phenomena into an understanding of utility. The University of Arizona, California Institute of Technology, the University of Virginia, Texas A&M University, New York University, Virginia Polytechnic and State University, and the London School for of Economics are home to experimentalists.

"Austrians" are the most liberal of economists, in the traditional sense of the term, in that they argue from a moral stance that values individual freedom and those markets that lead to its realization. (The name "Austrian" invokes the work of the early-twentieth-century economists Karl Menger, Ludwig von Mises, Fredrich von Hayek, and Joseph Schumpeter, all of whom hailed from Austria.) Because they put subjective individual judgments at the center of economic relationships, and because they scorn general equilibrium, comprehensive economic planning, and state intervention, Austrians favor microeconomic analysis. Rejecting mathematical approaches, they prefer to argue cases, drawing on a formidable knowledge of the history of economic thought for support. Austrians teach at George Mason University, Auburn University, and in small numbers at NYU.

If your interest in pursuing economics is to go into government, there are two paths. One is to attend a school with a good reputation for placing students in the public sector, and for having faculty with a strong Washington, D.C., connection, such as Boston College, Syracuse University, Illinois-Chicago, UC-Berkeley, Harvard, Princeton, Michigan, and Wisconsin-Madison. The other route involves establishing yourself as a respected research university professor and going on to government only later in your career. There may be a certain wisdom to this, argues Mailath. "People need this postdoctoral incorporation into the profession—it's a brave person who will go into the policy arena and make decisions which can screw up people's lives without disciplined thinking about it first."

It's only during the last decade or so that feminist economists have moved from running a few sessions at the AEA conference to becoming an institutionalized group. In 1992, the International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE) was organized and became, like the AEA itself, a part of the ASSA, the umbrella organization that hosts the annual conference for economists in January of each year. Membership in the IAFFE is open to both genders, since its purpose is not the advancement of women economists but rather of feminist economics. (The twenty-nine-year-old Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession, on the other hand, takes as its business lobbying for the inclusion of more women in the discipline.)

Feminist economics does not advocate replacing economics about men with an economics by and about women. Rather, its goal is to correct and improve all economics. The journal Feminist Economics has featured articles on issues like subsidizing child care by mothers at home and measuring socioeconomic gender inequality. No single graduate program is known as being feminist in orientation, although pockets of feminist economists can be found at UMass-Amherst, American University, the New School, and Notre Dame.

To locate specific professors or faculty with particular interests, look at the American Economic Review's guide, Survey of Members. The Economics Institute publishes a more detailed and useful handbook: Guide to Graduate Study in Economics and Agricultural Economics in the USA and Canada.

Given the methodological and ideological consensus that dominates the vast majority of graduate programs, however, many suggest that the substantial differences between programs are of quality rather than of orientation. That being said, quality is of course a notoriously amorphous subjective term. While the National Research Council's rankings of graduate programs have been frequently criticized by professors in a variety of disciplines, there seems to be more of a consensus about their validity in economics than in many other fields. (You should, however, read the chapter on rankings for a better sense of some of the flaws in the NRC and other systems of evaluation.) The NRC ranks schools based on two factors: faculty education and publication. The top programs are the acme of best quality because their faculty have the highest concentration of degrees from the best graduate schools (other top schools), as well as the highest concentration of publications in the most prestigious professional journals (American Economic Review, Econometrica, Economic Journal, Journal of Political Economy, and Quarterly Journal of Economics). At the other end bottom of the pecking order fall the programs with professors from universities deemed of lesser worth and with lesser publication records—and the few heterodox programs, which, regardless of their quality as judged by other heterodox economists, fail to measure up to the index's standard of quality. (Some schools are unranked because, although they meet the quality criteria, they don't have large enough programs to qualify.) Quality depends. Faculty from orthodox and heterodox programs alike stress that the NRC rankings, as skewed as they appear to be, exert tremendous influence over the unfolding of an academic career in economics. Professors who hold positions at the few top universities wield a tremendous amount of power over hiring, publishing, and the granting of research funds (including federal government research funding through the National Science Foundation), and they tend to edit the major academic journals.

Are There Jobs Out There?

It will come as no surprise that the hiring of academic economists goes through cycles of boom and bust, although these are less natural cycles than the result of a Keynesian interference by the state in terms of relative abundance of funding for public universities. As recently as the mid-1990s, hiring was quite slow in the field, but this has improved remarkably over the last few years as funding for new hires has increased in many state university systems. Although the number of Ph.D.'s granted has been steadily increasing (1,008 were awarded in 1996), a majority of them now go to foreign-born students, many of whom work in their home countries. Of all Ph.D.'s who work in the United States, 54 percent go into higher education, 16 percent into business or industry, and 18 percent into government (the U.S. government was in fact the largest single employer, followed by the IMF, the World Bank, the Federal Reserve System, and Harvard). According to Beth Allen of Washington University in St. Louis, these days it's not at all unusual for candidates to be hired now before even finishing the dissertation-a relative rarity in many other academic fields. Also, Allen points out, because there's an active market for economics Ph.D.'s outside the university, even academic salaries are higher than those of comparable disciplines.

This doesn't necessarily mean that you will get the job of your dreams, however. According to The Making of an Economist, the hiring of new economists by the leading universities is in practice limited to those trained at leading universities. Along with the fact that competition for the top jobs at the top schools is always intense, economics professors and graduate students stress the discipline's two customary rules about the job market. If not quite ironclad, they are not whimsies either.

Rule One: When economists switch jobs, they don't usually experience upward mobility. That is, when moving from one university or college to another, it's more likely that an economist will go to an institution at the same or a lower prestige level. Since the top-level universities produce more economists than they can employ, many of their graduates find jobs at second-tier universities, driving graduates of those schools to third-tier universities, and so on.

Rule Two: If, after earning a Ph.D., you work as an economist in government or business with the hope of eventually joining the professoriate (rather than the other way around), your chances of realizing your ambition are virtually nil. As a Michigan graduate student explains: "Go straight to government or business, and you will have no chance to publish. You're writing, of course, but you're not writing academic material. It's research and publications that will land you an academic job, not industry experience."

If you want to stay outside of academia, however, the options for working as an economic consultant for government or business are many. And while a master's is intellectually sufficient for most of these positions (since you have, after all, mastered some of the hardest material in your first two years), you may find yourself outgunned by Ph.D. holders competing for the same positions. In part, since relatively few programs offer a freestanding master's, getting only that degree may suggest that you have dropped out of a doctoral program even if that's not the case. And then, as one professor points out, there has been "enormous credential inflation," with the result that many government positions now require the Ph.D. But a master's degree in economics can still net you jobs in some government departments and agencies, accounting firms, and banks, particularly non-U.S. banks, which, according to Michigan professor George Johnson, tend to favor an M.S. in economics degree over an M.B.A.

The situation for those interested in heterodox economics is a bit trickier. According to David Colander, "Heterodox economists with strong mathematical training do find employment at top schools." Unless you have mastered the requisite mathematics, though, you'll have relatively few options inside the research university and will probably find a liberal arts college or certain types of public policy positions your best chance.

The best source of information about employment is Job Openings for Economists (JOE), available from the AEA on their its Web site, which posts nonacademic as well as academic listings. The field's job fair takes place at the AEA's annual three-day scholarly conference, held in a different location each January.

Where Can You Find Out More?

American Economic Association (615) 322-2595

Web Sites
AEA JOE (Job Openings for Economists)

Guide to Graduate Study in Economics and Agricultural Economics in the USA and Canada—ordering information


American Economic Review

Feminist Economics

Journal of Economic Issues

Journal of Economic Literature

Journal of Economic Perspectives

Rethinking Marxism

Review of Radical Political Economy

Further Reading

Educating Economists(Michigan), David Colander and Reuven Brenner, eds.

Foundations of Economic Analysis(Harvard), Paul A. Samuelson

The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money(Prometheus), John Maynard Keynes

Guide to Graduate Study in Economics and Agricultural Economics in the USA and Canada(Eno River Press), The Economics Institute

How to Be Human, Though an Economist(Michigan), Deirdre McCloskey

The Making of an Economist(Westview), Arjo Klamer and David Colander

"The Labor Market for New Ph.D. Economists"(Journal of Economic Perspectives, Summer 1999), John J. Siegfried and Wendy A. Stock

Social Choice and Individual Values(Yale), Kenneth J. Arrow

"Students Seek Some Reality Amid the Math of Economics"(New York Times, September 18, 1999), Michael M. Weinstein

The Theory of Business Enterprise(Transaction), Thorstein Veblen

Theory of Games and Economic Behavior(Princeton), John Von Neumann, Oscar Morgenstern

The Theory of the Leisure Class(Dover), Thorstein Veblen

Theory of Value: An Axiomatic Analysis of Economic Equilibrium(Yale), Gerard Debreu

A Treatise on Money(AMS Press), John Maynard Keynes

The Theory of Moral Sentiments(Prometheus), Adam Smith

The Wealth of Nations(Prometheus), Adam Smith

What Should Economists Do?(Liberty Fund), James M. Buchanan

Schools Mentioned in This Chapter

American-Washington, D.C.



Cal Tech


George Mason






Minnesota-Twin Cities


New School

Notre Dame







Texas A&M





UNC-Chapel Hill





Virginia Tech

Washington in St. Louis