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Planning to do an RAship


therealslimkt
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Predoctoral RAships have historically been seen as good bridges for applicants from LACs or non-econ backgrounds who wouldn't have the research/LORs to get into good programs directly after undergrad. But are they becoming more broadly pursued, including by people who could plan well and do a math/econ double major from a good undergrad? I've heard (very apocryphally) that more than 40% of Harvard's incoming class this year has predoctoral research.

 

I've been considering not even applying for PhD programs my senior year and purely applying to RAships, as well as orienting in other ways. For example, substituting more math/econ with stats/programming, with the understanding that stats/programming will help get an RAship and most RAships will allow me to take more math/econ. I was wondering if this is becoming a more common approach.

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The latest data I have is that at the very top programs 60 percent of students from American undergraduate institutions have done pre-doctoral RAs.

 

You do not have to be incredibly good at stats/programming for an RAship, but very solid skills are important. You should be good at Stata--some positions will require a Stata test. Being reasonably comfortable with some computer language, R/Python/Julia/Matlab, is also valuable.

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But are they becoming more broadly pursued, including by people who could plan well and do a math/econ double major from a good undergrad?

 

This is true at least for top 10 grad students around me who went to US undergrads, and my current advisors have told me the same. Do keep in mind that it's not only about the benefits you get from the RA-ship, but also that one extra year in your senior year to build your profile (especially your thesis & rec letters you get from them).

 

 

I've been considering not even applying for PhD programs my senior year and purely applying to RAships

 

This is pretty common among US undergrads, even from top 10 programs (me included).

 

 

For example, substituting more math/econ with stats/programming, with the understanding that stats/programming will help get an RAship and most RAships will allow me to take more math/econ.

 

This is a bad idea, and you would know this if you flipped through job postings on the NBER page. Yes RA jobs do look for programming, but you don't need to take that many programming classes to be competitive (2-3 CS courses are more than sufficient). It's a good idea to take statistics classes, but they're just as important as math/econ coursework. If you want practical skills to stand out in full time RA recruitment, what you really need is an undergrad RA-ship that gives you practical experience with statistical computing.

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This is a bad idea, and you would know this if you flipped through job postings on the NBER page. Yes RA jobs do look for programming, but you don't need to take that many programming classes to be competitive (2-3 CS courses are more than sufficient).

 

Sorry for being unclear; I meant going from 0 to 2-3 CS courses.

 

This is pretty common among US undergrads, even from top 10 programs (me included).

 

The latest data I have is that at the very top programs 60 percent of students from American undergraduate institutions have done pre-doctoral RAs.

 

That's interesting to hear. TM posts from just a few years ago are often either skeptical of RAships or indicate that they're primarily for nontraditional applicants. At the very least, I've never seen any post that suggested deliberately planning not to apply for a PhD out of undergrad.

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TM posts from just a few years ago are often either skeptical of RAships or indicate that they're primarily for nontraditional applicants. At the very least, I've never seen any post that suggested deliberately planning not to apply for a PhD out of undergrad.

 

I'm probably biased because of my current job, but I only know very few people who went straight from US undergrad to PhD programs. The majority have some sort of experience in between (RA jobs, Oxford MPhil / LSE EME, work somewhere, etc)

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...is this a good idea? When could that be a good idea?

 

I know a couple of people who deferred top-5 offers (depending on what you count as top-5) and a smaller group who declined top-5 offers to go do an RA position. The idea is that if you're confident about your work ethics and want to develop more as a researcher, it can only better your chance after two years of RA.

 

Currently in my top-5 (again, depending on what you count as top 5) cohort, about 60% have done a pre-doc, the rest are evenly split between European masters and straight out of top undergrad.

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