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Thread: Importance of Research Interests for Admissions

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    Within my grasp! MrSethward's Avatar
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    Importance of Research Interests for Admissions

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    Don't really contribute much here anymore, but just thought this might be an interesting topic for discussion.

    Just got through speaking to a DGS at a school I was admitted to and during my mention of research interests, the DGS told me that was one of the factors in my admission. In particular, that the field's research group had recommended me for admission.

    My coursework, research experience, and SoP made clear my interest in the field and that I chose the program for this reason.

    The result was admission to a program which strictly dominates other places I got into, and is especially strong in my interests.

    I bring this up because I'm seeing a lot of applicants looking for reviews of a profile that lacks any research interests or direction. If you are a top candidate, this may not matter as much, but at least in this specific anecdote, for someone in the lower range, it was a huge boon to have a detailed set of research topics I hope to pursue.

    What do you all think? Is this typical for adcoms to do? It would make sense for a school that specializes (like macro at Minnesota) to have the majority of admits pursue macro, but what about a more well rounded school? Do they consider a type of proportional system to generally ensure one of their fields isn't completely lacking students for that cohort? If so, how does that leave students who haven't decided and express that in their SoP?

    (this is somewhat in response to having heard that most students switch their choices after entering school, thus I would expect some discounting of research interests during admissions)

    Anyway, this was just something I was interested in and hope to hear any of y'alls opinions/experiences/information.

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    Re: Importance of Research Interests for Admissions

    I don't want to overreach here (given how little I'm working with), but it seems like you misunderstand the chain of causality. It sounds like the DGS was saying that your research experience in the subfield, in conjunction with your coursework (which obviously influenced your stated research interests) were key components in getting you admitted.

    Stated research interests conditional on having actual research/coursework experience in the field of said interest is a big plus. It means you actually know what you're talking about because you have some first hand experience. It makes your SOP credible.

    Stated research interests without having actual research experience in the field is well... "I want to become a development economist even though I've never taken a seminar on development or done any real research related to development". You can see why this might not be taken as seriously.

    Its great that you got admitted to a school you really wanted to attend. I wish you luck.
    Last edited by yankeefan; 03-27-2015 at 02:13 AM.

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    Re: Importance of Research Interests for Admissions

    Last year I got a waitlist at a top 30-40 school that later turned into a rejection. I e-mailed director of admissions after the application season asking if he could give me some hints on what where my weak points because I am planning to attend a Master's program and generally work toward upgrading my profile and that I would like to reapply, if he thinks this is a good idea. He told me that, sure I should reapply, but he also told me that one of the reasons why I was rejected is that they thought I am not a good fit for the department. I've stated my research interests quite precisely and this was true that the school was an okayish fit but not a good one. I don't know how much of a decisive factor this was, but I can clearly see how it could work the other way around and perhaps facilitate admission.

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    Re: Importance of Research Interests for Admissions

    Quote Originally Posted by yankeefan View Post
    I don't want to overreach here (given how little I'm working with), but it seems like you misunderstand the chain of causality. It sounds like the DGS was saying that your research experience in the subfield, in conjunction with your coursework (which obviously influenced your stated research interests) were key components in getting you admitted.

    Stated research interests conditional on having actual research/coursework experience in the field of said interest is a big plus. It means you actually know what you're talking about because you have some first hand experience. It makes your SOP credible.

    Stated research interests without having actual research experience in the field is well... "I want to become a development economist even though I've never taken a seminar on development or done any real research related to development". You can see why this might not be taken as seriously.

    Its great that you got admitted to a school you really wanted to attend. I wish you luck.
    This seems like really good advice. To it, I'd add that stating your specific research interests cuts both ways. There's no shortage of anecdotes where someone makes precise his or her interests (and coursework as yankeefan mentions), states them, and then is rejected in part due to planned sabbaticals, etc. (stuff that wouldn't necessarily be public knowledge in advance) for the faculty members of interest. But this seems like a good thing: someone with a very well-defined and prepared agenda wouldn't be a good fit in a place where the faculty is going to be sparse for whatever reason.

    Bottom line: accurate information helps the match process
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    Re: Importance of Research Interests for Admissions

    I still have yet to post in the roll call thread, but I should get to it today. It's a bit of a longer post, so I've been procrastinating since Friday. This post will be more relevant once you see it. I'll update this post with a link to it for any future lurkers.

    I have a very unconventional profile. I did poorly as an UG at an unranked school without graduate econ, where my UG econ involved zero calculus. I did well in the econ courses, terrible in the math courses on account of real life circumstances. I took a blind shot and moved to the city of a T70, applied to the econ and ag-econ program the following year, and was (i think) narrowly accepted to the ag-econ program and blatantly denied by the econ program. Since arriving, I have tried to improve my profile, but my grad GPA is just 3.5 (still working fulltime). I applied to approx. 15 programs ranging from T20 to unranked. I was immediately shot down by half the programs (across the entire spectrum to which I applied), received what turned out to be several implicit rejections. Aside from the 1 unranked program that offered me admission, the only programs that I still have "in the wing" are programs where my research interests align perfectly. They are also the research interests of my most devout and stalwart letter writer, whom is also my graduate advisor. Any program where my interests didn't allign perfectly seemed to have shot me down virtually immediately. Purdue is the only ranked program where I have currently been offered admission, and my research interests match heavily with theirs. The 3 programs that I have yet to hear from are almost exactly the same-research interests are a perfect match.

    These have been my research interests since I was an undergrad, and is what my graduate research has focused on as well. It is the one common thread throughout my academic career. It's the one aspect that I've always excelled in, despite failures elsewhere.

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    Re: Importance of Research Interests for Admissions

    Research interests and relevance of my master (behavioural economics from Nottingham especially) is what got me admitted to EUR last year (I eventually decided against it -decision made purely based on placements). From what Prof. Wakker told me this was the deciding factor in my case, so can be extremely relevant (even in Europe )
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    Re: Importance of Research Interests for Admissions

    It can go either way. There was one program where I wrote about interest in a field that was listed on the website as being offered by that school but had been discontinued and was no longer offered. There was no other field that was similar to what I said I wanted to do in my essay. I think this school was just looking at overall academic / econ / math achievement and test scores, and didn't care much about fit. However, another program that admitted me put a lot of emphasis on why they thought my stated interests were a great fit for the department. I think it is really hit or miss and depends not only on the school, but idiosyncratic factors like who is on the admissions committee that year.

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    Re: Importance of Research Interests for Admissions

    Also I think there are 2 reasons why articulating a research interest can be beneficial. The obvious one is to show that the school is a good fit for you. The less obvious one is that the ability to clearly articulate research interests is something that takes effort and ability. It shows that you are able to familiarize yourself with the school's faculty and their research, and then clearly communicate how your research interests relate to what the faculty there is doing. Even if you end up changing your interests, the fact that you had the ability to have a strong enough understanding of some area of research and good enough communication ability to articulate that interest is still a positive.

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    Re: Importance of Research Interests for Admissions

    In my experience, stating your research interests can really help when you are interested in pursuing more rare subfields, such as economic history. I remember my old adviser getting several people admissions because they were particularly interested in working in his subfield.

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    Re: Importance of Research Interests for Admissions

    Quote Originally Posted by jrdonsimoni View Post
    Research interests and relevance of my master (behavioural economics from Nottingham especially) is what got me admitted to EUR last year (I eventually decided against it -decision made purely based on placements). From what Prof. Wakker told me this was the deciding factor in my case, so can be extremely relevant (even in Europe )
    Do you mean admission to Tinbergen Institute when you mentioned EUR?

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