That Doctoral Degree: Must-Have for a Development Research Career?

Some believe that practical experience is more valuable than a doctoral degree for embarking on a research career. Photo by: velkr0 / CC BY 2.0 velkr0CC BY 2.0

Certain jobs come with clear-cut academic requirements, while others do not. Research-based positions in international development tend to fall in the latter.

While some believe that practical experience is more valuable than a doctoral degree for embarking on a research career, others, like Jeni Klugman, director for the U.N. Development Program’s human development report, think otherwise.

The Australian national has worked extensively on poverty and developing countries and spent several years in Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya. She also worked on Asia and Europe.

Looking back, Klugman believes her doctoral degree in economics from the Australian National University helped cement her career in development research.

“I think that the Ph.D. is important in general, as well as, yes, substantively, ideally, to teach some skills, to do the kind of thinking and the sort of output,” she said.

Doctorate students also build a strong repertoire of publications and recommendations that could prove useful down the line in landing a research position.

To secure a place in what she calls the “much more humble” profession of economics, Klugman advocates gaining practical field experience.

With the ongoing economic crisis, “there’s a sense that working out what happens in practice is much more important than possibly was recognized in the past,” she explained.

Klugman secured two graduate degrees in development economics and law from Oxford University, where she also studied under the Rhodes scholarship program.

The jury is still out on whether a doctoral degree is imperative for a research career. What are your thoughts on the issue?

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