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newfirstyear
07-28-2007, 05:20 PM
I just found this great forum, which would have been really useful when I was applying...I got into a nicely ranked top 25 program and as Math Camp and first year classes are about to begin, I wonder if anyone who has already survived the 1st year could give those of us who are about to start some advice, study habits we should strive for, etc. Thanks!

asquare
07-28-2007, 07:25 PM
Welcome to the forum and good luck with your first year!

Some things to keep in mind:

The goal of a PhD program is to learn to do good research. The first year classes may seem entirely unconnected to research or to the topics you are interested in (if you aren't a theory person) but they are important foundations that will make applied research much stronger. It's good to know what assumptions you are violating. So on one hand, don't be too bitter or dismissive of the first year core. On the other hand, have faith that the rest of the PhD program will probably be a lot closer to what you imagined or wanted than the first year core!

On that note, go to seminars! I sound like a broken record about that on this forum, but seminars are the essence of academic economics. You don’t learn how to be economist from classes; you learn it by participating in seminars. You don’t need to go to everything your first year, but you should try to attend some of the seminars in your field, and some of the student seminars. The former will help you decide what you want to study and show you what the current trends in your field are. The latter will give you a more realistic sense of what you are expected to do in a couple of years. The polished papers (and intense questioning) in the main seminars can be intimidating, but the student seminars give you a good sense of the research process.

Start a list of possible research topics. Write down everything, even if it seems too complicated/simple/likely to have been done already. You'll wind up crossing off most things later, but it gets you started to think about research, and some ideas may pan out. You can find ideas in seminars, newspaper articles, or the differences between what you observe in the real world and what your theory classes tell you should be happening.

Get to know professors. They aren't as intimidating as they seem, and they love to talk about research. They have doubtless heard worse ideas than yours, and you are denying yourself the chance to get valuable advice if you are not willing to let professors see or hear work in progress. Professors will not judge you for asking what you are afraid are “stupid” questions or showing them incomplete papers or ideas. If anything, they will appreciate that you took the initiative to ask. You can ask upper year students about professors, to find out who are most/least approachable.

In graduate school, it is your responsibility to learn whether or not your professors do a good job of teaching. Expect to have to prepare for lectures by reading assignments in advance, and to have to do more reading, going to office hours, and problem-solving to really understand what was covered in lecture. You are responsible for learning things even if they aren't covered in class or are just skimmed over. Don't expect to be spoon-fed; it's your job to come up to the fire hose and take a drink. Learn where the library is.

Don't expect to be able to solve every problem on a problem set or an exam. Try -- by all means. Spend a lot of time on your problem sets. You get out as much as you put in. Don't focus on getting the right answer so much as learning how to approach the problem, though. You do yourself a disservice by copying answers from classmates or solution sets without making sure you know how to solve the problem. But don't be discouraged if you simply can't solve some problems on your own.

On that note, learn to work with a study group. Your classmates are your best resource. Even if you disliked studying in a group as an undergraduate, give it a try as a grad student. Everyone will be as motivated as you, which helps. Study groups are key not just for problem sets, but especially for reviewing for prelims. It can be hard to join a group right before exams if you’ve studied on your own up to then. Much better to find a group you work with well, and stick with them throughout the year.

Don't be discouraged if your classmates seem to have an easier time than you at the start of the year (or cocky if you are the one who finds all the material easy). People come in with very different levels of math and exposure to graduate level economics, but differences that seem huge during math camp or the beginning of the semester become much smaller by the end of first year.

Be organized. Put dates on your notes, keep them in order, save problem sets and solutions. You will thank yourself for this when it comes time to study for prelims.

Ok, this is getting really long, so I'll stop now. Like I said, good luck!

buckykatt
07-29-2007, 02:27 AM
If you read back in this forum, you should find a fairly lengthy thread on this topic...

YoungEconomist
07-29-2007, 04:57 PM
I have a question along the same lines. How much faster does PhD level economics move (compared to undergraduate econ and math courses)?

asquare
07-29-2007, 05:14 PM
YE, it is hard to say. It depends on what undergrad school, what grad school, and which classes in each! Even if the same number of topics are covered, graduate courses go much further into depth. You have to do a lot more work on your own; it is NOT sufficient to simply attend lecture and take notes.

YoungEconomist
07-29-2007, 05:24 PM
YE, it is hard to say. It depends on what undergrad school, what grad school, and which classes in each! Even if the same number of topics are covered, graduate courses go much further into depth. You have to do a lot more work on your own; it is NOT sufficient to simply attend lecture and take notes.

Ok, maybe a better question would be this. Is graduate school mainly harder than undergraduate because you go much faster? Or is it more difficult mainly because the material is much more rigorous and you go into more detail?

asquare
07-29-2007, 05:36 PM
Ok, maybe a better question would be this. Is graduate school mainly harder than undergraduate because you go much faster? Or is it more difficult mainly because the material is much more rigorous and you go into more detail?
The latter. Grad school is not simply undergrad on fast forward. First year courses may cover the same topics as undergrad micro and macro, but with such a completely different approach that you probably won't recognize it!

buckykatt
07-29-2007, 06:16 PM
Ok, maybe a better question would be this. Is graduate school mainly harder than undergraduate because you go much faster? Or is it more difficult mainly because the material is much more rigorous and you go into more detail?

Both. ;)

Undergraduate courses tend to stick to textbooks and lectures, with readings only as supplements. In grad school, you need to read through lots journal articles quickly to understand the key points and identify the key features of the model. Looking back at one of my field courses, for example, our syllabus had over 90 readings, of which we were expected to write about and be able to discuss about 40 in class.

In other grad courses I took the emphasis was on problem sets and/or labs. This also differs from most undergrad econ courses, I think, though more like undergrad math courses. There, I think the main difference would be the level of rigour as well as the expectation that students would do more work on their own or with their study group rather than hand-holding in class.

Another difference is that course grades aren't the primary motivation for learning and retaining the material but rather preparation for comprehensive exams and, later, your professional work. For most courses, rather than put away your notes at the end, the end of term would mean a chance to catch up on some of the supplementary readings you missed or rework problems you didn't get the first time.

ekonomiks
07-30-2007, 06:22 AM
Don't expect to be able to solve every problem on a problem set or an exam. Try -- by all means. Spend a lot of time on your problem sets. You get out as much as you put in. Don't focus on getting the right answer so much as learning how to approach the problem, though. You do yourself a disservice by copying answers from classmates or solution sets without making sure you know how to solve the problem. But don't be discouraged if you simply can't solve some problems on your own.


How can I eventually find out the solutions to those problems I can't solve?

asquare
07-30-2007, 07:10 AM
ekonomiks, usually solution sets will be distributed after the problem sets are due. You can also go to office hours -- start with the TA if the question is about a specific homework problem, but definitely go to the professor if you still don't understand. And some of your classmates may have managed to solve the problem.

snappythecrab
07-30-2007, 07:24 AM
Don't take it too seriously. Grad school is not life, living, or any semblance thereof. Nor is economics. Don't go looking for truths, understanding, or epiphanies. They're not there. Of all there is to understand, you will comprehend little, experience less, and ultimately know nothing. If you find things to be the contrary you are either brilliant or a liar.

KingOfConvenience
07-30-2007, 03:41 PM
zen advice

dyiwang
08-02-2007, 04:15 PM
Hi, I have finished my first year a couple of months back. And although my first year wasn't perfect, I am very happy with myself (according to people who know me well it doesn't take much to make me happy, but I digress). Anyway, you should try to relax and enjoy life. It's probably a good idea to take notes in class. Make sure you go the gym a lot. Spend an hour or two per day to read a novel that's not related to your courses. Try to leave campus once a week. Make sure you make friends with people in your year. You don't have to like everyone, but it's nice to have someone to complain to who is going through the same ordeal you are. Something about seeing others suffer alleviates your own pain I guess. But all in all, don't focus too much on the courses, don't stress too much on your performance. Good luck and enjoy!