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Thread: Profile Evaluation - PhD in Economics

  1. #1
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    Profile Evaluation - PhD in Economics

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    I requested a profile evaluation before but quite a few details have changed and I figured that it would be useful to request one again. My profile has some glaring oddities because I went through a very strange period in my life between 2012-2014 as a youth - I, more or less, dropped out of a school I got into and pressed the reset button. If you think this may matter a lot, let me know. That would be very valuable and useful to me - may be necessary to get a MA then. I'm not worried or concerned about this now.

    Profile
    Ethnicity: URM/Latino
    Type of Undergrad: Economics/Math (statistics option) low-ranked public university - you haven't heard of it.
    GRE: Quant 163, Verbal 167 (I'm going to retake it, obviously, and I expect to do better - I'm a much stronger math student now than I was when I first took it.)
    Undergrad GPA (overall): 3.82
    Undergrad GPA (institutional): 4.0
    Undergrad GPA (math): 4.0
    Math/Statistics Courses: Intro to Analysis (A), Stochastic Processes (A), Mathematical Statistics (A), Probability Theory (A), Linear Algebra (A), Statistical Learning (grad course, A), Cal Series (A in all courses), Differential Equations (A), Discrete Math (A), Number Theory (A),
    Economics: Intermediate Micro (A), Intermediate Macro (A), Labor Econ (A), Industrial Organization (A), International Economics (A), Money & Banking (A), Math for Economics (A, grad), Advanced Micro (A-, grad, took through program), Econometrics (A)
    Research Experience:
    I'll be working as a RA in the Federal Reserve system for two years. I'm not sure who will be writing my LORs from there but I will be working with some economists with PhDs from top-ranked programs. I know Stata/R and some Python. I'd say I'm very proficient in R.
    Research Interests: Labor, Household Finance, Econometrics, Public Policy

    Concerns/Questions:
    1. I have no idea which schools I should target or which schools I could plausibly target. I last thought about graduate school ~9 months ago or so - I try not to think about such things when I'm "in the trenches", it produces unnecessary stress - and my profile was much weaker 9 months ago! As a result, I'm pretty clueless about my current profile.
    2. I'm interested in profile-strengthening tips. I can take classes/courses on the side rather easily and, if I really go out of my way, from good universities. I'm interested in continuing my Math/Stats education (I don't feel satisfied yet and I love Math/Stats) while also gaining more exposure to graduate-level Economics. If you see a weakness or have a recommendation, I'd love to hear it, though I refuse to do something solely to get a LOR or an "in".
    3. The big question relates to the MA - do you think it's necessary if I want to get into top 20 programs? I suspect that it is. I have no idea though.

  2. #2
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    Re: Profile Evaluation - PhD in Economics

    Have you considered taking math/grad econ courses while working at the Fed? I know some Feds support this. I don't know if an MA is necessary considering you have plenty of math and econ courses (imo it is better to be working and getting paid while taking classes)

    In fact, if you still don't feel ready to apply after your Fed stint, I'd apply for RA positions for famous professors over doing an MA.

    Nice username btw - I saw GYBE live in March and they were great.
    Last edited by pulsars; 05-22-2018 at 08:41 PM.

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    Re: Profile Evaluation - PhD in Economics

    Why would you post this now when you'll spend the next 2 yrs at the Fed? I would only take extra math/stat if you're confident in getting As; otherwise don't. The A- in grad micro may be problematic depending on where you take it. If it's from your home institution that I haven't heard of, it's a big red flag. Generally the people coming out of the Fed's RA program seem to do well in terms of PhD admission.

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    Re: Profile Evaluation - PhD in Economics

    Quote Originally Posted by applicant12 View Post
    Why would you post this now when you'll spend the next 2 yrs at the Fed? I would only take extra math/stat if you're confident in getting As; otherwise don't. The A- in grad micro may be problematic depending on where you take it. If it's from your home institution that I haven't heard of, it's a big red flag. Generally the people coming out of the Fed's RA program seem to do well in terms of PhD admission.
    This post is "sipping the tea". Indeed, looking back, I am not sure why I posted this thread - the placement outcomes from my institution are stellar. In fact, based off what I know now, which has been learned via looking at placement options with a lot of context, I'd say that a lot of conventional wisdom found here is misguided.

    Typical advice offered here - note that this is different from typical good advice - usually goes something like this "take math, take more math, get good grades, get perfect grades, go to MA program, get perfect grades there, get perfect GRE score". While it's true that taking signal from this advice and conforming to it would boost your chances of getting into a top PhD program, it would not prepare you for a successful career in the economics profession because economics is about publishing novel research papers, not about getting good grades and receiving head-pats. Admissions committees understand this, which is why they seem to heavily weigh LORs, someone obtaining NSF fellowship (mostly due to funding but it's a powerful signal), publications you might have etc. Obviously, bad grades matter, any bad signals matter - you can fail out of a PhD program - but the idea that "grades signal intelligence" or similar nonsense that is proffered about here is embarrassing. It's very, very, very hard to predict who will be a top researcher and who is not cut-out to be a top researcher - it's mostly in the residual. This is what top 10 programs care about - having a cohort of students who can produce many well-regarded research papers.

    This is why typical good advice offered here encourages potential PhD-seekers to seek out opportunities to work as a RA. I think this advice is less typical than it should be because there's no performance targets or metrics associated with being a RA - those offering this advice can't say much beyond "working as RA at institution x or for professor y would be helpful". Every RA opportunity is different, even within large institutions. You may get the chance to be a coauthor and to pump out papers or work or you might be a code monkey or both etc. In any case, it seems to matter. I doubt that peers would have placed well without being RAs (can't say this for sure but it seems likely).

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    Re: Profile Evaluation - PhD in Economics

    Quote Originally Posted by TheDeadFlagBlue View Post
    This post is "sipping the tea". Indeed, looking back, I am not sure why I posted this thread - the placement outcomes from my institution are stellar. In fact, based off what I know now, which has been learned via looking at placement options with a lot of context, I'd say that a lot of conventional wisdom found here is misguided.

    Typical advice offered here - note that this is different from typical good advice - usually goes something like this "take math, take more math, get good grades, get perfect grades, go to MA program, get perfect grades there, get perfect GRE score". While it's true that taking signal from this advice and conforming to it would boost your chances of getting into a top PhD program, it would not prepare you for a successful career in the economics profession because economics is about publishing novel research papers, not about getting good grades and receiving head-pats. Admissions committees understand this, which is why they seem to heavily weigh LORs, someone obtaining NSF fellowship (mostly due to funding but it's a powerful signal), publications you might have etc. Obviously, bad grades matter, any bad signals matter - you can fail out of a PhD program - but the idea that "grades signal intelligence" or similar nonsense that is proffered about here is embarrassing. It's very, very, very hard to predict who will be a top researcher and who is not cut-out to be a top researcher - it's mostly in the residual. This is what top 10 programs care about - having a cohort of students who can produce many well-regarded research papers.

    This is why typical good advice offered here encourages potential PhD-seekers to seek out opportunities to work as a RA. I think this advice is less typical than it should be because there's no performance targets or metrics associated with being a RA - those offering this advice can't say much beyond "working as RA at institution x or for professor y would be helpful". Every RA opportunity is different, even within large institutions. You may get the chance to be a coauthor and to pump out papers or work or you might be a code monkey or both etc. In any case, it seems to matter. I doubt that peers would have placed well without being RAs (can't say this for sure but it seems likely).
    No serious professor would add a pre-phd RA as coauthor to his/her paper. Pushing professor for this favor would even hurt your relationship with professor. RAing is good as long as you end up getting stellar letters from your advisor, but aside from that you can signal your research potential through some different channels as well like writing a good master's thesis. Good grades from math/econ courses are also a must unless you are coming from a top institution around the world. And yes, grades are a good signal for your future research; almost all top5 professors graduated from top places and obtained their phd's again from top institutions. There is an obvious positive correlation between your transcript and your future accomplishments in research.

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    Re: Profile Evaluation - PhD in Economics

    Quote Originally Posted by TheDeadFlagBlue View Post
    This post is "sipping the tea". Indeed, looking back, I am not sure why I posted this thread - the placement outcomes from my institution are stellar. In fact, based off what I know now, which has been learned via looking at placement options with a lot of context, I'd say that a lot of conventional wisdom found here is misguided.

    Typical advice offered here - note that this is different from typical good advice - usually goes something like this "take math, take more math, get good grades, get perfect grades, go to MA program, get perfect grades there, get perfect GRE score". While it's true that taking signal from this advice and conforming to it would boost your chances of getting into a top PhD program, it would not prepare you for a successful career in the economics profession because economics is about publishing novel research papers, not about getting good grades and receiving head-pats. Admissions committees understand this, which is why they seem to heavily weigh LORs, someone obtaining NSF fellowship (mostly due to funding but it's a powerful signal), publications you might have etc. Obviously, bad grades matter, any bad signals matter - you can fail out of a PhD program - but the idea that "grades signal intelligence" or similar nonsense that is proffered about here is embarrassing. It's very, very, very hard to predict who will be a top researcher and who is not cut-out to be a top researcher - it's mostly in the residual. This is what top 10 programs care about - having a cohort of students who can produce many well-regarded research papers.

    This is why typical good advice offered here encourages potential PhD-seekers to seek out opportunities to work as a RA. I think this advice is less typical than it should be because there's no performance targets or metrics associated with being a RA - those offering this advice can't say much beyond "working as RA at institution x or for professor y would be helpful". Every RA opportunity is different, even within large institutions. You may get the chance to be a coauthor and to pump out papers or work or you might be a code monkey or both etc. In any case, it seems to matter. I doubt that peers would have placed well without being RAs (can't say this for sure but it seems likely).
    I think your tone is justified. That poster, applicant12, was probably putting too much weight on specific grades in specific courses. I actually remember looking at this thread last year, typing up a critical reply against his advice, and then eventually deleting it because I felt that it wouldn't matter to your application decisions anyway.

    But I do want to state one thing: I think the predominant "surprise" factor in your admissions success isn't the RA experience (if you're a top 5 admit, that experience should be near universal among US applicants), but the fact that you possess the two major factors - strong grades and RA experience - and you're an URM. That intersection puts you in a rare demographic.

    From my years of witnessing the admissions process at a top department, it's clear that ethnic background matters to admissions; in some schools, there may even be a (university-enforced) quota for URM candidates. That is an objective fact. That doesn't diminish your success in any way, but it does mean that most applicants/posters here are talking about admissions criteria in a different context compared to you, and they're not going to weigh your ethnic status appropriately. I don't think that's their fault. A majority of regular posters here are probably non-Americans, who don't understand the nuances of the American progressive world; e.g. why would Latino-Americans have an advantage in admissions when Asian-Americans don't?

    Let me put it another way; if I'd have wagered on you being successful as a URM applicant to top 15 programs with a 8/10 rated transcript, I'd have only done the same with an Asian-American applicant with a 9/10 rated transcript. And that minor difference between 8/10 in transcript and 9/10 in transcript is what posters like applicant12 are focused on, when they gave you advice. I don't think they're providing bad advice. I just think they incorrectly neglected the importance of your URM background when evaluating your chances.

    I'll put a final note that I had always been on the "go and do full-time RA work" camp of this forum - if there's such a divide. I think that full-time RA experience is extremely valuable for admissions, and I think (before I started megaposting here) this forum's conventional wisdom neglected it. But I don't think your case proves that point in either the affirmative or the negative. If you didn't have RA experience in your undergrad years, then worked as 1 year of RA before applying, your extent of RA experience would be around the median among top 5 programs' admits. And there are likely a large number of candidates with stronger research experience who don't get into top 5 programs. Again, you had a rare combination of being top-notch in every major factor in admissions, and I don't think your (presumed) success in admissions is evidence for/against the weight of any of those factors.
    Last edited by chateauheart; 05-02-2019 at 04:36 PM.

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