How to reform the economics Ph.D

This has been bothering me, so I’m putting it out there – The shift to 6 yrs for an Econ PhD is a TERRIBLE trend for female PhD students – & also some men, obviously – but especially for women. This issue warrants much more attention.

So says the wise Melissa S. Kearney.

Along those lines, I have a modest proposal.  Eliminate the economics Ph.D, period.  Offer everyone three years of graduate economics education, and no more (with a clock reset allowed for pregnancy).  Did Smith, Keynes, or Hayek have an economics Ph.D?  This way, no one will assume you know what you are talking about, and the underlying message is that economics learning is lifelong.

After the three years is up, you would be free to look for a job, or alternatively you might find someone to support you to do additional research, such as in the newly structured “post doc without the doc.”  The researchers who absolutely need additional training would try to glom on to a lab or major grant, but six years would not be the default.

Of course, in that setting, schools could take chances on more students, and more students could take a chance on trying economics as a profession.  Furthermore, for most of the most accomplished students, it is already clear they deserve a top job by the time their third year rolls around, usually well before then.  Women would hit their tenure clocks much earlier, also, easing childbearing constraints.  A dissertation truly would become just a job market paper, which has already been the trend for a long time.  Why obsess over the non-convexity of “finishing”?  Finish everyone, and throw them into the maws of some mix of AI and human evaluators sooner rather than later.

Over time, I would expect that more people would take the first-year sequence in their senior year of undergraduate study, and more first-year jobs would have zero or very low teaching loads.  All to the better.

And if you’re mainly going to teach Principles at a state university, three years of graduate study really is enough.  You’ll learn more your first year teaching anyway.

Which other fields might benefit from such a reform?

People, you have nothing to lose but your chains.


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