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Thread: Difficult Time Finding Programs Apply to

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    Question Difficult Time Finding Programs Apply to

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    Iím going into my senior year at a small liberal arts university in Boston, and Iím beginning the process of applying to graduate programs, with the intention of starting an Economics PhD next fall.


    Iíve always wanted to be a college professor, and a career in academia, but I spent too much of my undergrad debating between philosophy or economics, so now Iím well behind on math. I will not finish the calc sequence until next semester, and am only taking linear algebra this semester, as a senior. I do have 2 semesters of econometrics, and have all As in the last 7 economics classes (including 4 400 level) and all the math/stats classes I have taken, as well as a 3.86 gpa and a 166Q 162V 5.5AWA GRE. I also have 1 semester of RA experience with a local think tank, and was hired to assist my stats professor this semester as she works on a textbook, and will be a teaching assistant for applied Micro Economics.


    Iím trying to find programs, specifically ones with a behavior economics focus, despite my limited math background. My dream would be U Chicago or Stanford, but I assume they're not even worth applying to. Right now Iím aiming for UCSB, and UCLA as reach schools, and George Washington as a more reasonable chance. Location means little to me, I care more about the education, and am aware I wouldn't have much time outside of my studies anyway. Iím having trouble finding other schools that donít require linear algebra by application deadline, and donít expect real analysis (I just canít fit it in before graduation), and the professors Im close with are telling me I should aim to apply to 9-12 programs, if I want to maximize my chances of getting into a PhD program.

    Ideally I would like to start a program in the 2019-2020 school year, because I (possibly wrongly) believe I can handle higher level math given the chance. I don't know that I could afford to get a masters, and governmental/ private sector work doesn't much interest me compared to academia, though I understand beggars can be choosers, and I'd be willing to do any of the 3, but its not ideal to me. The professors I am close to are supportive and seem to believe I have a chance, but I fear they may be biased and overestimate my chances because of the friendly relationship we have. Most of the programs they recommend, or have connections to, have math expectations that exceed what I have taken, and some that even exceed what I will complete by graduation.

    Does anyone know of any PhD programs that might be acceptant of my limited math background? I've heard cases of students being offered acceptance on the grounds they completed prerequisite bridge programs, and I would be open to that.

    Thanks in advance!


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    Re: Difficult Time Finding Programs Apply to

    I've moved this. Seems like it may be a better fit here.
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    Re: Difficult Time Finding Programs Apply to

    Have you considered applying to full time research assistant positions? 2 years (ie the standard tenure) working as a full time RA at a university or even think tank or otherwise would surely help a profile like yours, especially if you pursue one where you have access to a university nearby and can beef up your math background there. Even without the ability to take classes nearby, I think full time RA work would considerably boost your application results. (Side note, even if you look at an RA job without a nearby university, Math E23A through the Harvard Extension School is incredible, covers real analysis as well as linear and multivariable calc topics, can be done remotely, and is well regarded among adcoms as far as my knowledge goes). Have you looked here (http://www.nber.org/jobs/nonnberjobs.html)? Also, I understand you may be set on academia in the long run, but I would also highly recommend applying to research assistant positions at places like the Fed as well.

    Two things to point out here. (1) The reason I suggest RA work has almost nothing to do with your ability to do math. Even if you can handle the math of a PhD program, RA is beneficial for a ton of reasons. You'll develop your research intuition. You'll mature a bit. You'll test the waters more and find out if research is really your passion. You'll make some money. Honestly, your type of profile is the exact type that is likely to benefit most from RA work. Note that your liberal arts profs probably aren't so active in the research world (maybe they are, but LA profs tend to focus more on teaching), so their rec letters probably carry less weight; RAing can add a letter or two from more well-known researchers. (2) You may not be able to do the math so easily. I don't know anything about you personally, so as I said, maybe you can do it. But it is not trivial. Feel free to look around online for "math camp" lecture notes, you'll find a number of programs post them publicly. This will give you an idea of what you're expected to know (at least, you should have seen most of it before) coming in.

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    Re: Difficult Time Finding Programs Apply to

    Also look at some of the past Profiles and Results pages here to get a better sense of where you're competitive by comparing to similar profiles. You'll also find that nearly all applicants these days have something after undergrad (full time RA, or masters). This is especially true if you didn't go to a top 5-10 university (Harvard, Yale, ...) with top grades.

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    Re: Difficult Time Finding Programs Apply to

    Full time RA positions are generally precisely suited for LAC applicants, since LACs otherwise have limited opportunities for students to do research.

    Even more pertinently to your case, RAing allows you to take classes at the university you RA at/nearby universities (for the Fed), which would easily help you make up your math gap.

    You say you're determined to start a PhD in 2019, but your reasoning is that you don't want to do master's/private sector work/etc. An RA position is not like that - it's research work, generally at a university, doing the kind of thing PhD students do. Consider it.

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    Re: Difficult Time Finding Programs Apply to

    When you do feel ready to apply, you should consider the Social and Decision Sciences program at Carnegie Mellon - Welcome to the Department of Social and Decision Sciences - Social and Decision Sciences - Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences - Carnegie Mellon University

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    Re: Difficult Time Finding Programs Apply to

    Quote Originally Posted by jjrousseau View Post
    I think full time RA work would considerably boost your application results. (Side note, even if you look at an RA job without a nearby university, Math E23A through the Harvard Extension School is incredible, covers real analysis as well as linear and multivariable calc topics, can be done remotely, and is well regarded among adcoms as far as my knowledge goes). Have you looked here (http://www.nber.org/jobs/nonnberjobs.html)?
    Checking that out now, would It be unwise to apply to some programs now and apply for RA fellowships later on, or should I start applying there now and forget PhD programs? Also are these fellowships similarly competitive, or do I have a better chance than I would applying to graduate programs?

    Quote Originally Posted by jjrousseau View Post
    Also, I understand you may be set on academia in the long run, but I would also highly recommend applying to research assistant positions at places like the Fed as well..
    One of my professors recommended this as an option too, I guess I have some closed minded view that a job with the Fed would inevitably lead down a path of a career in banking, and thats not what I want, but again I admit I'm being close minded.

    Thank you for the advice!
    Last edited by Perfectlyaverag; 08-31-2018 at 08:00 PM. Reason: wrote the wrong word

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    Re: Difficult Time Finding Programs Apply to

    Thank you for this, I will consider it. Would it still be worthwhile to apply to PhD programs? Or should I set my sights on RA positions?

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    Re: Difficult Time Finding Programs Apply to

    Quote Originally Posted by Perfectlyaverag View Post
    Checking that out now, would It be unwise to apply to some programs now and apply for RA fellowships later on, or should I start applying there now and forget PhD programs? Also are these fellowships similarly competitive, or do I have a better chance than I would applying to graduate programs?
    In deciding whether to apply now, I would recommend (1) getting a sense of what range of programs you might be admitted to, both by talking with professors you know well and by browsing past Profiles and Results pages on this forum to find profiles similar to yours, note you can find those threads via one of the main sticky threads on the front page of the forum; and (2) giving some serious thought to what range of program would satisfy your personal goals and make you happy, by which I primarily mean browse some of the recent career placement pages of different ranges of programs and give thought to whether you'd be happy with the median career placement of that type of program. On 2, basically all programs make recent placements readily available online, they should be very easy to find.

    Note that you'll need to pay attention to how the recruiting timelines compare to the PhD application timeline. It may be tricky to balance both, in particular some of the earlier-hiring research jobs may require you to accept an offer before you're able to see your PhD acceptances. If money and time for PhD applications isn't too binding for you, you could always try putting in a handful of applications to see what happens, if your assessment of where you're currently competitive is in line with your career goals.

    Some RA positions are quite competitive, but on the whole you are significantly more likely to get a reputable RA position than you are to get into a high ranked PhD program.

    For what it's worth, my rough guess is that right now you're looking at the 30-60 range of programs, if you RA for a couple years at a place like the Fed or think tank you're looking at 15-35 or so, and if you RA with a professor at a university (particularly at a highly ranked institution) probably 10-30. This is a very rough guess, made with little information, from someone still only an amateur in knowledge of the process. Nevertheless, I think this is reflective of the rough gains you could expect from RAing. Again, talk with your profs and look through pas Profiles and Results pages to get a better idea.

    Quote Originally Posted by Perfectlyaverag View Post
    One of my professors recommended this as an option too, I guess I have some closed minded view that a job with the Fed would inevitably lead down a path of a career in banking, and thats not what I want, but again I admit I'm being close minded.
    Working at the Fed hardly leads to banking. I spent 2 years as a Fed RA. Basically, the folks there who decided a PhD was for them went on to primarily Econ PhD's (and some Finance or similar programs), and others went toward working in things like consulting. Moreover, I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "banking". Note that the folks who work at the Fed are not like folks who work at banks. They are first and foremost economic researchers, whose work is applied to policy. Similar remarks here apply to research positions at other government orgs like CBO or Office of Tax Policy as well as think tanks like Brookings, Urban, etc.

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    Re: Difficult Time Finding Programs Apply to

    I agree with everything jjrousseau said. I would add that taking real analysis before you apply is really important - both from a signaling perspective and to give you a sense of what it means to actually prove something mathematically. Up until real analysis, a lot of math classes are basically like "apply this formula to this problem, rinse and repeat," which is a very different type of skill than proving something rigorously. I am currently starting math camp and doing some of the prep work, and the things I learned in real analysis are definitely coming in handy.

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