The Social Science Ph.D. Program at Caltech offers the opportunity for highly motivated and quantitatively-oriented students to pursue interdisciplinary research in areas common to anthropology, economics, political science, history, law, and public policy. The program is based on the belief that a wide variety of social phenomena are best understood as the consequence of intelligent decisions by individuals pursuing their own ends, that such decisions can be modeled, and that conclusions concerning social events should be based on observable and measurable parameters of those theories. Graduates of the program have been eagerly sought and have found positions in leading departments of economics, political science, and law as well as in government and industry.
Formally, there are no departments at Caltech. The Institute is organized in six Divisions, including the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences. Within this division, the Social Science faculty oversee the Ph.D. program, and it includes pieces of what would normally be thought of as the departments of anthropology, economics, political science, psychology, law, and business.
Nonetheless, we are compared to departments of economics and political science in a number of rankings. Some of these list us in the top ten in both areas. Click here for the results of recent rankings. However, choosing a graduate program based solely upon department ranking is unwise if you cannot find a faculty member to work with during your graduate career.
The members of the social science faculty are internationally respected as intellectual leaders in the areas of political science, econometrics, history, law, anthropology, and microeconomics. They have made contributions to the theory of rational political behavior, providing fundamental contributions to the theories of voting, electoral competition, congressional decision making, and committee actions. These theories provide the framework for answering important policy questions in such widely diverse areas as the impact of economic conditions on voting, the creation and functioning of regulatory bureaucracies, and the appropriations process in Congress.
They are also in the forefront of the creation and development of the theory of implementation of incentive-compatible policies--policies that are needed, for example, to provide solutions to the "free rider" problem. This latter research is yielding new and innovative techniques for the systematic improvement and design of institutions.
Caltech is also a major center in the rapidly growing field of social scientific experimentation--a methodology that brings experimental investigation to the study of economic and political decision making. The faculty has been on the leading edge of attempts to create new experimental methods, and to apply these methods to test existing theories, to suggest new theories, and to analyze potential public policy decisions in a controlled laboratory setting.
In addition, faculty members have pioneered the development of quantitative history--that is, the incorporation of economic and political theories and statistical methods into historiography and the study of long-term change in institutions and economies. This approach has yielded new insights into the distributional aspects of imperialism, the extent of racial discrimination in the U.S., and the forces underlying the adoption of new technologies.
Finally, social science faculty members and their students have also made key contributions to the growing field of law and economics, particularly in the areas of tax, contract, and consumer protection laws.
We have a very interdisciplinary faculty. The research that is occurring reflects the current activities of that group.
A sampling of active research projects include examining the role of information in political discourse by studying how citizens form their preferences and perceptions in the course of political campaigns; how psychological influences affect economic decisions; the analysis of voting in the parliaments of the successor states of the U.S.S.R.; the reapportionment of electoral districts; and the application of the methods of game theory and incentive compatible design theory to such widely diverse topics as the study of constitutional secession clauses, the efficient management of public enterprises such as the Cassini Space Craft mission to Saturn, and the design of cost-saving pollution emissions markets.
Another active area of research is the use of statistical and econometric techniques in experimental economics. These techniques include the optimal statistical design and analysis of experiments and rigorous statistical procedures for analyzing experimental data with heterogeneous experimental subjects. Current research is being conducted in the area of semiparametric estimation, including the development of real-time semiparametric estimators of large scale binary response, censored regression, and transformation model problems. Research into Monte-Carlo EM methods, with marketing applications, is also being developed.
Experimental and theoretical research is also being conducted in game theory. The research focuses on how individuals with private information learn in repeated games, when the use of the private information may reveal it. The research also studies how small errors affect the predictions of game theory and uses such models in developing econometric methods for analyzing game theoretic behavior.
To gain an idea of on-going research, peruse our list of working papers (preprints).
Graduate students in the Social Science Ph.D. program are encouraged to begin largely independent research early in their graduate career. Many of the research projects involve direct collaboration between members of the faculty and graduate students. Because of the emphasis on research, the first-year core curriculum is quite rigorous and is designed to provide the students with the foundation and skills needed to conduct independent research.
The first-year curriculum consists of courses in modern statistical and econometric methods; game, social choice, and utility theory; economic analysis; and American political institutions. These required courses give Caltech students the unique perspective and background that the faculty believe--a belief that has been confirmed in the marketplace--yields special insights into economic and political interactions.
The second-year curriculum is built around a series of workshops that are used to start students on the road to active, independent research. Emphasis in these second-year seminars is on areas of the faculty's current research interest, and students have a unique opportunity to work closely with individual faculty members in identifying and attacking research problems.
Workshops and Seminars
Workshops and seminars are also an integral part of the students' graduate experience. Since Caltech's Social Science faculty is small, we tend to view graduate students as colleagues. As such, students are expected to participate actively in the intellectual life of the group, including attendance and participation in seminars and workshops. To that end, formal afternoon seminars are arranged on an ad hoc basis. Social Science faculty members invite colleagues from other universities to formally present their work. The Social Science Theory Workshop is an informal, weekly gathering where students, faculty, and visitors present their work in progress. The open-ended format allows more detailed exploration of topics and more extensive discussion than is possible in traditional formal seminars. A divisional series of seminars on Science, Ethics, and Public Policy brings distinguished speakers to consider issuesrelated to science policy. Here are the lists of seminars scheduled so far this year.
Graduate students are given offices in Baxter Hall, which also houses the social science faculty and staff. Each office houses between two and ten students, depending on floor space.
For their research, students have access to the Division's computational cluster which includes various statistical software applications. In addition, the Caltech Libraries have a multi-platform collection of computers (printers and scanners) available for general use. The Caltech computing organization (IMSS, www.imss.caltech.edu) also maintains site licenses for various useful pieces of software such as Microsoft Office, Endnote, Matlab, Mathematica, Norton Antivirus and Scientific Workplace.
All students will have email accounts as this is the principal method of routine communication in the Division and on campus.
Our Graduate Students
The Social Science Ph.D. program attracts students from all regions of the United States and many countries of the world including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, India, Italy, Ireland, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, PRC, Russia, and Turkey. Their backgrounds include undergraduate programs in Accounting, Applied Mathematics (and Informatics), Business Administration and Applied Stats, Business - Finance, Business Economics, Commerce and Arts, Economics, Economic History, Engineering, International Political Economy, Mathematics, Mathematical Methods in Social Science, Physics, Psychology, Quantitative Economics, and Social Science. Usually there are eight to eleven students in each first-year class, and between twenty-five and forty students in residence. For the 2012-13 academic year, nineteen percent of the graduate students will be women.
The graduate program, like most things at Caltech, is deliberately small and selective. For academic year 2011-12, we received 283 applications and had an entering class of twelve. For the upcoming academic year 2012-13, we received 281 applications and will have an entering class of eight.
The Institute requires that Ph.D. applicants in any field be able to clearly and forcefully express themselves in written and spoken English.
Furthermore, modern approaches to social science require the ability think abstractly and quantitatively. Consequently, we have prerequisites for the program in the area of mathematics and statistics. We do not require an undergraduate degree in any of the social sciences, although we look for a commitment to research in the social sciences. We have found that in order to succeed, students must be skilled in formal reasoning and have a solid background in undergraduate mathematics. In concrete terms, this means entering students should have mastered:
We ask that all applicants submit GRE scores, but do not require GRE field exams. For the incoming class of AY 2012-13, the average of the verbal and quantitative scores was 628 and the average of the analytical section was 4.6. This does not mean that GRE scores at this level will guarantee admission.
In addition to quantifiable measures of achievement, the admissions committee looks for evidence of commitment to scholarship and willingness to work hard, as evidenced by letters of recommendation or other achievements.
Finally, the admissions committee looks for students whose interests accord with those of the faculty. The small size of the program means that it is not in the interests of either the students or the faculty to admit students who will not want to work closely with any of the faculty. You should peruse the research section, the faculty list, and the list of working papers to gain an idea if you might fit in.
Fellowships and research and teaching assistantships, designed to cover tuition and living expenses, offer competitive stipends. Due to the research intensive nature of the program, many students are supported as research assistants. As a matter of educational policy, we feel that it is beneficial for all students to act as graduate teaching assistants at some point in their career. Students in good standing usually receive support up to a maximum of five years. Funding for the summer quarters is not guaranteed, and depends upon availability and student performance.
The deadline for receipt of the completed application and all supporting material (including GRE and TOEFL scores) is December 15. Application to the program must be made through the Office of Graduate Studies. Applications are available on the web here.