What does one do with an advanced degree in economics?
July 29, 2007 10:42 AM   Subscribe

What does one do with an advanced degree in economics?

I'm posting on behalf of my fiance, who's in his early 30s and is considering a career change. He's always been very interested in finance and money matters, though ended up working in web production. Going back to school for a graduate degree in economics seems like a good idea, but what does one do with it? He's not interested in a career in academics, or working in a big-city financial district (ie, Wall Street).

Do you know anyone who has followed a career path in economics, and are they happy with where they've ended up? Any relevant advice (including specific schools/programs) would be much appreciated. Thank you!
posted by mandlebrotz to Work & Money (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If not academia, the most likely place one ends up is policy or business. I know a british person with an MA from LSE who worked on the gov't side in london for a while, and now is working on the business side in the energy industry, ostensibly with an interest in returning to policy /advisor or even possibly public office type of positions eventually. ANother person I know is looking into graduate programs in economics in DC, and exploring the possibilities of working at think-tanks or the like, although she is also considering the more straightforward academic route. From what she says, they overlap pretty significantly in the DC area, just because it is such a small world down there.

Does your fiance know what he's interested in? Is policy too "macro" an aspect of economics for him? what part of finance and money matters intrigues him?
posted by mdn at 11:14 AM on July 29, 2007

Finance and money doesn't really equal economics, academically. Economics is a social science. He might be better off doing an MBA or an accounting degree.
posted by k8t at 11:17 AM on July 29, 2007

Economics is closely related to political science. In fact, the two fields used to be taught together as political economy. It has little to nothing to do with finance on a practical basis.

A degree in finance from a good business school (not necessarily an MBA - a B.Comm in finance can be a useful degree) would likely make more sense than a degree in economics if he wants to get into banking.
posted by watsondog at 11:59 AM on July 29, 2007

the one thing i found in my pursuit of economics training was that it was absolutely useless for any specific profession but absolutely wonderful as a set of tools to enable you to learn the specifics of virtually any policy based job in the world. economics training is less about the actual theory and more about training your mind to rationally problem solve.
posted by dflemingdotorg at 12:02 PM on July 29, 2007

I know an economics PhD who works for one of the big 3 accounting firms doing economic analysis of business situations to support litigation. Here "economic" doesn't mean "macro economics". It means the specifics of the business situation.
posted by alms at 12:23 PM on July 29, 2007

my friend is a PhD economist at the Federal Reserve.
posted by uaudio at 12:37 PM on July 29, 2007

Government. For example, at the Cdn Dept of Finance. And. Google "policy analyst."
posted by kmennie at 1:02 PM on July 29, 2007

Some big law firms hire economists.
posted by jayder at 1:33 PM on July 29, 2007

Background in economics will stand you in good stead for any kind of policy related job as well as business. A lot of accountants have read economics for instance.

Considering your fiance's age if he wants to advance a business career I'd suggest he go straight into accountancy or an MBA programme though...
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:44 PM on July 29, 2007

Print money.

But seriously, there are plenty of jobs out there for economists. My dad went to London School of Economics for his advanced degree and did quite well for himself working for various corporations.
posted by sophist at 2:21 PM on July 29, 2007

Question, by graduate degree, do you mean Ph.D. or M.A.?

If Ph.D., I question whether that's a good idea for someone "not interested in academics": why take a degree that requires years of research for a dissertation?

And if he's just looking for an M.A., well, then, yeah, that's pretty worthless. He can get a job helping out the Ph.D.s, but not much else.

Perhaps what he's looking for is an MBA or MPP?

And for any of these, if you're not going to a top program, it could very easily be a waste of money.
posted by commander_cool at 3:18 PM on July 29, 2007

I just finished getting a Masters in International Studies and I hope it's not a waste. One result of it was that I got a much better grasp on how the world worked on a larger level. But yeah, economics has, oddly, little to do with financial matters. On the most basic level, economists mostly focus on how governments or groups of people can be wealthier. Neoliberals say this happens by freeing the market, heterodox economists argue that this causes as many problems as it solves. Neither focuses on how to make money on the basic, immediate level.

You can be involved in money matters without working in a big-city financial district. You can work in a nice small-town (or small-city) bank, and you don't need to get a fancy degree, either (although I imagine getting an MBA at some point would help).

If he's been in another career for a while, the MA in whatever might just help him to "think" like his new career, which can be a big shift. Also, it can be the source of excellent connections which can lead him to a career.
posted by Deathalicious at 4:02 PM on July 29, 2007

He could work for the CIA. I have been told by a few people that CIA hires quite a few Economic Analysts ever year.
posted by The Radish at 4:05 PM on July 29, 2007

If Ph.D., I question whether that's a good idea for someone "not interested in academics": why take a degree that requires years of research for a dissertation?

Just as an aside: There are lots of us who are earning PhDs and not planning on becoming professors. We're really, deeply interested in a topic, or we want to produce a substantial piece of scholarly work, or we're just intregued by the challenge. (I'm all three.) In most cases, though, it's best to keep this to yourself and not mention it to the faculty you're working with, who might not appreciate it! I'm quite lucky to be at a University where non-academic careers are supported and encouraged.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:11 PM on July 29, 2007

Think tanks, e.g. The RAND Corporation.

(And yes, they do research in areas other than military/defense issues.)
posted by splendid animal at 4:42 PM on July 29, 2007

I've seen positions open at the UN for economists, which looked very interesting to me (although I'm not one).

I'm not sure how easy it is to go to work there, though. I believe there is some sort of arrangement with your country of citizenship, so it may take some sort of connection.

And, you and your fiance may need to be very, very willing to relocate...
posted by altcountryman at 8:23 PM on July 29, 2007

As mentioned above, government (CIA, FBI, DOJ, or even other gov't agencies that he's interested). Gov't agencies need economic expertise. You could work for a law firm either in the legal field or finance within the law firm. If you don't want to analyze stocks or work for an investment bank, you could also work for corporations. Find some companies that you like and apply in the finance or budget forecasting office.

You could also be a consultant which is good for those who don't like to work but wanna make money....not all but many.

You could also work for OBM in your state government or federal government depending on where you live.

If he likes to travel and doesn't mind the high suicide rate, there's always world bank.
posted by icollectpurses at 8:48 PM on July 29, 2007

What does one do with an advanced degree in economics?

Create an economic model demonstrating the value of an advanced degree in economics against the current job market, to determine the opportunity cost of the degree -- and if it's higher than the curve, go back in time and skip the degree.

of course, that assumes you first obtained an advanced degree in timetravelomics, or plan to do so in the future.
posted by davejay at 10:59 PM on July 29, 2007

^ Sell out to the Man. Next question.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:04 PM on July 29, 2007

Buy the Economist, read the jobs pages.
posted by biffa at 2:55 AM on July 30, 2007

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