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Safe or risky?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by dubyu tee eff, Mar 27, 2010.

  1. dubyu tee eff

    dubyu tee eff
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    Thinks he has a chance with Christina Hendricks...

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    Ok so I've come onto a life-changing decision to make and I am having a really tough time deciding, so I figured I'd give you all a shot at weighing in (though, no offense mods, but I'd like it if the rest of the board could contribute.)

    Here's the situation. I'm in the process of trying to decide where to go for graduate school. For pretty much all of my undergraduate career I had one plan and that was to do well enough to get into a solid Economics PhD program. I succeeded and have gained acceptance to 2 good programs in my field of choice. My goal has been to have a focus in Experimental and Developmental economics. My long term goal has been to do research taking insights from experimental econ and applying them to developmental settings. However, I recently came across a program which has grabbed my interest. It is a masters program in applied economics and statistics combined with the peace corps. (by the way, I'd like to give a public thanks to board members "downdirty" for turning me on to this program and taking the time to answer questions and sharing his experience in a pm conversation) This program would entail a year of classwork and then 2 years abroad working in a remote village with local leaders in developing projects to help these poor communities.

    There are several pros and cons I'm trying to take into account here. A big one is the money question. The peace corps program I'd have to pay for through loans(though I have gotten a partial scholarship so the loans would in total be about 30 grand over 3 years). The PhD program on the other hand is all paid for through scholarships and includes a stipend on top. The PhD program is obviously the safe route. I've been thinking about this for years and has always been the plan. It involves no financial burden and should take me to where I have had plans on going for many years now.

    On the the other hand this peace corps program is dangerous but I've become completely enthralled with it. The more I learn about it the ore interested I become. I feel it would provide invaluable hands on experience professionally and personally speaking. Downdirty has told me that while the experience is difficult, he wouldn't trade it for the world. However, 2 years is a long time to spend away from family and friends in a completely alien environment. I keep wondering, what if I go insane and just can't handle the separation and alienation? I also keep thinking that if I don't do it, I'll always regret it. The only experience that is remotely similar to what this would entail would be when I studied abroad for a semester in London. That experience was one of the best of my life, but it was only a semester as opposed to two years and during it I was surrounded with people like me.

    I realize that this is one of those things that don't have a clear cut answer and eventually I'll just have to roll the dice and make the decision myself and hope it works out for the best, but I'd really like to hear what the TIB has to say on the matter. What would you do if you were in my situation?
     
  2. Dcc001

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    Without divulging too many specifics, where in the world are you planning on studying, should you elect the Peace Corps route? Also, is your PhD program direct entry, or do you already hold a Master's degree in Economics?
     
  3. dubyu tee eff

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    The classwork would be in the States, so there's no concern there. The two years abroad could be anywhere, I wont know until I get to that point. I suspect due to my fluency in Hindi/Urdu and competence in Spanish, I would be placed in either India/Pakistan or Latin America. Speculating though.

    PhD is direct entry.
     
  4. Dcc001

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    It's a tough one. Can you speak with the director of your PhD program, and inform him of your situation? My immediate response is to have the best of both worlds: do both.

    Apply to the Peace Corps program, and should you get accepted, do it. You cannot replace real world experience with anything else. That really can't be stressed enough. Six months or two years or however long in a developing country will do more to educate you in reality than anything else you could possibly do. It will attune you to the situation on the ground in all its dirty complexity. You know all those great theories you're kicking around in your mind right now as to how to 'fix' things? My guess is that they will evaporate in the first three months spent in-country, and you will begin to realize that you know nothing.

    Ideally, after completing this, it would be great if you could re-enter the PhD program, as you really do need the doctorate in your field if you wish to be taken seriously. Even better if you could get partial credit for the program and have the four years (I'm guessing) shortened. It might actually make you a far more attractive candidate to a wider variety of programs then you currently have access to. Who knows? It might change your focus altogether.
     
  5. downndirty

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    I can't tell you much about the educational part of things, because I am about to be in the same boat but I can shed some light on a few of the things you mentioned.

    From my understanding, getting into Peace Corps right now is no easy feat, and with the job market the way it is, there is a glut of applicants. However, there is a push to expand to 10,000 volunteers for the 50th anniversary (currently about 7700 active).

    Another thing I will point out is that the Peace Corps gives you 2 days per month vacation, that you can spend anywhere on Earth. In my case, I took 3 weeks each year and spent them at home, recharging my batteries. Also, today home is not as far as it used to be. I have mobile internet and a cell phone, so I am in regular communication with home. Living outside of your own culture isn't easy, but it's less difficult than it was 20 years ago.

    Also, everyone I know in Peace Corps with advanced degrees are set up with excellent organizations and typically in larger, more developed towns. So the concept of "remote village" might be more urban than you think.

    Finally, as part of your application process, you do have a little say about what part of the world you want to end up in. A lot of variables come into play, but you do get a vote.

    I don't want to try and persuade you one way or another, because it's an intense decision, but I should at least shed some light on what parts of Peace Corps you should be worried about.
     
  6. whathasbeenseen

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    Education will always be there. I think that if you approach it with a long view it'll be clearer. I'm 30 man. There are a multitude of things I regret not doing, chances that I did not take, roads that I did not travel. View it like that. If you're 40 telling the story to someone who comes to you with the same dilemma, what would you tell them? What stories do you want to be able to tell about your life. If you view it from that perspective, I think the choice is easy. My .02
     
  7. lust4life

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    I'd get the PhD first. Afterwards, if you still feel drawn to an altruistic endeavor, I'm sure you'll be able to find the opportunity, and you won't be saddled with $30k of debt.
     
  8. MoreCowbell

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    You should know that this is not necessarily the case with PhD programs in econ. It can be relatively difficult to gain entry if you are more than a few years removed from undergraduate. Late entry is not the norm in this field.

    That said, it's a little different if you're trying to enter with a MA.
     
  9. dubyu tee eff

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    Damn this is still tough. The idea to do both is a pretty decent one. I talked to some of the schools I got in to and they were mostly pretty receptive about my doing the MA and then coming back and finishing the PhD there. Only thing is, that would add another year or two to my education. Also, I'd have to defer the Masters debt for the duration of the time I'm working on completing the PhD. I'm 22 now so three years abroad then going with the safe side another 2-4 years to complete the PhD and I'm looking at not actually getting a real job until I'm 27-29 years old. With the added debt, I don't begin saving until I'm maybe 32-33. That's a pretty late time to finally get into the black. My parents were nice enough to pay for undergrad but aren't going to pay for this too especially since I have the option of doing it all for free minus the experience abroad. Also, If I pursue the academia route, I don't get to throw my hat into the tenure ring until then either, which is pretty tough.

    I've been thinking about not doing the PhD at all and with the Masters and the experience abroad I could definitely land a position in a multitude of multinational organizations.

    I guess the real trade-off here is that am I willing to pay the 30k or so of money for that experience abroad. The experience will be phenomenal I'm sure, but is it worth 30 grand? I'm not really sure.

    Fuck. I appreciate your input guys, it is definitely helping me flesh it out better.
     
  10. daxby

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    My $0.02 is pass on the graduate degree for now and go work in the private sector for 3 years before you decide. That way you can find if what you really like is the same as on the chalkboard (do they still have chalkboards in college?). Heck, if the company likes you they might even pay for it, and in the meantime sock away money for it.

    You will get much more out of an economics program if you have actually worked somewhere instead of just reading textbooks.

    Do you remember Tucker's old thread about why not to be a lawyer? He paid for his grad school and only after he became an intern he decided it sucked.

    Go get your feet wet in business and then come back to the academics.
     
  11. Boz Bozeman

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    I'll throw my two cents into the ring over here.

    1) PhD's suck. A lot. Way more than undergrad. The difficulty is not from a day to day challenge, or even the work. It's finding the meaning to keep going with a dissertation all the way to the end. I wouldn't recommend starting a PhD unless you had a strong interest with some ideas of what you want to do with it. Becuase 50% of people who start one don't finish. If you have ANY hesitation, my recommendation would be to do something else and return when you can. I should say that I am not a PhD, I am an MD and have a good number of colleagues and friends, etc, who have ground their way through a PhD and really hated it. And I should say they were all tremendously successful undergrads and really brilliant folks. It's just not for everyone.

    2) What is the PhD going to do that another degree can't? You would know this better than I, but remember earnings decrease after your masters degree. You will be a specialist working for the boss, not the boss. In all likeliehood. Who knows, maybe you are the one in a hundred, etc. All disclaimers apply here.

    3) Peace corps. My brother just got back from Mozambique after two years. I can only see pros to this. First, based on your post, you seem to want to do this more. That's the biggest reason to do so. Second, you will learn a foreign language well, and this can be invaluable in any multinational economic fuckin badassery you want to accomplish. You will learn to do things on your own and respond in all kinds of situations you think that you are unable to handle.

    4) Distance from family. I think it is true what one of the previous posters said. The world is much smaller these days. You will be able to text message your friends and family from anywhere on earth, which boggles my mind. You will have skype if you want, and blogs, and all of the other goddam internet stuff. But it will work for you.

    In my opinion, the peace corps will complement any career you would like to have, make you a more worldly and educated individual, make you stand out from the crowd in a room of PhD's, and get you jobs you wouldn't get (or think to want) otherwise. That is the safe choice. The other path, the path to working as a specialist for a boss that needs you but doesn't respect you, is the risky one.

    I have officially offered more advice on the internet than pretty much anywhere. Good luck.
     
  12. BL1Y

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    While you can't replace the value of experience, there are two more things I think you should considers.

    First, getting a PhD is also a life experience. It's not just academics, you'll probably also be doing a lot of substantive research or teaching.

    Second, life experience doesn't matter a whole lot when looking for a job. It might affect your performance, but that doesn't matter until after you're hired. An advanced degree might not say much about your real qualifications, but it's a box the HR people like to be able to check.
     
  13. toddus

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    I disagree. Yes real world experience is great but the trade off is $30k and an inferior degree. Do the doctorate, save some cash then when all is said and done look to volunteer for a similar program, you get all the wins the only trade off is you are slightly deferring your altruistic gain.
    Come on dude, this seriously should not even be up for debate. You want to be an economist then fucking be one and apply some rational thought to this matter. To me it seems you are being lost in the romanticism of this program.
     
  14. toddus

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    2) In economics a PhD is pretty much a requirement to practice at any decent level.

    Regards the final point, he is specializing in Developmental Economics, it will be almost guaranteed all peers will have real life field experience in shitty third world holes.
     
  15. Bogan

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    I'm currently in what I hope is the final year of my PhD. While I'm sure my PhD in medical research/biochemistry (basically labwork then write a thesis) has many differences to one in economics, there's also many similarities in terms of the time commitment, involvement in academia, workload and financial considerations.

    I'd say go with the peace corps option. You get a qualification (albeit a lesser one) AND decent experience in your field. You're young, and there's always time to come back and do a PhD if you really want to (and you need to really want to to get it done - it's a metric fuckton of work and a drain on every other aspect of your life). You also haven't mentioned a significant other so I assume this isn't a problem at the moment. If you decide to scratch your altruistic itch to work overseas later in life this may factor into the mix.

    I went straight from high school to undergrad to PhD (I'm in Australia) and am almost 25 and fuck do I regret not taking time in there to travel and explore - if I had have furthered my education with something practical so much the better. That being said I don't regret starting my PhD, just wish I did it a little later to facilitate having a break of some sort.

    If a PhD is absolutely required to work in your field at the level you want to and you're reasonably sure of what you want in a career (though I don't think you are) then you still may want to go th PhD. Keep in mind that your views and priorities will change in time. I'm pretty sure I won't be staying in the field I'm in, and the jobs I'm now thinking will be more suited to me don't require a PhD whatsoever.

    Financially you probably won't save anything substantial whilst doing a PhD. I don't know what your stipend/scholarship will be but for us it's pretty meager and it's hard enough to get by let alone save anything significant.

    The most important consideration if you do decide to do a PhD is your choice in supervisor/advisor. Pick someone who you can get along with and is not a complete nutcase. There's a lot of crazies in academia and you'll be surprised at the immaturity of a lot of highly qualified people and how out of touch with reality they are. You will need to work with this person(s) for ~4 years and by the end there's a high change you'll want to bludgeon them with a centrifuge (or calculator in your case).

    Make a list of pros and cons for each as you see them, and go from there. Alternatively:

     
    #15 Bogan, Mar 29, 2010
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 27, 2015