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Thread: Indian undergraduate student aspiring for T20 PhD

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    Indian undergraduate student aspiring for T20 PhD

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    I am an Indian student who is about to start his undergraduate degree in Economics (B.A. Hons.) from one of the top universities in India. While my academic experience of economics is still inadequate, my interest in the social sciences and mathematics is quite deep, based on my reading outside the curriculum and experience with some college textbooks. Additionally, I feel my talents have always been academic. Even though I have yet to decide for sure, I am most probably going to do research in Economics. At the very least, I plan to do a master's in the subject.

    My question is a general one: given that I am going to do a three-year undergraduate degree (with no double major option, so direct admission to a PhD is anyway impossible), how should I proceed to eventually end up in a T20 PhD? More specifically, (1) which master's degree will prepare me the best for a T20? (2) which master's degree is reasonably priced and/or funded? (a maximum, say, of 50,000 USD) (3) are UK M.Phil/MSc courses worth the high fees given that paying 50,000 USD in a single year, while possible, will be tough for my family (4) if possible, should I get 2-3 years work experience after my B.A. to fund further studies (will it hurt future applications?) and (5) what are the particular things I should try to add to my CV from now onwards?

    Obviously, my academic track record is yet to be proven. But I was a 99 percentile SAT student and my high school marks are among the best in my school (top 5 in a batch of 1000). So for the sake of this discussion, I am assuming that I shall perform at a similar level in my GRE and undergraduate courses.

    Thank you!

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    Re: Indian undergraduate student aspiring for T20 PhD

    A three-year BA does not necessarily disqualify you from direct entrance to an economics PhD program. Some schools are okay with three year degrees from India, some aren't. However, most students from India do take a master's first, as you outline.

    You should do what you can to take as much math as possible. If you can't take it for credit, try to spend some time using online resources.

    There are some jobs, including in India, for new graduates working as research assistants in economics research. Doing one of these will help future applications. Be sure to take an econometrics course as part of your undergraduate work.

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    Re: Indian undergraduate student aspiring for T20 PhD

    If you are going to be attending one of the top universities in your country, surely there would've been past students who have gone on to do a PhD straight from undergrad. Look into which range of schools they got into.

    There is absolutely no way to know for certain that you'll like graduate economics for undergraduates (unless you've taken or sat through some graduate courses), let alone someone who haven't even entered university. Graduate-level economics is significantly more mathematical than its undergraduate-level counterpart.

    A lot of your questions - specifically the ones about masters programmes - can be easily answered by a Google search or a search through this forum, so you should do that. There is a lot of information to take in when preparing for a PhD. It will serve you well to pick up the ability to source out stuff you don't know, as opposed to just asking.

    You shouldn't be working in a non-economic research position after your Bachelors, as this will be a non-positive signal for most schools. During your time in school, you should try to score well in as many upper-level mathematics courses that you can take, and try to get some research experience throughout your whole time there. In order to get good research assistant positions, you'll need to pick up some basic programming. Given that you have yet to start your studies, you should look into getting well-versed in R or Python, since most of the time, in the first few instances, you'll only be data cleaning for your professors. Once you've gotten your stata license through your school, pick that up and learn it well.

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    Re: Indian undergraduate student aspiring for T20 PhD

    Quote Originally Posted by tutonic View Post
    If you are going to be attending one of the top universities in your country, surely there would've been past students who have gone on to do a PhD straight from undergrad. Look into which range of schools they got into.

    There is absolutely no way to know for certain that you'll like graduate economics for undergraduates (unless you've taken or sat through some graduate courses), let alone someone who haven't even entered university. Graduate-level economics is significantly more mathematical than its undergraduate-level counterpart.

    A lot of your questions - specifically the ones about masters programmes - can be easily answered by a Google search or a search through this forum, so you should do that. There is a lot of information to take in when preparing for a PhD. It will serve you well to pick up the ability to source out stuff you don't know, as opposed to just asking.

    You shouldn't be working in a non-economic research position after your Bachelors, as this will be a non-positive signal for most schools. During your time in school, you should try to score well in as many upper-level mathematics courses that you can take, and try to get some research experience throughout your whole time there. In order to get good research assistant positions, you'll need to pick up some basic programming. Given that you have yet to start your studies, you should look into getting well-versed in R or Python, since most of the time, in the first few instances, you'll only be data cleaning for your professors. Once you've gotten your stata license through your school, pick that up and learn it well.
    Thanks for your reply!

    You say that it is difficult to ascertain that I'll like graduate economics, even if I enjoy my undergraduate levels economics. Given this, how do you suggest I actually make the decision to go to graduate school?

    Also, just to be clear. Will a non-research position be a negative signal even if I do my Master's (before applying for PhDs) after that? Is this signal significant enough for me to forgo the opportunity to save up money and secure my further studies without it being dependent on scholarships? I do not want to be stuck in a situation where I have to go to a worse school because of funding issues. As a side question, how easy it to get partial funding for MSc/M.Phil in the UK and Europe as of now?

    A problem I was facing when doing my own research on this forum is that most threads about European masters, their PhD placements etc. is 7-8 years old. More generally, I would like to know if those threads are equally relevant still. For e.g. I have read here that Bocconi has an excellent record of PhD placements. But those posts were in 2010-14. Are most such posts still relevant?

    I have learnt Python already and know its core concepts fairly well. Since I am not going to study CS, I was afraid of venturing further and wasting my time. It would be kind of you to tell me (1) how in-depth my knowledge should be (2) whether I should switch to R.

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    Re: Indian undergraduate student aspiring for T20 PhD

    Quote Originally Posted by startz View Post
    A three-year BA does not necessarily disqualify you from direct entrance to an economics PhD program. Some schools are okay with three year degrees from India, some aren't. However, most students from India do take a master's first, as you outline.

    You should do what you can to take as much math as possible. If you can't take it for credit, try to spend some time using online resources.

    There are some jobs, including in India, for new graduates working as research assistants in economics research. Doing one of these will help future applications. Be sure to take an econometrics course as part of your undergraduate work.
    Thank you for your reply!

    I was not aware that a direct transition to PhDs was possible after a three-year undergraduate degree. However, I feel that the decision to commit myself to a 6-7 year programme cannot be taken without venturing beyond the three year curriculum.

    I am not sure how comprehensive my mathematical and econometric preparation in these three years will be. If I send you the particular syllabi privately, would you be kind enough to tell me what areas the course does not adequately contain, so that I could work on them?

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    Re: Indian undergraduate student aspiring for T20 PhD

    Quote Originally Posted by bumbisoft View Post
    Thanks for your reply!

    You say that it is difficult to ascertain that I'll like graduate economics, even if I enjoy my undergraduate levels economics. Given this, how do you suggest I actually make the decision to go to graduate school?

    Also, just to be clear. Will a non-research position be a negative signal even if I do my Master's (before applying for PhDs) after that? Is this signal significant enough for me to forgo the opportunity to save up money and secure my further studies without it being dependent on scholarships? I do not want to be stuck in a situation where I have to go to a worse school because of funding issues. As a side question, how easy it to get partial funding for MSc/M.Phil in the UK and Europe as of now?

    A problem I was facing when doing my own research on this forum is that most threads about European masters, their PhD placements etc. is 7-8 years old. More generally, I would like to know if those threads are equally relevant still. For e.g. I have read here that Bocconi has an excellent record of PhD placements. But those posts were in 2010-14. Are most such posts still relevant?

    I have learnt Python already and know its core concepts fairly well. Since I am not going to study CS, I was afraid of venturing further and wasting my time. It would be kind of you to tell me (1) how in-depth my knowledge should be (2) whether I should switch to R.
    Take as much mathematics courses as possible during your undergraduate. You need to be comfortable with mathematical arguments and logic. The best way to ascertain this is through an Intro to Proofs course, or a Real Analysis course. If you dislike the course after having taken it, or cannot imagine doing these kinds of things ever again, then graduate economics might not be for you.

    A non-research position is a non-positive signal, regardless of whether you do a Master's or not. Virtually all good masters programmes, be it in Europe, UK or US, don't fund their students; there are very few programmes who even offer tuition waivers, let alone a stipend. This is because a masters programme is the school's way of raking in money; Business schools make their money through their MBA programme.

    These are 4 different threads from the past couple years, after 2 minutes on Google. Once you've formed a list of masters programme you're considering, look solely at their placement into PhD programmes. If that information is not readily available, email the programme coordinator. Placement is arguably the only thing you need to look at, when deciding between programmes (barring any financial constraints, of course).

    In addition, whether or not the programme adequately prepares you for a PhD will be reflected by the placement history of past students who went on to do a PhD straight from undergrad. If they consistently make it into the Top 30s or Top 40s, then the consensus, at least, will be that the preparation during your undergraduate is seen as sufficient. If nobody broke Top 50 in the past, then it would mean it's seen as insufficient or deficient in some regard (which can be remedied by a rigorous masters programme).

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    Re: Indian undergraduate student aspiring for T20 PhD

    You should strongly consider the MSQE program at ISI Delhi. For the past three years, the program has placed 1 student per year in Harvard/MIT, and for over a decade around 2-3 students per batch (each batch having ~20-25 students) have ended up getting top 20 admits. I speak from personal experience - the program is fabulous.

    (Also, you get paid to study there - there's a stipend and no fees)

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    Re: Indian undergraduate student aspiring for T20 PhD

    Quote Originally Posted by tutonic View Post
    Take as much mathematics courses as possible during your undergraduate. You need to be comfortable with mathematical arguments and logic. The best way to ascertain this is through an Intro to Proofs course, or a Real Analysis course. If you dislike the course after having taken it, or cannot imagine doing these kinds of things ever again, then graduate economics might not be for you.

    A non-research position is a non-positive signal, regardless of whether you do a Master's or not. Virtually all good masters programmes, be it in Europe, UK or US, don't fund their students; there are very few programmes who even offer tuition waivers, let alone a stipend. This is because a masters programme is the school's way of raking in money; Business schools make their money through their MBA programme.

    These are 4 different threads from the past couple years, after 2 minutes on Google. Once you've formed a list of masters programme you're considering, look solely at their placement into PhD programmes. If that information is not readily available, email the programme coordinator. Placement is arguably the only thing you need to look at, when deciding between programmes (barring any financial constraints, of course).

    In addition, whether or not the programme adequately prepares you for a PhD will be reflected by the placement history of past students who went on to do a PhD straight from undergrad. If they consistently make it into the Top 30s or Top 40s, then the consensus, at least, will be that the preparation during your undergraduate is seen as sufficient. If nobody broke Top 50 in the past, then it would mean it's seen as insufficient or deficient in some regard (which can be remedied by a rigorous masters programme).
    Thank you very much for your response. Given what else I've read here and what you say, I think I should take all the mathematics electives I can it has the aforementioned topics.

    I do have another question: assuming that I do think graduate level economics is for me, are there any rough parameters for admitting students in Master's courses? More specifically, are GRE and UG grades much more significant than internships, LORs etc.? In that case my centre of attention would be on those particular things. Are these criteria the same for the rare funding opportunities in MSc/M.Phil?

    Lastly, I have been unable to get a clear picture of PhD funding in the US. In a T20, is it the case that I shall incur a net cost in the first few years of my PhD?

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    Re: Indian undergraduate student aspiring for T20 PhD

    Quote Originally Posted by lemonpee View Post
    You should strongly consider the MSQE program at ISI Delhi. For the past three years, the program has placed 1 student per year in Harvard/MIT, and for over a decade around 2-3 students per batch (each batch having ~20-25 students) have ended up getting top 20 admits. I speak from personal experience - the program is fabulous.

    (Also, you get paid to study there - there's a stipend and no fees)
    This is a course I have been looking at as well. I am aware that admission into MSQE is tough. Suppose I do get in, would it be better than an unfunded European Master's? This is keeping in mind that 40K-50K USD can be spent by me for all my studies.

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    Re: Indian undergraduate student aspiring for T20 PhD

    Quote Originally Posted by bumbisoft View Post
    Thank you very much for your response. Given what else I've read here and what you say, I think I should take all the mathematics electives I can it has the aforementioned topics.

    I do have another question: assuming that I do think graduate level economics is for me, are there any rough parameters for admitting students in Master's courses? More specifically, are GRE and UG grades much more significant than internships, LORs etc.? In that case my centre of attention would be on those particular things. Are these criteria the same for the rare funding opportunities in MSc/M.Phil?

    Lastly, I have been unable to get a clear picture of PhD funding in the US. In a T20, is it the case that I shall incur a net cost in the first few years of my PhD?
    There are only 3 things of importance when it comes to masters application; GPA, GRE and letter of recommendations. If by internships, you mean industry experience, then no. It borders on being useless in helping you get into a good masters programme. That time could've been better spent getting research experience.

    Funding decisions are mostly based on merit.

    What unclear picture are you talking about? Virtually all incoming students of Top 50 US PhD programmes offer full funding for 5 years. It might even be the case for lower ranked programmes but I'm not entirely sure. There are rare instances that first year funding is not offered but it's usually the case for waitlisted students or students on the margin.

    With regards to masters placement, always look at the median placement. Placements of the top students can be informative, but you shouldn't base your decision on those. You might score above the median, but it's not prudent to assume that. In the top masters programmes, pretty much everyone will have amazing undergrad grades.

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