1.Graduate College 2.Work as a Research assistant 3. Reconsider PhD aspirations 4. Work as an Economic Consultant
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coffeenomics asked: Do you have any comment on LSE General Course?

Thank for this.

If I understood correctly, the General Course is the 1-year study abroad program at LSE.  Your question was quite broad so I’m not quite sure what you’re looking for, but I’ve sought opinions from a couple of acquaintances who did the program during their junior year 

Academically, LSE Is excellent.  You have access to several professors who are still contributing to their field.  The style of learning is very different from that of typical American institutions.  You only have one weekly lecture and discussion section per class (four classes for the academic year), which totals to about 8 hours of structured instructions.  The rest of the time is yours to go through the reading list, or seek other materials on your own.  Your entire grade depends on one exam at the end of the year, which is apparently manageable if you spent your time wisely during the year.  Overall, it’s a great environment for people who are self-directed, and not so much for those who are not.  

Enrolling in LSE also gives you access to London.  The university is located in the heart of the city (while still retaining a campus feel).  Every friend I’ve talked to, whether he liked the academic aspect of the program, had an absolute blast in London and spoke fondly of the experience.  

I hope this is helpful!

Anonymous asked: I am about to go to Georgetown for the Fall 2013 M.A. in Applied Economics program. The program is one year and I will need to IMMEDIATELY go to work because I'm financing the bulk of the cost on my own. I want to work as an analyst for the government or in a consultancy. I have a lot of fears about getting my masters and going into such debt. My main concern is that terminal Master's degrees are rare, if I'm not getting my PhD, is a masters a waste of time?

Dear Anonymous,

I actually have a few contacts who are doing graduate programs at Georgetown.  I want to ask for their opinions, rather than give you a general answer.  Please give me a week or two until I hear back!

Anonymous asked: Hi, I am quite interested in pursuing a Phd in Econ in US (I would be an international student). My big delimma is regarding my age. I am 30 as of now and by the time I start I would be atleast 31. I am intersted in pursuing non-academic career post my Phd. Would you have any idea about the acceptance levels in the private sector for a 35+, econ Phd (non american) ?

Hello, I’m definitely not the most qualified person to answer this question.  I will simply share the anecdotes, but please take my response with heaps of salt.

1.  I have close friends who are enrolled in programs at Northwestern economics, Harvard Business, Georgetown economics, and Stanford economics PhD programs, who’ve mentioned that they each had at least one classmate who was over 30.  This illustrates that there are definitely people at your age group who are pursuing graduate degrees at those institutions.  

2. I also suspect that you would have to try your luck in the private sector, as opposed to academia, after you finish your degree.  I am sure you would have pretty good career options you can choose from, especially if you have been doing interesting things for the past few years.  I’m not sure as to whether getting a PhD is the best way to advance your career.

Find and start talking to people who decided to pursue Phds in their 30s, and they’ll have more helpful advice!

Anonymous asked: I started as an econ RA after graduating in May 2012 and am in roughly the same position as you. My RAship is going reasonably well but it has surprised me how much more attention to detail my job requires compared to undergrad. Has this been your experience? Also, although I will be coauthoring a paper in my current RAship I would like the chance to rewrite and promote my senior thesis. Have you heard of any RA's with only BAs getting sole-authored papers accepted to conferences?

It sounds like your RAship is going well, congratulations!

I will share my experience to answer your questions, and also make some general comments for other people’s benefits. 

1.  Yes, attention to detail is extremely important.  This was not surprising because I know that everything that my supervisor,a prominent and well-regarded scholar, does will be closely scrutinized. Review of the empirical work is especially important because such a mistake would be highly damaging to his reputation.

Although I realize the importance of details, I also think reviewing details can be one of the most tedious portions of this job.  I once spent three full days re-checking the details of a single table in the appendix which documented sanitation regulation laws in several states.  I was pretty miserable. 

2. I think it’s excellent that you are co-authoring a paper with your supervisor.  I will not be doing that this year.  I work with several other research assistants who work for different professors at this department, and none of them will be co-authoring either.  Just a note of warning to all that you shouldn’t necessarily expect to be able to co-author when you sign up for an RAship.

3. Yes, I’ve definitely heard of post-bac RAs getting published in their own right!  Good luck on your project, although don’t stop your attempt at getting published on the most prestigious journals, since that will be much more unlikely.

In the Life of a Research Assistant, Part 1

I’ve been working as a research assistant for almost a month.  Now that I am well-settled in my new home and feel comfortable with my routine, I think this is a good time to start posting a little about my new job.

As per usual, I would not like to reveal any specific names and places.  But I am working for a professor who is very prolific in the field of empirical law, at a top 3 ranked academic institution.  I am not sure if this would be the case for all professors, but he constantly has a team of 4-5 dedicated RAs working on his various projects. 

One of my favorite things about this job is the flexibility it offers.  While I mostly work at the office (shared with other RAs) for personal interactions and regular meetings with my professor, I can work remotely from home at any given 8 hours of the day if my preferences are otherwise.  I don’t think people working in most public or private sectors have access to this level of flexibility.

Another thing I love is the access to university resources.  Once fall semester rolls around, I plan to audit or enroll in an applied economics course taught by one of my favorite economists.  There are also seminars and various networking events that constantly push me to be intellectually engaged.  

Lastly, I am very appreciative about the amount of responsibility I was immediately given when I began the job.  My professor essentially assigned a portion of a working paper in formation solely to me.  I’ve responsible for everything from data collection, literature review, and simple empirical estimations, and my opinions will weighing heavily in deciding whether this project is worthy of pursuing or not. 

I will write about certain downsides of this job when I am having a bad day and in need of an outlet :)

Focus on: economics consulting and PhD

This is an excerpt from an informational interview with an economics consultant without a PhD.


1.  Do you need an advanced degree in economics to do complex economics consulting work?

My firm has two primary practices: finance and industrial organization.  I work on the finance side.  I do not have a PhD, but an MBA.  But I would say that just about everyone on the professional staff (those employees above the analyst staff) has an advanced degree; some of them have economics PhDs but others have MBAs or MA/PhD in finance and statistics.  If you want to be on the professional staff and don’t have much prior work experience then you would need an advanced degree of some sort. 

However, we still hire many students right out of college as analysts that assist in projects and research.  We promote excellent  senior analysts (after already having been promoted from analyst to senior analyst) to economist positions even if they don’t have an advanced degree.

2.  Why did you get an MBA?

I got my MBA part-time while working, in order to get a better understanding of the nuances of accounting and valuing assets
3.  Is there a ‘typical’ career path of an economics consultant?
  I don’t think so, but there are two frequent paths.
Path 1: You start as an analyst at an economic consulting firm and continue to get promoted.  Somewhere along that path you might go back to school (full or part time) for an advanced degree.
Path 2:  Stay in academia post college and receive a PhD.  Join consulting firm on professional staff.
4. Do you need to publish research?
No.  Some people continue to publish research, especially if they hold a position at a nearby university.

Focus on: economics PhD and a government career 2

This is a paraphrased informational interview with an economist who works at a federal government agency; he holds master’s degrees in economics and public policy. 

1.  Why did you choose to do a master’s after you graduated college?

Without a graduate degree, it is hard to do meaningful work at the federal level.  Most government agencies don’t hire undergrads right away for significant positions.

2. What is your impression of your graduate training?  Was it just for the sake of having a master’s degree or did you learn meaningful skills?

I definitely think my graduate program taught me important skills.  As an undergraduate, I learned about intuitions relevant to economics and picked up writing skills.  As a graduate students, I learned statistical programs and also attained other concrete quantitative skills.

3.  Describe a daily routine of a government economist, if there is such. 

There are two tracks for economist positions.  The first is for those who do data-heavy works.  They prepare data reports and conduct quantitative analyses.  The second is for those who conduct somewhat more qualitative studies, those that focus on the big picture; this job entails taking quantitative output and putting that in a more intuitive and less technical form for the laypeople (work in the academia doesn’t really require that).  I’d say I’m close to the second type of economist.

3.  Do you have plans to go back to school for a PhD degree?

Good government jobs for economics PhDs are few and far between.  At least in my department, having a PhD can even hurt you in someway— people still seem to have an impression that PhD people are stuffy, stuck in the ivory tower, unable to connect in the real world, etc.  If we need a PhD person for a particular project, we end up contracting that work out rather than hiring a person permanently.  Simply put, it is difficult to get the returns to all the investment you put into a doctorate degree.  I am sure that in other departments that deal specifically with trade or finance(FTC, etc.), economics PhD is more necessary.

Focus on: economics PhD and a government career 1

The next few posts are based on my informational interviews with advanced economics degree holders, not in the academia.  I certainly do not claim these stories are typical, nor common.  But I decided to take up these interviews when I realized that I had no idea what alternative career options are open for PhD graduates who cannot or choose not to secure tenure track positions at universities; I thought some of the readers may be in the same shoes.

Below is an excerpt from an informational interview with an acquaintance that works at a government agency which plays an important role in the US trade policy.  I will leave the details scant to protect anonymity.


1.  Do you need a graduate degree in economics to join your agency as an economist?

You need a PhD to be hired.  Whether you need one to be able to do the job is a different question.  Most policy applications involve IO theory at the undergraduate level.  However, there is a big difference between economists with PhDs and RAs that have just bachelor’s or master’s degrees.  People in the latter category often do not have the capability to plan a project and analyze a case like the PhDs do.  I think completing a PhD makes one a lot better at the basic economic skills, just like having advanced classes under your belt makes it easier to teach a basic undergraduate class.  Also a fair amount of empirical work we do is quite advanced and really does require a PhD training.  But I think work at other agencies might be quite simple.

2. Are good research and publication required for career advancement?

Whether research is required depends on the agency and the industry.  Research may also be helpful if people choose to go into consulting or academics, because it signals that you maintained your skills and worked hard. (consulting firms really like to hire those who have kept active in research.)  While research may not lead to direct advancement in ranks, it does make one more respected, which has benefits.  There is also a personal fulfillment factor.

hellamyblake asked: Kevin, did you get a tumblr?

no this isn’t kevin, for real! :)

grad school admissions: what I could’ve done differently

It is rarely constructive to dwell on rejections from graduate schools.  For one, admission to top-ranked programs is extremely competitive, to the point that some elements of the decisions are random.  I can also never be sure of the counterfactuals; would I have been more successful had I taken this course over another one, gotten a letter from a particular professor than another one?  I will never what could have been, and it won’t do me much good to sit alone wondering. 

However, I do feel slightly wiser at the end of my undergraduate years than when I were making these decisions.  I’m not certain if these decisions would have made a big different in my first admissions results, but I definitely think they would have developed my research interests further and prepared me better for graduate programs.

1.  Starting research earlier:

I didn’t look early enough for research opportunities available to undergraduate students.  The research work I could have done as a freshman or a sophomore would have been limited to literature review or very basic data cleaning, but it would have opened doors to more substantial research opportunities later on.  I would recommend students to approach professors in any field of economics for research opportunities, as early as possible.  While it is likely that the initial work you do would seem inconsequential and unpaid, you would gain invaluable exposure to the process of economics research. 

2. Finding mentors:  I did have quite a few professors who’ve helped me develop who I am and fight for me.  I was lucky to stumble into these relationships through the classes I took.  However, I still wished that I went out of my way to develop close relationships with professors that I did not have for classes, but do research in fields of my interests.  Reaching out to professors— unless they happen to be assholes(not so often, in my opinion)— is quite easy.  Send them an email about your fledgling research interests and possible plans to pursue graduate studies in economics, and many of them will be willing to talk with you and possibly help you out in the future.

3. Studying abroad:

I chose to study abroad for my entire junior year at a renowned university in England.  I think spending this year away from my home university deprived me of potential research opportunities and develop close relationships with professors who teach upper-level economics courses.  I had a lovely time in Oxford and made many friends, British and otherwise.  I also traveled all over Europe for the first-time in my life.  While I don’t think I would trade these experiences for anything, I wish I had known about the potential downside of studying abroad. 

4. Stretching myself too thins during senior fall:  

During senior fall, I was too antsy about getting into grad schools, and ended up registering for three graduate courses( including the first-year Phd microeconomics sequence), on top of two other advanced undergraduate economics courses.  I was also participating in a varsity sport and involved in various other clubs.  I ended up being sleep-deprived, miserable, and stressed out the entire fall semester.  I also ended up getting A-s in major-related classes for the first time, which definitely sent a bad signal to graduate schools.  If you are considering taking up a few graduate courses to impress the admission committees, know how much extra work you can handle beforehand.  PhD students only take three classes and pretty much study around the clock.  As an undergraduate, you have more classes, extracurricular commitments, and other beautiful things about life that you should enjoy.  Killing yourself in the process of loading up on advanced coursework is definitely not worth ruining part of your senior year, and may result in negative consequences if you stretch yourself too thin like I did.

5. Knowing that undergraduate education is something bigger than preparation for a graduate program.

This advice may only apply to those attending liberal arts colleges in the United States.  Liberal arts education in the United States gives you so much opportunities to explore your interests, take fun electives, and learn how to think overall.  

I’m so grateful for my academic experience and endeavors in college, but too often, I was too hung up on maintaining excellent grades and taking the right courses for graduate programs in economics.  Those two goals, in themselves, are not necessarily bad.  At some point during my bind pursuit of a perfect GPA and coursework, I think I lost the joy of studying economics that prompted my interest in grad school in the first place.  Now that I’ve moved beyond this mental state, I find reading papers and learning different models to be much more pleasant and fulfilling.  Never lose your curiosity and passion for learning— you will need them to get through graduate programs and beyond!


Hope my insights will be helpful to some people.  I will start posting about my experiences as a research assistant when I start work in mid-June! 

It’s been…

It’s been 3 months and 14 days since my last post.  I apologize for the sudden and long gap.

The past few months have been a whirlwind of events.  The bottom line:  I did not get into my top-choice programs.  I got a research fellowship position.  I graduated college with top honors.  

After enjoying a few weeks of summer, I will be starting full-time work as a research assistant to three professors at a top-3 university that I will not name.  I will probably apply to schools again in the coming fall or the next.  

I will start to post more consistently from now.  In the near future, I would like to share my thoughts on what I think I could’ve done differently to be a better candidate.  Once work begins, I will share details on my daily routine, some of which may be similar to that of a grad student or a professor.  Thank you for reading. :)