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Thread: Do econ Ph.D adcoms care about research in other fields?

  1. #1
    Trying to make mom and pop proud
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    Do econ Ph.D adcoms care about research in other fields?

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    I am an undergrad at an HRM school in the US majoring in math. I will likely finish a B.S/M.S at a very high level of pure math (think Kac-Moody algebras and Galois cohomology). I am unsure whether I will be doing grad school in economics or physics. Will economics departments care about substantial research done in physics or mathematics? What about LORs from physicists or mathematicians?

    Thanks in advance for your help.

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    Re: Do econ Ph.D adcoms care about research in other fields?

    Anything that proves you are good at math is a plus. Anything that shows you can carry a research project to completion is also a plus. One letter from a physicist or mathematician can be okay, but probably best if the others come from economists.

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    An Urch Guru Pundit Swami Sage
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    Re: Do econ Ph.D adcoms care about research in other fields?

    Do they care? Yes, it's a plus, conditional on you meeting all the standard criteria for a typical top 10-15 econ admit (from an US undergrad) -- i.e. economics major AND [ 1-2 years of part-time econ RA experience OR 1 year of full-time econ RA experience], with at least 2 decent letters from economists.

    As for whether it's worth the time, that depends on your ability and interest in math/physics-type research. Just recognize that high-level math of the type you speak of is irrelevant to what most economists work on, and doing math research is also completely different from econ RA jobs (which is empirical/data-cleaning work). If you're extremely talented, it might be possible to transition from undergrad math research into supervised micro theory research (which is rare for undergrads, but not unheard of), and then get good letters from econ theorists and move on top a top program. But IMO, that's typically not the optimal route, even if your sole (potential) interest is microeconomic theory. Instead, it's more useful and safer to start with undergrad empirical econ RA work, which will help you familiarize with wider econ research, learn professional norms, and grant you an almost guaranteed chance at getting into a top 10 program.

    I've personally known a couple of very talented theory students who chose the latter path (i.e. ignoring math research and focusing on empirical RA work during their undergrad) for both pragmatic and intellectual reasons, and they eventually became job market stars in micro theory.

    In short, if you want to be a successful economist, I suggest completing the standard criteria for econ applicants - an econ major and some econ RA experience - before you start considering any math research. But because you're also exploring other grad school options, you should weigh these considerations accordingly with your possibility of picking the other disciplines.

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