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What are Your Career Options with an Interdisciplinary Policy Ph.D.?

June 12, 2019

What are career opportunities for interdisciplinary Ph.D. degree-holders, and how can you leverage that kind of degree to get the job you want? These are the questions that guided the development of a panel and networking event held last month at Duke University. Through the generous funding of The Graduate School’s Professional Development Grant and support from Duke Policy Bridge at the Sanford School of Public Policy, graduate students from across campus had the opportunity to learn from and network with academics and professionals who all shared something in common—they had capitalized on their interdisciplinary Ph.D. degrees to get the jobs they wanted.

The event, “Careers in Academia and Public Policy: Leveraging an Interdisciplinary Degree,” brought together a diverse set of panelists:

  • Dr. Bocar Ba, a postdoctoral associate in the Duke Economics Department with upcoming appointments as a postdoctoral fellow at Penn Law and as assistant professor at UC Irvine
  • Dr. Eva Szalkai Csaky, the executive director of the Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanity at Southern Methodist University (and an alumna of the Public Policy Ph.D. at Duke)
  • Dr. Liana Fox, the lead statistician for the U.S. Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty measure research area
  • Dr. Heather Huntington, the associate director for DevLab@Duke and an expert in designing and implementing impact and performance evaluations

During the event, panelists reflected on their current positions and past experiences, sharing with attendees the aspects of their careers that they liked most and the challenges they had faced.  The panelists stressed the importance of finding a job that fits your needs and that a one-size-fits-all approach to the job market is unlikely to match you with the right position. For some, like Dr. Ba and Dr. Csaky, an academic job afforded the professional freedom to pursue the research they wanted to do. For others, like Dr. Fox and Dr. Huntington, involvement in work that directly impacts policy was energizing and motivating. “I love my job,” shared Dr. Fox, who cited that seeing her team’s research influence how poverty measures are developed and used at the U.S. Census Bureau helps her find fulfillment in her work.

Interdisciplinary Policy PhD Panelists Drs. Ba, Csaky, Fox, and Huntington
Dr. Bocar Ba, Dr. Eva Szalkai Csaky, Dr. Liana Fox, and Dr. Heather Huntington

Panelists were also honest about the challenges of professional life after graduation. Some emphasized the importance of having a strong and grounded support system to help during the stressful and uncertain times, clarifying that everyone faces challenges and having a plan and support can help meet them head-on, but also successfully overcome them.  The panelists also reiterated the importance of networking for pursuing all types of careers, including getting more visibility in academic career paths and making sure that your application does not get lost in a pile for a federal job.

In attendance were nearly 30 graduate students, including those pursuing an interdisciplinary Ph.D. themselves, master’s students considering applying for Ph.D. programs, and Ph.D. students from traditional departments interested in policy-relevant careers. Following the panel, attendees enjoyed a networking reception with the panelists, allowing attendees to ask additional questions and make connections.

The event provided graduate student attendees with valuable information and connections. “The panelists were excellent—the conversation was great. I had a nice time networking as well,” reflected one Ph.D. student attendee. Another attendee found value in the panel’s diversity, adding, “I found it extremely helpful to hear from panelists who had very diverse career pathways.” By the end of the evening, attendees were more confident in recognizing the wide array of career opportunities in policy and developing practical approaches to those careers. We are grateful for opportunities like this event afforded through The Graduate School’s Professional Development Grant and collaborations across Duke’s campus.


Emily Pakhtigian

Emily Pakhtigian

Ph.D. candidate, Public Policy

Emily Pakhtigian is a Ph.D. candidate in the economics concentration at the Sanford School of Public Policy. She is an environmental and development economist and studies how social and household factors mediate demand for technologies that avert or mitigate environmental risk, the sustainability of technological adoption, and the long-term health and human capital implications of low investment in averting and mitigating technologies.

Nivedhitha Subramanian

Nivedhitha Subramanian

Ph.D. candidate, Public Policy

Nivedhitha Subramanian is a Ph.D. candidate in the economics concentration at the Sanford School of Public Policy.  She studies gender and labor economics, with a special focus in developing countries.  Her dissertation research focuses on women’s labor supply decisions in developing countries and the household constraints that women might face in choosing whether and where to work, using a variety of causal inference econometric methods.

Professional Development Tag

  • Professional Development Grant