Top Five Classes At SIPA: A List From a Second Year EPD Student

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So, after being at SIPA for near the marketed maximum of four semesters, I have a few thoughts about classes. This isn’t the usual, obvious offering of advise such as “don’t take an 8:30am on a Monday” because chances are, in grad school, most of us have been there and done that. No, in this essay I will outline my top five classes ( and some honorable mentions ). This is also helpful for prospective students with a keen interest in the EPD program who are on the look our for cool classes to sit in on for class visits!

** For context, my course load is, as expected, very influenced by the fact that my concentration is Economics and Political Development and my specialization was Advanced Economic and Political Analysis but became Data Analytics and Quantitative Analysis in my second year. Therefore, I can’t say much in the way of courses that interest concentrations in human rights, energy, international security policy, et cetera. So, with no further blabbing, let’s get to the meat or vegetarian alternative, here’s my top five:

  1. Global Inequality with Suresh Naidu: For those interested in economic inequality and understanding it both on the level of economic theory and on a practical level of policy levers to counteract it, this class offers not only a comprehensive history of inequality, its origins, and policy solutions for it but why we should care. It covers everything from Kuznets curves to slavery’s impact on cross-country inequality. There is also space for practical applications with problem sets that lean on skills learned in quantitative analysis courses at SIPA and response papers to the readings.  Professor Naidu’s class is very conversational with very informative power points and interesting readings. This is a great class to test your aptitude for further economics study beyond the required Micro and Macro offerings at SIPA.
  2. Impact Evaluation Methods to Health and Social Policy with Rodrigo Soares: Professor Soares is an economist and noted expert in impact evaluations, especially in health policy, crime and violence, labor economics, and more with much of his work centering around his home country of Brazil. His class, Impact Evaluation Methods to Health and Social Policy is a considered a level three quant class so prepared to use STATA intently! In this course we learn basically the same thing as many other quantitative analysis courses at this level at SIPA – the principles of regression discontinuity, IV, etc. and how and  when to use these different quasi-experimental methods with observational data – but, each is unique due to each professor’s policy focus area and interest so it doesn’t hurt to take two. This course both prepares you to understand and implement these statistical methods in an impact evaluation context. This is possible one of the least theoretical quant courses as SIPA as its assignments, particularly the final paper — a policy evaluation project — mimic the prompts, instructions, and work expected if we were working as quantitative research staff at a think tank or NGO for a randomized-control trial, for example. It will also help you distinguish a bad study or evaluation from a good one and be able to critique evidence when it is given to you — a good skill for future policy makers.
  3. The Transatlantic Economy with Seamus O’Cleireacain: Seamus is a G. A trade economist by training, he excels at explaining economic theory and quantitative concepts in a class that is truly multi-disciplinary attracting students with no economics background at all and students like me who live and breathe the stuff and still keep us both entertained. With fair exams and a pretty comprehensive final paper, Seamus’ Transatlantic Economy course covers international relations, economic growth theory, trade negotiations, and macroeconomics through the lends of comparing the EU and United States positions and attributes. Taking this course during the Brexit era was doubly intriguing as Professor O’Cleireacain started each class with an overview of the updates to the negotiations and politics that occurred the preceding week and managed to always bring it back to the class subject at hand with humor and ease. Class participation was expected and, often times, helped us to digest the material better as they pulled on all our strengths from economic research papers to international relations or political science papers. This class, however, was more on the theoretical end, but it was really engaging and definitely a good way to spend a Thursday evening.
  4.  Economic Development for International Affairs with Miguel Urquiola: This class or its counterpart Economic Development for International Affairs, is compulsory. However, that doesn’t mean it is a dreary mandatory class that everyone suffered through. I enjoyed it thoroughly as an addendum to macro, which I happened to be taking at the same time. This course is a mix of basic quantitative analysis ( which you normally take in either your first or second semester in Quant Level I), open economy macroeconomics ( especially with regards to taking a deep dive in growth theory), development economics, health and education, and poverty studies. There are quantitative and qualitative problem sets you do in groups to share the load and interesting readings which assist you in comprehending the lectures. There are a few STATA-based problem sets at the beginning, which is why taking quant to learn or refresh your coding skills is a prerequisite, but it’s not too hard once you attended the lab sessions and did the practice problems with the teaching assistant.
  5. Private Sector Development Strategies for Developing and Transition Countries with Stephan Hadley: I am only a few weeks in but I can already tell that this class will be one of the most useful non-quant courses I’ll take at SIPA. This course looks at the evolution of private sectors in developing and transitional economies and the current economic, managerial, and political issues that they pose from macroeconomics, FDI, financial sector development, conflict, corruption and more. It’s a few weeks in so I can’t say too much about examinations and workload but the readings are really interesting so far and the professor has been nothing but courteous and understanding.

Honorable Mentions!

These are classes that I hear my fellow Seeples rave about but haven’t gotten the chance to sample: Race Policy & American Politics with Christina M Greer, Theory of International Political Economy with Markus Jaeger, Gender, Globalization, and Human Rights with Yasmin Ergas, and Data Science and Public Policy with Tamar Mitts ( or anything with Tamar Mitts for that matter).

So there you have it! The courses I’ve taken and loved and the ones who got away. For more courses that are non-econ and quant (can’t blame you) check out fellow PA Stuart and his over view of the ISP concentration.