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2008-02-02 05:48:57|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Sunday, June 04, 2006
JD vs PhD: My Story


A student emails me a question about my offbeat journey throughhigher education:

Prof. Mankiw, Love
the blog, I've recently become hooked. I noticed you mention inan
earlier post that you spent one and a half years at Harvard LawSchool before switching to economics and earning your PhD. I guessI'm in a similar situation now....


Anyway, I wanted to ask what ultimately compelled you to pursueeconomics instead of law, as I've been toiling with that decisionmyself. Did you intend to do a joint JD/PhD and focus your researchon law and economics, or did you decide to leave law schoolentirely? I'm passionate about both fields and took a risk averseapplication strategy by applying to both types of programs, butmost of the input I've received has been from those who abandonedeconomics to finish their law degree, not vice versa. If you
have any input or advice you could share, I'd be grateful.
Thank you, best regards,
[name withheld]


Let me start by summarizing my own education and earlycareer:

  • June 1980: Graduated with A.B. from Princeton
  • 1980-1981: First-year PhD student at MIT
  • 1981-1982: First-year student at Harvard Law School
  • Summer 1982: Worked in law firm as summer associate
  • 1982-1983: Took year off to work on the CEA staff
  • 1983-1984: Back at MIT, finished PhD
  • Fall 1984: Back at law school, finished fallsemester
  • Spring 1985: Taught micro and statistics at MIT
  • Sept 1985: Joined Harvard econ faculty as assistantprofessor
  • 1980年6月:从普林斯顿大学毕业,拿到文学学士学位
  • 1980年至1981年:麻省理工学院一年级哲学博士
  • 1981年至1982年:哈佛法学院一年级学生
  • 1982年夏:在一家法律事务所做暑期工作
  • 1982年至1983年:休了一年假,为经济顾问协会(Council of EconomicAdvisors)工作
  • 1983年至1984年:回到麻省理工学院,完成了博士学位的学习
  • 1984年秋:回到法学院,完成了秋季学期的学习
  • 1985年春:在麻省理工学院教授微观经济学和统计学
  • 1985年9月:以助理教授的身份加入哈佛经济学教师的行列

this looks random and disjointed, and to some extent it was. But Ilook
back at this period of my life as a time of experimentation, when Iwas
trying to figure out my own tastes and talents. A large part ofearly
life is trying to find your niche in the world. Open-mindednessand
experimentation were crucial for me, and I believe they are formany
others as well. That will mean some false starts (like spending ayear
and a half in law school), but those false starts are part of aprocess
of learning about yourself.To get back to the specifics ofthe
question: My observation is that students who start both a JD and aPhD
in econ are much more likely to finish the JD than the PhD. (Arelated
observation is that those who finish both degrees are more likelyto be
law professors than econ professors.)For most people, a JD is
the easier degree to finish, as it is all course work, and ittakes
only three years. A PhD is typically five or six years, the secondhalf
of which is devoted to original research. By comparison to a JD, aPhD
is a long, hard slog. That does not mean it's not worth it: somelong,
hard slogs end up passing a cost-benefit test. But it does requirea
greater degree of commitment and enthusiasm on the part of thestudent
to finish the degree.My case is somewhat abnormal. During my
period of experimentation, I learned that I was only a middlinglaw
student. By contrast, I got my PhD with only two years of residenceat
MIT. (I turned back the third year of my NSF fellowship to theUS
taxpayer, but I won't claim any altruistic motive in doing so--Ijust
didn't need it.) In the fall of 1984, I found myself a so-so
second-year law student with a PhD under my belt and a smallbut
growing list of academic publications. It finally dawned on me thatmy
comparative advantage was econ, not law. Remembering theirrelevance of
sunk costs, I moved across the parking lot from the Harvard LawSchool
to the Harvard economics department, where I have now been onthe
faculty for over twenty years.


Update: After reading this post, one of my law schoolteachers emails me: "too modestly, you described yourself as only aso-so student. I recall you as far better than that."It is nice tohear that I was a better law student than I recall being. In anyevent, while in law school, I decided, rightly or wrongly, that Ihad more natural ability in econ than law. I suspect that, whilepaying the law school's tuition, I spent more time writing econpapers for academic journals than studying the law books. That factmade me realize I was probably sitting in the wrong building on theHarvard campus.Update 2: More on my story.

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