Miles Kimball and I have a new column up at Quartz, entitled "The complete guide to getting into an economics PhD program". Here's a teaser:

Back in May, Noah wrote about the amazingly good deal that is the PhD in economics...

Of course, such a good deal won’t last long now that the story is out, so you need to act fast! Since he wrote his post, Noah has received a large number of emails asking the obvious follow-up question: “How do I get into an econ PhD program?” And Miles has been asked the same thing many times by undergraduates and other students at the University of Michigan. So here, we present together our guide for how to break into the academic Elysium called Econ PhD Land...

Chances are, if you’re asking for advice, you probably feel unprepared in one of two ways. Either you don’t have a sterling math background, or you have quantitative skills but are new to the field of econ. Fortunately, we have advice for both types of applicant...

Anyway, if you want to have intellectual stimulation and good work-life balance, and a near-guarantee of a well-paying job in your field of interest, an econ PhD could be just the thing for you. Don’t be scared of the math and the jargon. We’d love to have you.

Read on for the complete guide!

__Update__: At his blog, Miles adds some very important info about the financial costs of grad school, and how to minimize them.__Update__: Jeff "Econjeff" Smith, whose office is right next to Miles', offers additional advice on getting in. Check it out!
This is great - thank you. Regarding linear algebra, many colleges have multiple versions of this course it seems. Some are more methods based and some are more proofs based (and harder). Is it important to take the harder versions?

ReplyDeleteOn that note - what math is truly needed for a good chance at top PhD programs? Your suggestions seemed a little light (e.g., self study higher level courses, only 2 higher level math courses mentioned, etc.) compared with what some top PhD programs websites suggest - but maybe those suggestions are not truly reflective of the full range of backgrounds of people getting in.

I took both varieties of linear along with regression analysis. It was a rough semester but I have pretty thorough understanding of how that particular machine works. Lots of statistics and calculus, multi variable analysis, linear, computer science, and whatever general mathematics you can pack into your options. I regret never having taken measure theory but you can't fit everything.

DeleteI would really enjoy a post about OLG models and what is so special about them...

ReplyDelete(cross-posted comment from Quartz)

ReplyDeleteNo problem getting jobs for everyone at a top-100 program (i.e., just about everywhere)? Really?!? Is the market in Econ really _that_ far out of line with every other academic discipline?

I know in Political Science, even PhDs coming out of top-20 programs have had some difficulty finding jobs since the 2008 crash. If you are from a top-5 program, like Harvard or Princeton, you almost certainly have found a job, but maybe not at a very good school. If you're from program #20, you'd better have pulled off a sole-author journal publication or a have a university press book contract in hand before you even bother mailing out resumes.

As for below the top-20, well, the general advice in the field these days is that if you don't get into a top 20 program, don't even bother accepting -- your job prospects will be bleak. Even non-academic prospects have become limited due to federal hiring freezes (i.e., no more job openings at the State Dept, CIA, etc).

And as bad as that sounds, we comfort ourselves that at least our prospects are much better than in History, English, or many other fields.

-anIRprof

PS: Agreed with previous anon that the math recs sound light. I've heard at top programs (e.g., Stanford), you hardly see anybody but Math and Physics majors admitted in Econ depts these days.

DeleteNo problem getting jobs for everyone at a top-100 program (i.e., just about everywhere)? Really?!? Is the market in Econ really _that_ far out of line with every other academic discipline?YES. Really.

Deleteyou hardly see anybody but Math and Physics majors admitted in Econ depts these days.That is true at MIT and a couple other schools, but at Michigan, all but 1 or 2 of my cohort were econ majors, and few were double majors.

Would you be able to provide clarification on this math thing, then? Roughly at what ranking of school do you really need more than multivariable calc/stat/computational linear algebra (plus diffy q and real analysis self-studied)?

Delete(anIRprof again)

Delete"YES. Really."

1. On behalf of my younger colleagues, I hate you. :)

2. That's an interesting answer, actually. Why so good given such a crappy period for university budgets? Have universities been exempting Econ departments from campus-wide hiring freezes? It's not just humanities that have had it tough post-2008, after all. Science PhDs -- Chemistry, Physics, etc -- have also had it tough, certainly compared to the decade before 2008.

Tenure line allocation isn't actually a market process, and Deans/Provosts/Presidents aren't known for radical resource shifts between departments. Would make for fun faculty senate meetings, at least... Anyway, if the econ market has been as unaffected as you suggest, it bears explaining.

DeleteWould you be able to provide clarification on this math thing, then? Roughly at what ranking of school do you really need more than multivariable calc/stat/computational linear algebra (plus diffy q and real analysis self-studied)?When I went to Michigan, a lot of the grad students had exactly this level of math. When I was admitted, Michigan was #10; it's fallen a bit since then.

DeleteThat's an interesting answer, actually. Why so good given such a crappy period for university budgets? Have universities been exempting Econ departments from campus-wide hiring freezes?Three reasons:

1. Business schools. There has been a massive nationwide boom. It won't last forever obviously but it might go global.

2. Government. The government has been hiring a LOT of economists since the crisis.

3. Consulting and finance. A lot of people take jobs in industry. Many find these jobs quite fulfilling, and they certainly pay well (usually better than prof jobs).

There may be other reasons too.

(anIRprof)

DeleteThanks, those make sense and they do apply specifically to Econ. Why Econ was doing so much better than physical science fields was the real puzzle to me, and #1 and especially #2 (govt jobs and federal research grants way way down) are very different from what's happened in STEM fields since 2008.

That said, it's worth it for aspiring Econ PhD students keeping an eye on those trends. They can ask the poli-sci students finishing dissertations on the Middle East and South Asia this year whether that market looks as good as it did when they started back in 2007....

The math requirements seem really light, even for the more mathy track. I am no economist, but can you really do research in a quantitative subject without a lot more algebra (group theory variety, ie what a mathematician or physicist would call algebra, ie something beyond high school) and differential geometry (if you are looking at various game equilibria, can you really study this without being able to calculate all the different way groups of surfaces can intersect, and the points of singularity thereof)?

ReplyDeleteBut perhaps some of this is studied under differential equations?

Deletecan you really do research in a quantitative subject without a lot more algebra (group theory variety, ie what a mathematician or physicist would call algebra, ie something beyond high school) and differential geometry (if you are looking at various game equilibria, can you really study this without being able to calculate all the different way groups of surfaces can intersect, and the points of singularity thereof)?Yes. I studied group theory and differential geometry as an undergrad physics major, but I never once used them in econ, nor did any theory people I know (actually, Miles once used a group theory thing, but really he was just showing off).

Wow, perhaps I should do this (easy) PhD thing.

ReplyDeleteYou are the economist, and I bow before your superior knowledge of how much math is relevant. I also admit that I threw in the group theory bit to plausibly cover more or less everything a math/physics major would cover. Heck, I was a cs major, and even I was taught abstract algebra (groups/rings/fields/lattices bunch of structure theorems), but I did have an independent interest.

However, I still find it amazing that you can get by without the differential geometry. Specifically, some understanding of the types of singularities of surfaces/varieties defined as intersections/solutions of simultaneous equations. Perhaps that is more a micro-economics thing, than a macro?

Aside: like the blog, even though I agree with only a proper subset of what you write.

DeleteWow, perhaps I should do this (easy) PhD thing.IS THIS NOT WHAT I HAVE BEEN SAYING!!!1!

However, I still find it amazing that you can get by without the differential geometry. Specifically, some understanding of the types of singularities of surfaces/varieties defined as intersections/solutions of simultaneous equations. Perhaps that is more a micro-economics thing, than a macro?I've never heard of a micro person using differential geometry. Ever. Maybe someone has used it, once. Go find Lones Smith and email him and ask him. :-)

Oh hey look, I found someone who applied differential geometry to game theory: http://plaza.ufl.edu/artyom/Papers/Game.pdf

DeleteCome on; the PhD comment was a joke.

DeleteThe paper you link to was interesting as a math paper, and there are similar papers in the control theory literature. I could not figure out if you were flippant, or whether economists would actually find it interesting.

DeleteI could not figure out if you were flippant, or whether economists would actually find it interesting.Probably both!