What are the most interesting issues in your field?
May 11, 2008 11:14 AM   Subscribe

What are the most interesting emerging topics in your field of study?

I am about a year out of undergrad, and considering returning to school at some point to pursue a Phd for a career in academia or research. I've always thought that I would go for a Phd in one of the biological sciences or chemistry since it's the area I did research in during my undergrad, but I've been exposed to so much that I'm interested in since then that I'm considering choosing something totally new. In thinking about this, I realize that there are so many subjects I haven't been exposed to despite my fairly broad liberal arts background. For instance, I have always been aware of the broad field of "Finance", but it wasn't until a few weeks ago that I discovered how fascinating the emerging research in behavioral finance is, and it's a subject that I'd consider for a PhD. Or alternatively, take a field like American History - I admit that I have no idea what the "new" research being done in American History would be - I'd imagine that historians aren't just rehashing arguments about why the civil war was fought.

So I ask you, mefites, what are the most interesting areas of inquiry or recent publications in your field of study? What is "the future" of your field, at least for the next 10-20 years? What would you study today (within your field) if you were entering as a new researcher?
posted by btkuhn to Education (10 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
fMRI research in Communication.
posted by k8t at 11:24 AM on May 11, 2008

behavorial/experimental/neuroeconomics is really awesome. Carnegie Mellon, which is already deep into artificial intelligence/robotics, has a strong but very "new"/emerging-feeling experimental economics center. very cool. here's a good intro article on it, from the new yorker.
posted by ifjuly at 11:44 AM on May 11, 2008

Some very interesting things are going to be done in the coming years using GIS tools and techniques to study historical events such as the Holocaust. Nobody's quite figured out where it's going to go, to my knowledge.
posted by arco at 11:47 AM on May 11, 2008

In physics most of the interesting work being done now is in high-energy (particle) physics and cosmology/cosmogony.
posted by alby at 1:26 PM on May 11, 2008

"I have always been aware of the broad field of "Finance", but it wasn't until a few weeks ago that I discovered how fascinating the emerging research in behavioral finance is, and it's a subject that I'd consider for a PhD."

Ah! Wonderful!! Behavioural Finance is a totally, totally fascinating part of finance.

We (as a discipline; I'm a banker professionally and teach finance part time at the Masters level) have put a lot of effort into quantitative modeling of the stochastic processes underlying markets, and still can't explain some phenomenon we see. Why do participants depart from rational behavior, so often and to such extremes? After all, we see asset bubbles roughly every ten years or so, going back several hundred years.

I think we're now beginning to realise that no matter how parsimonious or accurate our models, how clean the data used to drive the models, and regardless of the calibration process undertaken, until we understand the human element the predictive power of our abstractions will always lag. And sometimes markedly. Nobody likes an inefficient model, and in some markets under some conditions there's lots of room for improvement.

That being said, behavioural finance is itself a huge field, inside a huge field; I tend to look at this problem solely from a Capital Markets perspective (as that's my academic & professional background), but there is a lot of good research being done to link behavioural finance to a wide range of applications, for example, Monetary Policy (see Cuthbertson, K., Hyde, S., Nitzsche, D., 2006, "Monetary Policy and Behavioral Finance", Cass Business School, Working Paper), Corporate Governance (see Morck, R., 2007, "Behavioral Finance in Corporate Governance - Independent Directors and Non-Executive Chairs") to name two areas we're seeing lots of work in (my research cluster at University is very active, and we tend to bounce interesting papers off each other).

So part of your query - "What would you study today (within your field) if you were entering as a new researcher?" - I guess it's obvious I'd probably go into behavioural finance, but probably deviate away from Capital Markets into a more human factors driven specialisation (I've kept those papers I've cited around for a reason - FASCINATING area).

That being said, there is some really, really good work being done in Credit these days as well, across a couple of dimensions that I'm interested in.

First of all, folks are actively building upon the KMV models and still exploring linkages across markets i.e., improving the efficiency of a model calculating default probability by linking information in the equity (or other markets) to "classical" credit risk modeling. Lots of money being tossed at this problem by the banks, interesting area. As I used to work for Moody's I know the KMV models pretty well and, as revolutionary as they were "back in the day", and as solid as they are today, other researchers (see Jarrow) have built upon this concept and constructed models with ROC approaching 95% (under specific conditions, mind you, but still very, very impressive results).

Secondly CDO, Synthetic CDOs and other Structured Products: to some extent, we still are using first generation predictive models for these markets -- keep in mind Li's original paper was only published in 2000! (see Li, D., 2000, "On Default Correlation: A Copula Function Approach", or a later paper Li, D., X., Liang, M., H., 2005, "CDO Squared Pricing Using Gaussian Mixture Model with Transformation of Loss Distribution")

Also even though we're seeing a temporary lull in activity in the Structured Products markets, past experience tells us that these markest will rebound, much larger than before, and this area is going to see lots of attention, loads of funding and an incredible amount of original work being done. Out of the twelve students I worked with last year, ten were doing research into Structured Products. And they all got jobs. So industry is very, very focused on these markets and investing heavily.

Ok, see you got me all excited (this shit just turns me on so much ...)

But I think you've really got to ask yourself, where is your passion? 'Cause I'd surely hate to be stuck in the wrong PhD programme, if you know what I mean.

Are you interested in the markets? Track equities or The Yield Curve? Do you trade your own (or family) money? If you're not really interested I'm not sure that finance is for you.

But if you are, hopefully I've given you some ideas of what I'd do if I could take another advanced degree.

You would be entering the field at an absolutely wonderful time.
posted by Mutant at 2:15 PM on May 11, 2008 [4 favorites]

Alby's correct, but a lot of the other interesting work in physics is in plasmonics and metamaterials.

(Not my subfield -- I'm posting because I wish that it were)
posted by 7segment at 2:16 PM on May 11, 2008

If you want to do "Finance" study accounting or tax law, if you want to understand the markets study psychology, and if you want to explain (but not predict) study economics.
posted by doppleradar at 4:29 PM on May 11, 2008

In Condensed matter physics, graphene is very hot, much like carbon nanotubes were some years ago (and still are to a certain extent). It's single layers of carbon, one atom thick, wherein electrons behave much like photons.

Very recently, a new type of high-temperature superconductors was discovered. It's too early to say how interesting it is, but I think the original results were published by a Japanes group and Chinese researchers caught on immediately and announced several improvments of the superconducting transition temperature, doubling it in a matter of weeks.

Quantum computation was very hot a few years ago, but progress has slowed down and enthusiasm decreased somewhat.

Generally, low-dimensional electron confinements (graphene is 2D, nanotubes 1D) continue to be interesting, as do other engineered quantum mechanical devices.

alby: I don't see that Cosmology is the most interesting field right now, but that's also not where I come from. Of course, all the talk these days is about the Large Hadron Collider and the Higgs boson that's expected to pop out of it.
posted by springload at 6:38 PM on May 11, 2008

In musicology, there's some good research on violent uses of sound (torture, weaponry, crowd control)
posted by billtron at 6:53 AM on May 12, 2008

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