A PhD in Economics: Interview with Sergeï Guriev

Are you interested in pursuing a PhD in Economics? A key discipline taught at the undergraduate level, economics is also one of the pillars of research at Sciences Po. Sergeï Guriev, Full Professor at the Economics Department in Sciences Po, director of studies in Economics at the Doctoral School, offers some advice and insights. 

Tell us about your career...

Sergeï Guriev: Before coming to Sciences Po in 2013, I ran the New Economic School (NES), a small private university in Moscow which was established in 1992. I joined the NES as an assistant professor in 1998 and was appointed its director in 2004. The core programme at the NES was, and still is, a Master’s in economics which is in many respects similar to the Master’s in Economics at Sciences Po. While the NES has made a conscious decision not to create its own doctoral programme, we regularly sent many of our graduates to the leading PhD programmes in the US and Europe, so while working at NES I was always in close touch with doctoral programmes around the world. 

What are your research interests?

SG: During my career I have done research in many fields of economics: I’ve worked on contract theory, development economics, labour economics, political economy, and economic history, and have written both theoretical and empirical papers. Today, I mostly work on the political economy of populism and on the political economy of modern non-democratic regimes. 

You are the director of doctoral studies in economics. What do you find interesting about supporting the studies of Master's and PhD students? 

SG: Sciences Po has the DNA of an institution that strives not just to understand, but also to transform the world. Most of our students focus on topics of great importance to society, economics, and politics. This means that talking to our students about their research is always exciting. Furthermore, thanks to the rapid development of theoretical and empirical methodology and the growing availability of data, the quality and rigour of our students’ research improve every year. This, however, is true of many other PhD programmes, so competition is tough. The good news is that our department has built a critical mass of faculty that can provide ideas and feedback to students in all fields of economics. 

What do you believe are the keys to successfully completing a PhD?

SG: It is important to choose the right topic – the research question that matters, that you are passionate about, and that can be addressed with available methodology and data. But good ideas alone are not enough. Success in a PhD programme requires hard work and persistence, and this is not easy. At the undergraduate, and even Master’s, levels, there is a structured process for coursework. At the PhD level, students work independently. It is crucial for PhD students to be proactive, and to seek advice and feedback from faculty, visitors, and fellow students. Finally, in addition to doing research well, success requires presentation and writing skills – for this, of course, they need to attend many seminars (fortunately we have excellent seminar series), and read a lot.

Why are there so few women in economics?

SG: Economics does have a major gender problem – to a much greater extent than other disciplines, certainly more than other social sciences and even more than mathematics and natural sciences. The explanations are the same as in other male-dominated occupations: as economics has always been dominated by men, its practices (including those for selection and promotion) and social norms have been shaped to suit men and essentially discriminate against women. One of our researchers, Ghazala Azmat, Full Professor at the Sciences Po Department of Economics, explains this in an article in the latest issue of the research magazine Cogito: Gender Inequalities in Higher Education. The good news is that this problem is finally recognised by the profession and all economics departments around the world (including Sciences Po), and they now want to change the status quo. At the Sciences Po Economics Department, we are also strongly committed to increasing the number of female students and faculty. Some progress has been made in terms of hiring female faculty. When I arrived at Sciences Po in 2013, we had only two female tenure-track faculty, and zero tenured female faculty. Today, we have six tenure-track and two tenured female faculty. This is, of course, still a small minority; we still have the responsibility to do better.

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