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I'm currently thinking of applying to PhD in Economics, after much consideration and reading through answers in my previous question: Should I do master or phd to teach in community college.

Basically, I'm interested in teaching in post-secondary level, and I have little interest in doing research (though I'm currently doing full-time in a research institution). However, PhD is recommended to teach in post-secondary level in most institutions, at least in United States.

As I'm thinking of preparing for Statement of Purpose, I'm conflicted as how I should mention my passion in teaching, since SOP is meant to show research interest. Should I not mention anything about my desire to teach? If I do mention, should I mention that I'd like to teach rather than do research upon completion of PhD? How do admission view applicants who are more interested in teaching?

Similarly, I'm unsure of how I should talk to my professors who agreed to write recommendation letter about my deviation from being an enthusiastic researcher. I have two professors from undergraduate that I'm close with, but they only know that I used to be very interested in research when I was in college, and they do not know that I have lost much interest in research after graduating and working in a research institution. Should I let them know that my interest has changed? How about my current research advisor, from whom I'm thinking of asking for my third recommendation? Should I let him know as well?

  • You should be clear with your previous and current advisors about your current research goals. That being said, teaching and research are not a dichotomy. Teaching may be performed using research methods and vice-versa. Your advisors may or may not feel that way. – Harry Feb 14 '17 at 19:21
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    I am not sure if this is true everywhere, but I don't think it would help your admissions to Economics at my top 40 US institution to mention you really want to pursue teaching-centered jobs after graduation. That may not be true at lower-ranked programs. – Dawn Feb 15 '17 at 1:20
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For a SOP, you may mention something about your desire to teach. However, I think at most higher-ranking economics departments, this would not be viewed as positively as having a strong research interest and agenda. You may gain a small benefit if the reader of the SOP gets the sense that you are a "team player" who will do a good job TAing and not make a fuss about it.

(I will note here that my advisor has told me that some faculty are extra suspicious about investing effort when they hear too much discussion of teaching from a woman - they already think of women as being less serious about research because of biases and discussion of teaching by a woman can support their stereotypes. So note this if you are a woman.)

I would say that it is not inappropriate to talk to your recommenders about your desire to teach economics. However, I would tend to frame it as and interest IN ADDITION TO research. You can say, I really see myself ending up at an institution that combines teaching with research - what would you recommend I do at this point to make myself the most competitive for those types of places?

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  • That was helpful! I especially didnt think about stereotypes about women teaching. Thank you! – Hosea Feb 21 '17 at 14:33
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I'm going to suggest that you do a graduate degree in education, with research in pedagogical methods, which, of course you could give an economics focus to. In fact, you may even be able to find a degree program designed around exactly such a combination.

A degree in education would make you an attractive candidate for a teaching position; it would help you become a more effective teacher; and it would fit well with your interests.

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  • Thank you for your answer! Though your answer does not directly answer my question regarding SOP and recommendation letter, it has given me a new insight! I have indeed seen such programs, but I wasn't sure if those were necessarily the degrees that would make me a competitive candidate against other phds in the field. This answer would better suit the question in the link! I'd accept this if no one else answers my question, but I'd like to see the question about SOP and recommendation letter answered, for the public's benefit. – Hosea Feb 20 '17 at 4:02
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    @Hosea - I forgot to say, do talk to some people in departments where you might be applying in a few years to make sure you're heading in the right direction. // Sorry I didn't answer your question. On the one hand, I don't think "I am much more interested in teaching than doing research" would go over big; on the other hand, it might not be very ethical not to be up front about that; if you really want to pursue a PhD in economics, it would be best if you could find some research topic you could be honestly enthusiastic about in your essay. Dawn has a very good point, though. – aparente001 Feb 20 '17 at 4:07
  • That was exactly my concern. I certainly do not want to hide my fading interest in research to my advisors, and I'm not so sure if I can write a genuine SOP that sounds like I'm honestly enthusiastic about. But at the same time I know admission committees are mostly looking for people with high motivation in research, and I'll be killing my application if I make it sound like I have no interest in research. I hope I'll find a research topic that I'll love to explore one day. – Hosea Feb 20 '17 at 4:35
  • @Hosea - As Dawn said, a lower-ranked school would be less likely to mind. – aparente001 Feb 20 '17 at 4:36
  • I'll remember that when I'm applying! – Hosea Feb 20 '17 at 4:37

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