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Thread: RA at the Fed

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    RA at the Fed

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    Hi everyone,

    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?

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    Quote Originally Posted by veryconfused06 View Post
    Hi everyone,

    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?
    Depends what program you got into, and what your goals are. If you are aiming to get into a top 5 program, then doing an RA will probably not help significantly, in my opinion. However, of course a 2 year RAship will improve your profile and you may get into more schools in the top 20 2-3 years later. But unless you are writing papers, doing an RAship will add only one thing to your application. I guess I'm not too familiar about what RAs at the Fed do... but I'm guessing their tasks will vary quite a bit.

    My suggestion though is to just go with the PhD. You don't know what's going to happen in 3 years and I honestly don't think an RAship will cause you to jump from a top 20 school to MIT or Harvard. If that's the case, then the difference between your school and a school that you may get into will probably be small. Why add risk to something when the reward may not be too high? It's a different story if you got into a top 20 school that you don't really want to go to though.
    University of Minnesota, PhD Economics, class of 2015
    Current interest: Macroeconomics, Monetary, International Macro

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    An Urch Guru Pundit Swami Sage
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    Quote Originally Posted by veryconfused06 View Post
    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.
    Why? There are also benefits to waiting. No rush. Judge for yourself whether you'd benefit from time off, or if you'd rather keep plugging away. It's ridiculous for anyone, esp. an economist, to claim they have a universal answer to this question.
    Besides, will working improve the chance of getting into a better program?
    Maybe, maybe not. Do you think the Fed will add value to your application? The Fed can help you get additional coursework. It can get you some research experience you might not otherwise have. It cannot change the grades already on your transcript. It'll give you another opportunity to win the NSF (I know Boston Fed RAs have had 4 NSF winners in the last 3 years). But the value added isn't the same for everyone.

    We can't give you definitive answers here, but these are the kind of questions to be asking yourself.

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    Funded at a top 20? There's a non-trivial chance you wouldn't do as well in 3 years time...

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    And just to add, if I had to guess at an answer to my questions, I do agree with the sentiment in this thread. Also, the admissions value-added from a Fed RA position is larger for people who came from lesser-known schools or LACs and didn't have the same opportunities for grad coursework and research. But if you have personal reasons for wanting to take time off, I wouldn't stop you. You don't have to go if you don't want to, but if you're considering the Fed just because you think it'll improve your admissions chances, that's probably not a great idea.

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    Thanks guys, I am from a LAC with no prior RA experience, that's why I thought RAship might add sth to my profile and the experience will help when I start my own research paper in Phd program. I'm just wondering because I was recently rejected off the funding wait list of a slightly better school (where the program fits my interests much better than my school), I don't know if this is due to the lack of RA experience in my profile. You guys have the point that I totally agree to though, that I don't know the chance of getting into better programs or even the same one right now in 2-3 years.

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    I see. I think you're misguided to think that simply having "RA experience" will improve your outcome. Producing pre FOMC memos and running regressions at the Fed for 2 or 3 years will not distinguish you from any other top 20 applicant. The value added in research will come from evidence in your profile that you're a capable independent researcher, which means either you win the NSF or you initiate some kind of research of your own while at the Fed which can be credibly reflected in an LOR (which is not necessarily easy while you're busy with your regular work commitments and perhaps other coursework, and it requires a lot of your own initiative). And by initiate research, I don't mean you just get your name attached to some paper for which you did not generate the main idea. Don't get me wrong -- plenty of people have improved themselves a lot at Feds. You just seem to be thinking that putting RA on your resume is what will get you into a better school, and I doubt that. I write this all because I don't think you can make a wise decision without fully understanding where the value-added from the Fed would come from.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Golden Rule View Post
    I see. I think you're misguided to think that simply having "RA experience" will improve your outcome. Producing pre FOMC memos and running regressions at the Fed for 2 or 3 years will not distinguish you from any other top 20 applicant. The value added in research will come from evidence in your profile that you're a capable independent researcher, which means either you win the NSF or you initiate some kind of research of your own while at the Fed which can be credibly reflected in an LOR (which is not necessarily easy while you're busy with your regular work commitments and perhaps other coursework, and it requires a lot of your own initiative). And by initiate research, I don't mean you just get your name attached to some paper for which you did not generate the main idea. Don't get me wrong -- plenty of people have improved themselves a lot at Feds. You just seem to be thinking that putting RA on your resume is what will get you into a better school, and I doubt that. I write this all because I don't think you can make a wise decision without fully understanding where the value-added from the Fed would come from.
    I have a few friends that RA'ed at the Fed (BOG in DC) and the best take away they seemed to have was 1) better LORs than from their relatively unknown econ dept and 2) reimbursed math courses at nearby universities during those two years. If your math background and LORs are already adequate the RA position may not do much to add to your profile, unless you're a special case as noted above (which can hardly be counted on). That said, it wouldn't negatively impact your chances (I think) and there's something to be said about spending part of your "youthful years" in a big city making a decent wage before diving headlong into the books and grad student lifestyle for five or more years.
    Last edited by icebear; 04-26-2010 at 07:01 AM.
    "An economist is a surgeon with an excellent scalpel and a rough-edged lancet, who operates beautifully on the dead and tortures the living."
    - Nicholas Chamfort

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    Quote Originally Posted by icebear View Post
    That said, it wouldn't negatively impact your chances (I think) and there's something to be said about spending part of your "youthful years" in a big city making a decent wage before diving headlong into the books and grad student lifestyle for five or more years.
    Yeah, that was the primary benefit in my opinion.

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    In my opinion, the opportunity cost of RA (pecuniary) is the salary difference between your RA pay and your pay 5-6 years later as a PhD from a top 20 department. It will be roughly 100k, not that much if you discount it to present value.

    But there are some definite benefits of RA at a Fed. First, your result cannot and should not get worse, given you do not screw up your last semester. In two years' time, the application is unlikely to get more competitive than this year and schools should be more well-endowed. But of course it is still unpredictable. Second, you get to work closely with economists (even well-known ones, if you are lucky) and your recommendation will be glowing in two years. That is the biggest factor in application as we all agree. Third, most Feds reimburse you for tuition for you to take grad level econ or undergrad level math classes to make up for course deficiency. That is the second biggest factor in application. Fourth, some capital accumulation is probably useful and you can even apply in two years' time without asking for first year funding. That again might improve your result. Fifth, you will become much more familiar with academic research as well as the tools and methods, which will help in grad school. Sixth, there is always the non-zero chance that you figure out you just hate research during the job. The exit strategy after Fed is pretty good and you won't get stuck doing something you don't like for the rest of your life. Seventh, you are asking this question because you want a better offer, which means you will be motivated and goal-oriented during the job. It is not very difficult for someone like you to co-author with your economist at the Fed and publish before you apply again.

    Sorry for the rant. As you can see I am all for the RA experience (with profs at big schools is the best, but Fed comes very close too). In fact I was going to turn down a top 10 offer for a Fed RA opportunity (For me, the research at the Fed matches my interests exactly too).

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