Wednesday, January 7, 2009

So you want to be a program evaluator? Response from an Ag Economist

Chris Blattman asks today for advice for those who want to be an impact evaluator for international development projects. Here are a five thoughts. For those of you who don’t me I have an Agricultural Economics PhD from Wisconsin and have done a couple program evaluation related consultancies, in addition to several program evaluation papers on a Nicaraguan conditional cash transfer. I now teach at Towson University (but I’m looking for side program evaluation projects)

1. The key point to Chris’s advice is do you want to be a professional or a researcher. The latter should go to MPP (Master in Public Policy) the former should get a PhD. If you aren’t sure, get a master degree, if you like it a lot you can continue on to a PhD.

2. Beware of the bias of the advice givers. PhD economists will tell you to get a PhD in economics, in your schooling most of the non-students you meet will be your professors who have PhDs seek out alumni or network to meet professionals with only masters degrees. Working a year or two after school or doing internships in your undergrad will help.

3. Consider Agricultural or Applied Economics programs for your PhD or Masters. (With #2 in mind) Agricultural and Applied economics degrees both PhD and masters are common at the World Bank, IADB, MCC, ect. A lot of great development work goes on at Ag Econ departments at UC Berkley, UC Davis, Minnesota, Michigan State, Maryland, and of course Wisconsin. Some of these programs will fund masters students. You’ll get plenty of training in econometrics there, but with a more applied focus than most Econ programs.

4. In terms of tools, once you have a background in econometrics you can pick up other stuff when you need it. Learn basic program evaluation well and work on a project. You’ll learn data cleaning, questionnaire problems, ect. Try to learn some fancier techniques like Propensity Score Matching and Instrumental variables.

5. Also consider studying a language. Doing work in Latin America is easier if you can read Spanish surveys. I have known people with Arabic skills have been in high demand, plus you can find scholarships to pay for you to get your masters or PhD and learn a language.
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