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Thread: 1st year PhD life

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    1st year PhD life

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    As an incoming Phd student this fall I was wondering if any of the current PhD students on this forum could give an insight into what their 1st year was like, as well as any tips/advice based on your own experiences? I understand the first year is coursework heavy but is it wise to dip your toe in some research early on? How did you find prelims, etc.... Any feedback would be helpful

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    Re: 1st year PhD life

    You will get conflicting information from everyone probably.

    Focus on your courses. You will feel like you are drowning. You probably won't drown.

    Meet with professors. Before hand, read a few recent papers they've written, try to understand what the main contribution is they have, what do they see as future research, etc. So you have something to discuss. Ask what they are working on now. If something seems interesting, express interest. If not, it is ok. Depending on your institution some may be more welcoming to erm .. advances .. then others. Everyone is busy, so you don't want to look like you need a lot of hand holding, but you also don't want to promise something you can't deliver. Find the balance, and find professors you get along with on a personal level (makes it a lot easier to work together).

    One of my advisors told me that these days you really have to start working on research in the first year to be competitive by year 5 on the market. If you are at an elite school you can get away with no publications, but for everyone else, the earlier the better.

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    Re: 1st year PhD life

    Quote Originally Posted by ted23 View Post
    As an incoming Phd student this fall I was wondering if any of the current PhD students on this forum could give an insight into what their 1st year was like, as well as any tips/advice based on your own experiences? I understand the first year is coursework heavy but is it wise to dip your toe in some research early on? How did you find prelims, etc.... Any feedback would be helpful
    To some extent, it will depend on your program and University. However, in general, the first year is certainly rigorous. My PhD is in accounting, so much of our first-year coursework was taken with the economics PhD cohort. Micro theory, probability theory, econometrics, etc. Even though I had done some prep beforehand to try and get up to speed, I was woefully underprepared in terms of quantitative skills. So I invested a lot of time in the first year getting up to speed. I'd recommend making some econ PhD friends if you can and making use of the course TA if they have one (which will typically be a later stage econ PhD student).

    In terms of research, during the first-year of my program, we had an accounting seminar in each semester. Both of these seminars required the front-end of an original research idea to be written up. Thus, we had no choice but to jump into the research waters.

    Overall, it'll be a whirlwind. Having days you want to quit is quite normal, but you just gotta push through. You need to realize that at most schools, the econ faculty members are not trying to fail out the students from other disciplines that are in their courses. They are just trying to sort the econ PhD students. So try and learn as much as you can in those courses, but unless your program director tells you otherwise, you typically do not need to worry about getting an A in those courses.

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    Re: 1st year PhD life

    Quote Originally Posted by taxPhD View Post
    To some extent, it will depend on your program and University. However, in general, the first year is certainly rigorous. My PhD is in accounting, so much of our first-year coursework was taken with the economics PhD cohort. Micro theory, probability theory, econometrics, etc. Even though I had done some prep beforehand to try and get up to speed, I was woefully underprepared in terms of quantitative skills. So I invested a lot of time in the first year getting up to speed. I'd recommend making some econ PhD friends if you can and making use of the course TA if they have one (which will typically be a later stage econ PhD student).

    In terms of research, during the first-year of my program, we had an accounting seminar in each semester. Both of these seminars required the front-end of an original research idea to be written up. Thus, we had no choice but to jump into the research waters.

    Overall, it'll be a whirlwind. Having days you want to quit is quite normal, but you just gotta push through. You need to realize that at most schools, the econ faculty members are not trying to fail out the students from other disciplines that are in their courses. They are just trying to sort the econ PhD students. So try and learn as much as you can in those courses, but unless your program director tells you otherwise, you typically do not need to worry about getting an A in those courses.
    As an incoming accounting student is there any resources you recommend to help with the Econ part. I’ve been assigned some analytical papers to read for a summer seminar and while I understand what the author is saying I can’t understand the math part of how they prove and support their research even after spending hours on it. These papers are mostly published in the Econ and accounting journal or Econ and finance journal so naturally I’m worried about first year classes.

    If if it helps I’ve had two stats classes and a intro to econometrics class but none of those classes were calculus based.

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    Re: 1st year PhD life

    Quote Originally Posted by TaxGal View Post
    As an incoming accounting student is there any resources you recommend to help with the Econ part. I’ve been assigned some analytical papers to read for a summer seminar and while I understand what the author is saying I can’t understand the math part of how they prove and support their research even after spending hours on it. These papers are mostly published in the Econ and accounting journal or Econ and finance journal so naturally I’m worried about first year classes.

    If if it helps I’ve had two stats classes and a intro to econometrics class but none of those classes were calculus based.
    The papers are probably using a principal-agent model in some sort of game theory or contract theory context. Just glancing across my bookshelf, I do not have any books that really break it down into layman's terms. Maybe look to see if your University has a game theory course at the undergraduate-level and then look to see what text they are using. Hopefully, someone has a recommendation here, as I would be interested in knowing as well. But some books I have found useful are the following:

    A Theory of Incentives: The Principal-Agent Model
    The Theory of Incentives: The Principal-Agent Model: Jean-Jacques Laffont, David Martimort: 9780691091846: Amazon.com: Books

    Contract Theory
    Amazon.com: Contract Theory (MIT Press) eBook: Patrick Bolton, Mathias Dewatripont: Kindle Store

    I will also say unless your professor for the seminar has expressed otherwise, the intuition is the most important part. Unless you are planning on being an analytical researcher, I would focus on understanding the basics of the model and the author's thought process. Also, pay attention to assumptions explicitly and/or implicitly made in the paper, as you can probably assume the author's math is sound. However, the assumptions he/she may have had to make to arrive at a closed-form solution may not be the most valid assumptions.

    In terms of the quantitative rigor of econometrics courses, I really like "A Guide to Econometrics" by Kennedy. It explains everything in layman's terms and leaves the proofs to the appendix. That way you can read the explanation of what a particular test/model is trying to achieve, and then if you so desire you can go and try to understand how that is being shown through the proof. It's a good book to use as a complement to a text like Greene or Wooldridge.

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    Re: 1st year PhD life

    Quote Originally Posted by taxPhD View Post
    To some extent, it will depend on your program and University. However, in general, the first year is certainly rigorous. My PhD is in accounting, so much of our first-year coursework was taken with the economics PhD cohort. Micro theory, probability theory, econometrics, etc. Even though I had done some prep beforehand to try and get up to speed, I was woefully underprepared in terms of quantitative skills. So I invested a lot of time in the first year getting up to speed. I'd recommend making some econ PhD friends if you can and making use of the course TA if they have one (which will typically be a later stage econ PhD student).

    In terms of research, during the first-year of my program, we had an accounting seminar in each semester. Both of these seminars required the front-end of an original research idea to be written up. Thus, we had no choice but to jump into the research waters.

    Overall, it'll be a whirlwind. Having days you want to quit is quite normal, but you just gotta push through. You need to realize that at most schools, the econ faculty members are not trying to fail out the students from other disciplines that are in their courses. They are just trying to sort the econ PhD students. So try and learn as much as you can in those courses, but unless your program director tells you otherwise, you typically do not need to worry about getting an A in those courses.
    I'm an incoming Finance PhD student so I will be required to take the Micro, Macro and Econometrics sequence with the Econ PhD students. Can you elaborate on why you think Econ professors don't try to fail out students from other disciplines? Also any comments on your prelim exam experiences?

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    Re: 1st year PhD life

    Quote Originally Posted by ted23 View Post
    I'm an incoming Finance PhD student so I will be required to take the Micro, Macro and Econometrics sequence with the Econ PhD students. Can you elaborate on why you think Econ professors don't try to fail out students from other disciplines? Also any comments on your prelim exam experiences?
    Finance may be different, but my experience in accounting at both my doctoral institution (T25), as well as the Universities I have served as a faculty member at, has been that the faculty members teaching these courses are generally understanding that an accounting PhD student will generally not have the same quantitative background as an econ PhD student. Thus, if the student clearly puts forth an effort, turns in all the work, comes to class, makes use of office hours and TA hours, etc... then he/she is unlikely to fail the student. I have even seen these faculty grade non-econ PhD students on a different curve than econ PhD students. Again, speaking primarily about accounting, but my experience has been that students who do not complete the PhD program almost always self-select out, versus being failed out. But everyone's experiences are probably different, I can only speak directly for the three universities I have been affiliated with. Your best knowledge source will be the older students in your own program.

    In my doctoral program, we did not have to take the econ prelim because we did not minor in economics. While we had 15 hours of graduate economics coursework, we all took minors in finance. So I cannot directly speak to the experience of taking the econ prelim.

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    Re: 1st year PhD life

    I had to pass the econ prelim. It wasn't fun but I made it through. Everyone in my department has passed for years, some on the second try. The ag econ students keep the standards pretty attainable at my school.

    I agree that econ professors aren't trying to fail anyone from other departments. I can't really speak to their incentives, but all of the grad classes pretty much only give A or B in my experience.

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    Re: 1st year PhD life

    My first year was fairly typical I think. There was a lot of adjustment. I had little input or guidance from the department about what classes to take, which looking back now allowed me to take courses that were interesting to me, but at the time felt like being thrown under the bus. One of the biggest adjustments in my first year was in changing how I thought about classes. During undergrad and my master's program class was a thing that you did to get grades. In a PhD program grades don't matter, but you work harder and learn way more in them than you do in other programs. Classes directly relate to your future career and research, so while it doesn't matter if you get a C, you probably won't if you care enough to do the work. And you should care enough because the classes will help you later. So it's a weird tension. Add on top of that that this was the first time that I legitimately felt like I was at the bottom of the class, and life becomes a huge ball of tension.

    For transparency, the stress got to me that I went and got help from our school's counselling center. I cannot speak highly enough about doing that. It was the best decision I made during graduate school, and it is the sole reason I'm still in the PhD program now. I know I harp on the subject on here a lot, but if you need help, please go get it. I promise you it's worth it.

    I also started a few research projects my first year. 1 became my dissertation, 1 became another paper, 2 didn't work out. My research work during my first year was pretty light, though, mainly consisting of designing experiments that I would later run. I could have/should have done more, but it's too late to worry about that now. For any newcomers I suggest getting started on research immediately. Today if possible. It will only be positives for you. Even when your projects fail (and some definitely will) the earlier you start the sooner you'll get to that failure and the sooner you can start something else that may work out. Research should be your focus and your classes should add to that, not take away from it.

    Final thoughts: The first year is a weird transition. I hear for some it's the most stressful of the program. For me that was my second year. As TaxPhD noted my first year included the requisite questioning of what I was doing and whether a PhD was right for me. Just push through, or decide that the PhD is not for you. Most of all, though, try to find something outside of school that makes you happy and do it. You'll need this as you move through your program. It's a good idea to start it during your first year.
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    Re: 1st year PhD life

    I'm finishing my second semester and getting ready for the qualifying exams. So, I don't have yet a full year of experience as a PhD student.

    As other people here, it really depends on a lot of things. About research in the 1st year, for example. I'm more into the Marketing Strategy/Quantitative Marketing side, and I was told to "forget" about research in the 1st year. I have to focus on coursework, and trying to learn about programming. And the coursework is really heavy, so there is really not much room for research. But the 1st year student in the Consumer Behavior track has started participating in some research projects, experiments, that kind of thing.

    I little about my experience.

    First semester was crazy. Moving to the US, getting adjusted to the new life here, trying to know a little about the city, it just started in a flurry. Then, courses started. I had Marketing Strategy, which was great, since that's my interest, and we had to read and discuss a lot of papers. Time-consuming, but not particularly hard. But then I had Quantitative Economic Analysis, and that was hell. Too much stuff, too fast, lots of very hard homework, it was really overwhelming. I reached out to a friend in Brazil who is a statistician to help me, and I don't know what I would do without his help. And I also had Multivariate Methods, which is a very advanced course, which would be much better suited for the 4th semester, but I had to take in my 1st semester here too. So, more advanced math/statistics/econometrics. Just to give you an idea, my blood pressure went from 110/70 in September to 170/120 in October. I was really exhausted, the professor said we looked like undead.

    Second semester. Very hard to select courses that seemed to make sense to me. In many cases, I was not able to take the courses I wanted (problems like two courses with classes happening at the same time). So, stress started even before enrolling. Asking professors if they could change the course schedule, trying to get authorizations in other departments and at another university etc. For a time, it really looked like I would be forced to take courses that were too advanced for me again. But in the end I think I got lucky. I'm not saying it was easy, but compared to the 1st semester it was a lot better and I'm better used with the way things are now. I had Econometrics I, Programming in R, and Decision-Making, with Econometrics I being the hardest and the most time-consuming among them. So, coursework got a little better. However, now I started to have TA duties. For example, I started grading exams and assignments from undergrad and MBA courses. Grading can take a lot of time, and the timing is often awful (getting hundreds of exams to grade a couple of days before I had a very hard exam, for example). Life outside of school is getting better too, I sometimes can find time to go to a movie theater or a restaurant, make new friends, things that seemed impossible in the 1st semester.

    My last exam of the 2nd semester was yesterday. I felt like my mind was so full of things like formulas, theories, equations, that I had no space left in my brain for anything else. It is hard to stop thinking about those things even after the exam, as they have been my life in the last months. Now I'm grading the final exams from undergrad, and deal with the qualifying exams. For the qualifying, I sent this week a paper critique, which I'll have to present in about 10 days. And in about 20 days I'll have the written exams, which are based on the courses I've taken so far, and a list of 50 papers I'm required to know. And after that I'll start a summer course about writing and presenting research.

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