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Thread: RA at the Fed

  1. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by veryconfused06 View Post
    Will you consider the opportunity to work as an RA at the Fed for 2-3 years if you're already admitted to a top 20 school with funding? I might be in that situation. Should I be considering the opportunity at all or just go straight to PhD first? I understand the benefits of working experience at the Fed, but also some people told me it's better to go to PhD fresh from undergrad. Besides, will working improve the chance of getting into a better program?
    The first question I would ask is whether you are satisfied with you current offer. If you are not willing to go anywhere but top 5 schools (with funding), then working as an RA for 1-2 years is not a bad bet. Otherwise, I would to straight for a PhD. Remember, all that matters at the end is the quality of your dissertation, but not because you are from MIT or Harvard.

    Will working improve the chance of getting into a better program? As Kronecker and Asquare pointed out, IF conditions such as getting good quality work and getting great LoR from a well-known economist are met, then the answer is certainly yes. You can minimize the uncertainty by knowing in advance who you are working for, as 2010app9357 suggested.

    A positive experience as an RA at the Fed will benefit more than just your application package. You can work with established economists, learn invaluable programming skills, attend academic workshop, take classes at nearby colleges, and more importantly, what you do and don't like. Barring from a few exceptions, what would be your reaction a fresh undergraduate claims that her research interest is, say, econometrics? RA is an opportunity to understand economic theory more in-depth and why they are useful. For example, at the Fed you will learn how macroeconomic theories are applicable to policy debates.

    Is being an RA always fun? No, not even if you are fortunately enough to work with the most friendly and famous economist. There are always menial tasks such as collecting data, making crazy graphs, checking references, proofreading. But only in a dream would you find a job that pays well and you can do whatever you like. Also, menial tasks is also a learning process. For instance, collecting data teaches you how to construct a database, and proofreading allows you to read the early draft of a publishable paper.

    Negative experience due to external (e.g., assignment of bad economists) or internal factor (e.g. insufficient work because one is lazy and careless ), however, does exist. In this case, people usually get paid well and leave after a year.

    Now, with both up and down side, their priori probabilities, the variance of these probabilities (uncertainty), a utility function, and your subjective time-discount factor, I trust you can come up with a good model for your decision.


  2. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by chris_tyman View Post
    Remember, all that matters at the end is the quality of your dissertation, but not because you are from MIT or Harvard.
    In fact, the quality of your dissertation may not matter all that much in the end, at least not as useful as the connections/fame of your thesis advisors. An equally well-written job market paper, as a professor told me, may not even get read if your advisors are not famous. In that sense it is similar to the PhD application process. But of course, there may very likely be positive correlation between your performance and the impact of the names you put on your resume.

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    the quality of your dissertation may not matter all that much in the end
    I think what chris_tyman is saying is that after 10-20 years into your career in academia, it doesn't really matter which school you got your PhD from. Sure, the connection is going to help, but that's only initial condition; convergence is all that matters. The connection is going to help you get good job placement, but then you have to prove your worth. At the end of the day it's going to be how well you are at producing good-quality research paper-- and dissertation (and LoRs, again) is a good indicator of that.

    Regardless, the correlation kudo pointed out is definitely there.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kudo View Post
    In fact, the quality of your dissertation may not matter all that much in the end, at least not as useful as the connections/fame of your thesis advisors.
    Let's not argue about the first part of this sentence. I agree with you on the later part - remember here the catch is that the OP is talking about top 20 schools, and of course the implicit assumption that OP does well in his program, regardless of ranking.

    Quote Originally Posted by kronecker View Post
    I think chris_tyman is saying is that after 10-20 years into your career in academia, it doesn't really matter which school you got your PhD from. Sure, the connection is going to help, but that's only initial condition; convergence is all that matters.
    I agree, again, the OP is talking about top 20 schools. Connection opens the door for you, but after that it's all yours. Only true gem will eventually shine.

    Here I would add the rate of convergence also matters because of time-discount factor.


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    I just started working at the Fed BoG about a month ago. I decided to go to the Fed for a few reasons.

    1) While my GRE and GPA were very strong, I had no good source of LoR's.
    2) I had no research experience.
    3) I wasn't sure if I really wanted to do a phd in economics and, if so, what area of economics.
    4) I had very little experience with statistical packages, even though I was very familiar with programming.

    So far I'm very happy with my decision. I can tell that my time at the Fed will fix all of these issues, and I think I will come out of it with a MUCH stronger application than I would have had otherwise. I told my economists that I'm planning on an econ PhD and they have been very supportive. One has already invited me to co-author a paper (on a subject that I have quite a bit of experience in). I find the research topics interesting and I'm learning a lot. The work-life balance is also very nice. The environment is very academic and laid-back. You almost never have to work overtime, and you have pretty good annual leave (3 weeks) and benefits. Also, the pay is decent ($47,500 at the BoG, more than you'd make at almost any other RA job).

    You have to ask yourself if it's worth 2 years of your life though. If you really want to get into a top 5 and you think the RA job will fill those holes in your application, then go for it. But be sure you know exactly what you're getting into. Ask the economists what research you might be working on, where their past RA's have gone, and ask the RA's in the section what they think. Look up the economists you'll be talking to and see what papers they've written, what journals they've published in, etc. Also, keep in mind that an RAship at the Fed, even an excellent one, won't guarantee you to get into any top school.

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    Thanks a lot guys. I really appreciate all the advice.

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    Quote Originally Posted by straudos View Post
    I just started working at the Fed BoG about a month ago. I decided to go to the Fed for a few reasons.

    1) While my GRE and GPA were very strong, I had no good source of LoR's.
    2) I had no research experience.
    3) I wasn't sure if I really wanted to do a phd in economics and, if so, what area of economics.
    4) I had very little experience with statistical packages, even though I was very familiar with programming.

    So far I'm very happy with my decision. I can tell that my time at the Fed will fix all of these issues, and I think I will come out of it with a MUCH stronger application than I would have had otherwise. I told my economists that I'm planning on an econ PhD and they have been very supportive. One has already invited me to co-author a paper (on a subject that I have quite a bit of experience in). I find the research topics interesting and I'm learning a lot. The work-life balance is also very nice. The environment is very academic and laid-back. You almost never have to work overtime, and you have pretty good annual leave (3 weeks) and benefits. Also, the pay is decent ($47,500 at the BoG, more than you'd make at almost any other RA job).

    You have to ask yourself if it's worth 2 years of your life though. If you really want to get into a top 5 and you think the RA job will fill those holes in your application, then go for it. But be sure you know exactly what you're getting into. Ask the economists what research you might be working on, where their past RA's have gone, and ask the RA's in the section what they think. Look up the economists you'll be talking to and see what papers they've written, what journals they've published in, etc. Also, keep in mind that an RAship at the Fed, even an excellent one, won't guarantee you to get into any top school.
    I just wanted to emphasize again that this can vary GREATLY by section and economist who you work for in terms of: 1) availability of co-authorship opportunities, 2) # of work hours per week (I regularly work late hours and weekends), and 3) laid back environment (depends on who you work for). Last paragraph has great advice -- good luck!
    Attending: HBS

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    How do you guys know the co-author opportunities/the willingness of the economist to write good LOR when you make the decision? I understand these greatly depend on the person I work with and the nature of the economist's research. I mean, at the interview they only tell you great things and it does seem like a great leverage for future re-application. How do you know before you actually start the job? What if you only find out maybe the experience is not as expected after you start? Or is this the risk that I will need to consider?

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    One possibility is you contact their current RA (if you don't meet them in the interview) and get them to talk about their experiences.

    One problem is sometimes economists can't predict the workload of their own RAs... but usually you'll have some downtime.

    I think co-authorship opportunities always exist -- you just have to be the one to suggest them. The problem is if you get bogged down with too much other work too often and lose motivation. You are getting paid to work for them after all.

    One indicator is probably whether the economist has been a successful researcher already. If they haven't been successful researchers themselves, how can they teach you?

    Also, I'd be careful not to overreact to any little bit of busy work you might have to do. You'll have to do some of this busy work for your own research in grad school anyway -- might as well gain some skills now.

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    How do you guys know the co-author opportunities/the willingness of the economist to write good LOR when you make the decision?
    Chris Blattman has a take on co-authoring that you may be interested in reading:
    RA versus co-author – Chris Blattman

    To judge whether there will be co-authoring opportunities, I'm willing to say a good predictor is the amount of academic research the economists have done while at the Fed and the number of working papers they have going on. The more time the economist spends doing academic research, the more opportunities there will be for you to co-author.

    Also, younger economists who have joined the Fed more recently may be more likely to collaborate. Two reasons: (1) Fresh out of grad school, they want to establish themselves as a serious researcher and keep the possibility of returning the academia open, so they will be working on a lot of projects. (2) If they are younger, more likely they will sympathize with your situation and want to help you out, be your buddy, and be more of a partner than a boss.

    In the end though, to repeat what has been said above, it's going to be up to you and your self motivation. The best advice I got when I started my job at the Fed was that co-authoring opportunities came to those who worked the hardest for them. If you drag out the policy work by reading blogs and TM all day long, you won't have the time to do anything more collaborative or interesting. Instead if you get the grunt work done fast, there will more time to talk to your economist about your ideas and give the economist reason to get you more involved.

    Also, you will get more co-authoring opportunities if you work 3 vs. 2 years. The first year you're gonna spend getting up to speed on the economists' current projects and becoming a Stata/MATLAB wizard. That 2nd year you won't have time to co-author if you're going to be going nuts applying for grad school (co-authoring can mean working more than 40 hours a week). Also, the economists much prefer 3 vs. 2 year turn over because RAs are so much more productive after their first year. Thus, in exchange for staying an extra year, there's often a tacit (or explicit) understanding that you will have more involvement in the research projects.

    One last thing. Co-authoring is, in my opinion, totally overrated. What matters most is the amount of academic research you get exposed to, both for your own development as a researcher and for the strength of the LOR your economist will write to help you get into grad school (more for them to write about). In the end, the co-authoring I did with my economist was on more policy-oriented stuff that probably meant little to anyone on an admissions committee. In the end, I got into Berkeley because I got an NSF. And I got an NSF because (well, I got lucky, but also because) I was able to demonstrate research experience that had broader impact (because of the work I did with my economist, co-authored or not), and most importantly I had the time during the day to talk to the economist I worked for and the other RAs about the idea many, many times. That kind of support is priceless, in my opinion, and why working at a Fed is such an incredible opportunity.

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