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Leveling the Playing Field for International Students: How to Apply to WBS Public Policy Program

Every year I get a lot of inqueries how to apply to our program. Unfortunately, I cannot give individual advice for two reasons: first, there is simply too many potential applicants who seek advice; second, answering some of them would give an unfair advantage.  So please consult our websites to look at the official criteria.

However, I do see that especially overseas students lack some previous experience and a kind of subtle insider knowledge most European or North American students would possess. To level the playing field somewhat, here are some recommendations.

1.) The statement of purpose is very important. The more specific and concise you are the better. Generic statements such as ‘My dream is to serve in presidency of my country’ do not tell much. Give specific reasons why WBS, why this institution. The more you can link to specific courses offered, people at WBS the better. The more you can give us an idea about specific interests, future goals, the better.

2.) Formats of CVs vary dramatically across countries. At WBS we accept all major formats, but do remember: the better and easier it is for those selecting the students to get the relevant info, the better. Just imagine: we have to go through 100s of applications. The easier it is to get the most important info the higher you will end up on the pile.

3.) Some main interests of ours: describe your overall grade, if you have a GPA report it, quickly give us an idea what a good grade consists of in your country; don’t list endless numbers of minature events, activities, but focus on your most important ones (usually full-time, relevant for public policy etc.), putting other stuff into a minor category etc.; writing samples or links to publications etc. are an added bonus.

Do you like these hints? Let me know.



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Your Professor’s Users’ Manual #HigherEducation #highered

Your Professor’s Users’ Manual

Achim Kemmerling, WBS, Erfurt University

 (for pdf see here Users Manual)

As any complicated, supposedly high-tech instrument your university professor comes with an instruction sheet. Please read carefully to avoid malfunctions and unnecessary wear & tear.


1.) Make an appointment for an office hour (mail to

2.) Prepare yourself before coming to the office hour.

3.) If you want to ask for a Letter of Reference follow these instructions

4.) If you would like discuss your term paper/ MA thesis: send or bring as print input as specific as possible. What’s the research/ policy questions? What literature will you look at (examples)? What methods will you use? What could be relevant findings?

5.) If you need a signature on a form/ sheet/ etc. print out the sheet and put it in my mail box. We will come back to you, if there are problems.

6.) If you need to excuse yourself for an absence, pls. email to

7.) If you want to talk about a grade pls. be aware that changing grades can only happen if there has been a factual mistake/ clerical error, but for no other reasons.

8.) If you want to talk about internships etc. please bring your CV, list of organizations you were thinking about, etc.

9.) Avoid unnecessary emails. Your professor’s brain, like any natural resource, is of limited capacity and works optimally only under careful resource management.

10.) While flattery won’t work, being kind and considerate always pays off.







Achim Kemmerling

Prof. of Public Policy and International Development

Willy Brandt School of Public Policy

Erfurt University

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Paper on excessive policy diffusion

Kristin Makszin (Hungarian Academy of Science) and I wrote a paper on the link between international policy diffusion and policy instability. It is part of an edited volume on policy diffusion, innovation and failure in eastern Europe and beyond. For details see here. My former colleague Andrew Cartwright, co-editor, has written a concise blog entry summarizing the main idea behind the edited voluem.

In the paper we look at the link of policy instability, i.e. policy changes that did not last, and when and how policy diffusion has exacerbated this instability. We argue that pension privatization in particular, is a tale of excessive ambitions, especially promulgated by supranational organizations, but that there are other instances in which diffusion-induced policy change proved to be unsustainable.

These tales are very interesting for other scholars working on international policy diffusion and social or welfare policy research. Just as an illustration, I plot the number of countries that followed a typical (partial) privatization of pension systems over time. While we see patterns consistent with policy diffusion (an S-shape), we also see indications of a boom-and-bust cycle as a lot of those countries which introduced the reforms have also partially or completely reversed them later on.


Here is our Kemmerling_Makszin_manuscript before print. For a better copy pls. contact me directly.


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PhDs and PostDocs on welfare state research, Bremen, Germany

For further details see here:

My usual caveat applies: I am more and more worried about the sheer quantities of PhDs produceed, especially in the German system. Instead of permanent, stable positions, much of (excellent) research is financed by temporary projects implemented through PhDs and, to a lesser extent, PostDocs. This is not a sustainable model, even counting that some people use their PhDs for pursuing careers outside academia.

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Reverse Engineering a Regression Table: A simple (?) introduction for social scientists

I have drafted a small presentation how to read a regression table. It is mainly meant for (qualitatively working) social scientists and students who do not want to take a full stats class, but want, at least, to get the gist of quantitative articles, papers, reports etc. The idea is to improve passive literacy in quantitative articles. Feedback is welcome!

You can find the presentation here: RegressionTable

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Sharks, terror attacks and the quest for rationality

It is customary for scientists to highlight how irrational our fears are. People fear flights more than car crashes although the risk of dying in a car crash is much higher. People fear sharks but rarely drowning, although drowning is the much more likely cause of death at sea. And they fear terrorist attack although this is a really unlikely way to pass away compared, to say, being a crime victim. The idea of such scientific interventions is to rationalize discussion by calibrating our expectations realistically and give people assurance.

It is true that, in part, there is irrationality, an irrationality that leads us to make wrong decisions, underestimating certain risks, overestimating others. But it is also in part untrue. We need to factor in that people do not only fear whether they die, but also how they die. After all, not all types of death are equally pleasant. Some evoke very profound fears, based in evolutionary psychology of being eaten alife, falling from a cliff etc. Whether or not these are maladaptions in a modern system is a different story. Sometimes they are, sometimes they are not. But scientists shouldn’t simply discard these fears as irrational. They are very easy to rationalize. This is why terrorism works, and why all documentaries about the sea invariably end up in the shark-eats-seal dramaturgy.

Once we acknowledge the fact that people care about the way how we die new cost-benefit calculations seem necessary. And new forms of interventions: targeting the spread of the fear rather than merely the probability of the incident happening. It should also make us sensitive to the fact that other people have a very real feeling of threat and fear. The the last thing these people want to hear is that they are irrational.

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Join our panel on the politics of taxation @ECPR Hamburg 2018

Despina Alexiadou, Sarah Berens and I are looking for paper proposals for our panel on the politics of taxation at ECPR General Conference 2018 in Hamburg, 22-25 of August.

Here is our panel abstract:

New Divides in the Politics of Taxation?
In comparative political economy of both industrialized and emerging market economies new political divides have taken a prominent place: the discussions about insider-outsider conflicts, problems of new social risks and informality are just three examples. Most of these contributions, so far, have dealt with the political consequences for the spending side of the welfare state: demand for redistribution, targeting of social policies etc. But, if the supposition of new divides is a correct one, how does this affect the politics of taxation? And what role does the tax system itself play in the political mobilization of new divides?

Please contact me at @achkem or

For details about the general event see here:

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