What do you mean by a failing grade in phd real analysis? Also, how well did you do in other real analysis courses (such as in undergrad), and have you taken any econ courses?
First of all, thanks for reading.
A little bit about me: I'm applying to PhD econ programs this year. I don't have the exact list of where I would be applying yet but my grad GPA is 3.4 (applied math/social science dual degree at a Top 10 school) and my undergrad GPA is 3.1 (math major) so I'm looking at the top 30 - top 50 school like Irvine or Rice (or if you suggest otherwise, please let me know.) My interest is in political economics and development. No econ research experience, but one math paper (not published but) presented at a conference. 4+ years of work experience related to development.
My main concern (beside no econ research experience) is that my math grades are all over the place. I have A+ in math for finance in grad school, some As, mostly Bs for other proof-based courses, but also a failing grade for a math phd real analysis course (it's not a required course but I took it because I was stupid: I wanted to be in the same class with my friend who I kind of dated and then we broke up ....that semester was a mess).
Questions: at what level would this affect my chance of admission? Should I address it in the SOP/application or should I just leave it? And how to do it tastefully? I mean I am really not that good at math, not at my peers' level anyway. But I like to think I'm good at using it to interpret human behaviors and how society works.
For undergrad econ classes, I took Intro (A-), Macro (B), and Resource Economics (D).
In grad school, I took two microeconomics classes (As), Econometrics (A-), and Energy Economics (A-) counted toward a public policy degree.
Let me know if you want more info. Thanks for asking questions.
You might get lucky and sneak through the cracks in one or two schools in the top 30 - 50, but that doesn't mean you should go. Your inconsistent grades tell me that you aren't cut out for graduate school. How are you going to justify your scattered grades? Were you caught off guard? Did an unexpected life event occur? Was the teacher plain unfair? All of these happen in graduate school, sometimes at the same time. All an adcom is going to think is that if you were unable to handle these problems in the past than you aren't going to handle them in graduate school.
Don't apply to PhD programs without research experience and good LORs.
Unless you have a special reason for having a 3.1, like your whole family died in a car crash so you couldn't focus on college, or if you've been juggling college with a mortal challenge, like cancer or being shot in the head because women are not allowed to go to school where you live, then no, you'd get no sympathy for not doing well enough in college.
PhD admissions are looking for two things essentially - research potential and diversity. All the talk about it being a meritocratic process is rubbish.
Research potential can be measured only by your LORs. A student can have 5 years of RA experience and no LORs to verify them. LORs must also be written by influential economists, not by lecturers or professors with embarrassing publishing records. If you've been to a T10 school, and haven't gotten to know the stars in the economics department, then I'm afraid you'd have to do an M.A. Just to reconnect with the field.
Diversity is determined by many factors. Whether you've been shot in the head because women are not allowed to go school where you live. That's one. Sometimes it may be as simple as being from Nigeria, or Kenya, or Sri Lanka. If the department feels that some countries and/or regions have been underrepresented, and you fit the description, you're in luck. We have a couple of those every year at Princeton. Brilliant people but it's obvious why they were chosen over similarly qualified candidates.
May I ask why you're doing a PhD in Economics? Instead of a PhD in Sociology or Psychology? You realise that economics is not all empirical applied microeconomics. In fact, your training at a PhD in Economics program will not necessarily make you a better empiricist. A lot of what we learn during grad-level sequences are theoretical and applications are not always given a lot of attention. You'd be better doing an M.P.P or M.P.A.
Ph.D. (Candidate) Princeton University M.A. Columbia University B.A. Columbia University
My personal impression is that the modal school doesn't give failing grades in graduate courses except in very extreme circumstances. A good portion of faculty simply give only 'A' and 'B' grades as a rule, and I've never heard of anyone getting below a 'C' in a graduate course. I can't contemplate what it would have taken to get an 'F' grade in any of the graduate courses I've taken. I've taken grad math courses where the math students told me that the teacher assigns 'A' grades carte blanche. The problem for OP will be that at least some adcoms will share this impression, whether or not it is fair for OP.
Even if OP has high or very high ability -- which he knows more about than we do -- he is facing a terrible uphill battle to get admitted to even a top 50 ph.d. program. Good luck OP, but I think you should be prepared to do something other than academic work for a career.
The biggest problem with your analysis grades isn't that they signal inability to do PhD-level economics - plenty of PhD econ students get by without analysis. The problem is that they signal poor work ethic or self-discipline. One bad grade can be explained away as being over-confident or having personal issues, but a string of bad grades in the same type of courses shows that you're constantly failing to achieve your own goals.
This means applying to PhD Public Policy programs wouldn't significantly alleviate the concerns. Ultimately, both econ PhDs and public policy PhDs want highly motivated, self-disciplined students. I think public policy PhDs are in fact the better option because of your research interests (development), but don't let your grades affect your decision.
With that said, while the negative signal can't be entirely explained away, it's still worth a try to tackle it in your SOP. My suggested strategy is to emphasize that you spent a lot of effort on your analysis independent research paper even though you didn't do well in your analysis courses. The ideal narrative you want to present is that you're someone who's not proficient at tackling problem sets or exams, but nonetheless can produce interesting/creative research with enough exposure to a subject. Of course, it'd be essential to make sure you're not making any fundamental mistakes in terminology or definitions while you describe your analysis research in your SOP, and I suggest you consult with a professor or a former math classmate while writing it.
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