Applying to Economics PhDs

I applied to PhD programs in Economics this past year (2023-2024). Here are a couple of pieces of advice that I have.

  • Advice I found online on how to approach the personal statement is contradictory at best. Don’t get too bogged down in this – talk to your recommenders and see what they think is the best approach for you.

  • Have as many people as possible read your application materials as soon as possible.

  • Have a way of tracking deadlines both for yourself and for your recommenders. I used google sheets with the following rows. I shared a version of this spreadsheet with each recommender.

Have I invited recommender Recommender submitted Submission Deadline Program
yes no November 29th University X Economics PhD
  • Apply to fee waivers for the GRE and for individual universities if you are eligible. A lot of places require that you do this in advance. When I was applying, I didn’t feel like I had enough time to apply to most waivers because I didn’t think about it until I was ready to submit. Here is a breakdown of my costs (I applied to 23 programs in the US and the UK across econ, finance, and public policy). The GRE costs are high because I retook it, and paid to move the date when I didn’t feel prepared. The average application fee was around $85, and I received fee waivers for 3 programs.

  • Here are my costs by category:

  • Apply to fellowships if you are eligible for them. They can help boost your application and provide you with better conditions as a PhD student. A couple that I can think of off the top of my head:

    • NSF GRFP (US citizens, nationals, or permanent residents)

    • PD Soros

    • UniCredit

    • Search your country of origin + national bank + economics phd fellowship

    • Search your undergraduate instiution + graduate fellowships (for undergraduates)

      • if your undergraduate institution has a fellowship office it might be useful to meet with them as well.
    • Consider applying to instituiton specific fellowships

  • Compilation of other people’s advice

Pre-Doc Advice and Resources

Smarter people have already said a lot of what I think needs to be said. I’ve included a ton of links + some original advice below.

  • EconRA Guide: Covers all steps of the predoc process. Highly recommend reading through.

  • Alvin Christian’s Advice: Advice from a recent predoc.

  • Women in Econ and Policy Pre-Doc Advice Compilation

  • You might’ve heard of this. I used it mostly to look for jobs. They host coding and other kinds of workshops that can be helpful.

  • Predoc survey: Useful statistics on the industry

  • Talk to previous predocs of the person who you want to work for and ask about work hours, expectations, stress, & general environment.

    • What graduate programs did the previous predocs end up in? Only take a position where you would be happy with the median placement of all former predocs.

    • How many hours a week did they work on average?

    • How reasonable did they feel like the deadlines were?

    • How often did they meet with their PI to talk about their own research ideas, professional growth etc.?

    • Is there any predoc cohort / how much interaction do they have with other predocs at the institution?

    • What is their physical office like? Are there windows? How often are they expected to work in person versus remote?

    • How is the salary / stipend structured? Were they paid on time? How much of their stipend did they spend on rent?

    • What is health insurance like? Who covers the premium?

    • What opportunities do they have to take graduate-level classes during their predoc? Do they have to cover the cost? Is it for a grade or can they only audit?

    • What are the norms around co-authorship with predocs? How will your work be recognized?

      • The norms within econ don’t match up with other fields. In some fields, it is the norm for RAs who contribute a significant amount of time to a project to become co-authors. In econ, this view is often discounted in favor of predocs remaining in the acknowledgements. Here are some interesting discussions of this phenomenon: 1, 2
    • Ask if any of their friends have had a particularly good or bad experiences with certain professors.

Finding Jobs

My experience

A little info on my timeline (I applied in the fall of 2021). I started applying to predocs in mid-September. I talked to current and former predocs through the end of September. I did my first coding task at the end of September, and I made my decision during the first half of October.

  • Stipend (2023-2024) 58.5k, (2022-2023) 55k

    • The stipend is deposited quarterly – the beginning of work was in early July but most people in my cohort were paid for the first time on July 30th.

    • I spent 1.05k on rent last year and now am spending 2.1k this year.

  • Health insurance with SIEPR covering the premium. I find that I dont pay more than $20 for routine services and $100 for ER services. There is a hospital on campus which is nice.

  • One grad course per quarter at Stanford covered by SIEPR (excluding summer).

  • Work laptop

  • Access to on campus housing

    • In practice, this isn’t quite correct; no predocs in my cohort got fall housing on-campus through Stanford’s lottery. I would say for myself, one of the more stressful parts of the job is getting housing/ moving multiple times within a year and not really knowing that this would happen beforehand.
  • Access to on campus amenities like libraries, gym etc.

  • Mentoring

  • Predoc programming

  • 20 leave days and 10 holidays. Leave days are not guaranteed but negotiated with professor.

  • J-1 visa sponsorship / OPT eligible (I am not an international predoc, so I know less about how this works in practice)

Undergrad Advice

  • Susan Athey’s Advice

  • Alvin Christian’s Advice

  • For more grad school specific advice look here.

  • The most helpful places will be looking at the university that you are interested in and seeing if they have information about ‘ideal’ candidates in their application sections. Some are more explicit than others with respect to expected classes etc.

  • Alex Albright’s Thesis Advice

  • Talk to professors at your university; tell them that you are interested in pursuing a PhD in economics after you graduate. Ask what they think you should do to be best positioned to achieve that goal.

My Setup

  • Things I use everyday

    • GitHub to implement version control with your code.

    • ChatGPT for troubleshooting code, writing Tikz diagrams, etc etc. (And GitHub CoPilot, which is free for students, for in-line code suggestions).

    • If you use Overleaf set up Dropbox integration.

      • I prefer Texifier (better UI). Can edit documents through Dropbox so it also updates on Overleaf.
    • Zotero for citation management.

    • GoodNotes (enable some kind of syncing so you don’t risk losing your notes)

    • I prefer the simplicity of Obsidian over Notion

    • Libby (app). Borrow free audiobooks from your library! Really nice UI.

  • Portable ergonomic equipment (good for hand/arm pain)

Coding & Data Visualization

This doesn’t cover any basic stata/R tutorials; these are just some tools I’ve used in the past.

  • Datawrapper is a really cool no-code tool. I generally like to use R to make visualizations but this automatically creates good-looking graphs that are especially useful in presenting summary data.

  • Easily make Tikz Diagrams

  • Stata2R Learning R if you know Stata.

  • Quant Econ Python and Julia for Econ.

  • I learned to code initally with Software Carpentry and find it very straightforward but ymmv.

  • I used Quarto and Netlify to build this website.