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I am interested in behavioral finance, but could tackle it from various perspectives. I assume that it would be easier to enter through some departments than others, and shouldn’t matter much in the end.

Specifically I am interested in better understanding traders and their strategies. My background is a finance BBA and MBA, but I could research this area from various povs. The obvious path is to do a financial or management track at a business school; however I could approach it from other fields:

  • Finance: behavioral finance obvious, (but most finance programs want a very quantitative approach)
  • Management: usually less quant, the obvious choice for business school grads but i am not convinced it is the best field
  • Psychology: or a sub-field like behavioral or cognitive psychology
  • Sociology: mass-phenomena and herd behavior
  • Ethnology: cultural differences in trade decisions, belief systems
  • Economy: or behavioral economics but econometrics based, and most do not accept non-quant backgrounds and dislike challenges to the efficient market spurious supposition.
  • Operation research or computer science, like developing non-linear algorithms, neural networks, or a computer “game theory” agent-based model to forecast investor decisions.

Those are just a few of the possible approaches. I can think of a lot others if I twist the subject a little. Furtherelore in behavioral finance i need a working knowlege of most of the surmentioned subjects anyways, whatever my department is.

My question is if it can be worth it to apply to different departments to maximize chances to get accepted? For instance, assuming that the ethnology department is less impacted at a top university than the business school; do you think it would be better to attend there rather than at a less prestigious school?

Is there a way to find which departmental programs are easier to get to?

Am I wrong in assuming that I may learn more, and generate more original papers, by applying research methods from an adjacent fields rather than stick to the behavioral finance field. Finally, am I correct to assume that the department of the PhD doesn’t mater and that as long as I publish and specialize in behavioral finance whether I hold a Statistics, Philosophy or Biology PhD doesn’t matter?

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    Just a comment (i.e. rant) from an economist: agent-based models and game theory are methods also used in economics (not economy), many economists have studied economics before the PhD and have therefore a non-quant background. I don't know where you have the statement: "dislike challenges to the efficient market spurious supposition" from. If you had researched behavioral finance at all you would realize how stupid that comment is. – The Almighty Bob Nov 4 '14 at 12:25
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    Hi Reed, welcome to Academia.SE. Each question you ask should be a single question. It seems you have four different questions here. Try to ask each question separately to get the best quality answers to each one. – earthling Nov 4 '14 at 12:50
  • Sorry The Almighty Bob I knew that the EMSS term would be controversial but found the expression funny. I did part of my thesis in debunking the EMH and the faith in it. I do know that in view of the unavoidably obvious evidence there was no way to pretend that the elephant wasn’t in the room, Fama softened up but most economist agree on an at least partially EM. I was more refereeing to the fact that the rational model is still very much in use, which is the foundational base of the EMH. I was browsing oxford eco program and read that questioning that model was not kindly viewed upon. – Reed Nov 4 '14 at 13:59
  • I do know that economists use agent-based models but with a rationality assumption. You are correct however that I do not know much about current research, I am still stumbling my way around. The Economics programs I saw required either an eco or a quant degree no finance MBAs allowed. I guess I should strike economics from that list. Also, if the EMSS jibe generates flames I will edit-it out. Sorry about the multiple questions i didn't consider that. – Reed Nov 4 '14 at 14:00
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I am writing this answer under the assumption that your intention is to use your PhD to launch an academic career (if not, I think this decision will matter a lot less). In that case, my advice would be not to underestimate the extent to which academia is divides along disciplinary boundaries. As a new grad student, this will affect you in a number of ways:

  • The faculty on your program will have strong links with others from the same discipline. You will have a hard time finding, for example, an economist who has good contacts in sociology departments. In contrast, most established economists will have good contacts throughout the economics profession. This matters because the faculty will be writing recommendation letters and making informal phone calls that will help you to get a job, and may also be able to introduce you to potential collaborators in the field.
  • Teaching and research seminars in a department will typically have a fairly strong disciplinary bias. You may be able to access resources from other departments, but you will have to work hard to be regarded as anything other than an outsider there.
  • When applying for an academic job, your employer is likely to be an academic department with a particular identity. You will need to convince them that you are a good fit in terms of being able to teach the right kinds of courses, being a potential collaborator for the faculty already in place, etc. This is easier if your degree title matches the name of the department you are applying to.
  • In some disciplines (e.g. economics) the publication process is slow and torturous. The majority of new econ PhDs enter the job market with no publications (but a few working papers). This means that, depending on the field you want to target, you might not be able to rely on journal publications as a signal of your area of interest.
  • Not all academic disciplines compensate their faculty equally. In the US, many states make the salaries of their public employees public. Compare how much professors in business schools are paid to those in, for example, sociology, and you will see that the disipline you end up in can have a significant effect on your lifetime income.
  • Departments will specialize in different kinds of methods. Econ/CS will be far more quantitative than sociology or ethnology. If you think that learning these quantitative skills will be important, now is the time to do it because it will become exponentially harder post PhD.

With these points in mind, I would advise you to think about where you want to end up after the PhD and what the most important focus of your doctoral project will be and target departments accordingly.

  • Thank you Ubiquitous, I should have thought about that in my own. I do know that B schools professors get paid much more but I was assuming that a cultural anthropologist working at a business school would get paid similarly to his colleagues. I assumed that the MBA is the most relevant qualification to teach B school materials. You may be right on the pother points as well; I will research the subject. Actually part of the reason behind this post is that I am generally not sure from which angle to tackle the subject. I guess I should review the literature. – Reed Nov 4 '14 at 14:12

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