Expectations for "econometrics" PhD students

Written by Gray Calhoun

The economics department is in the process of making changes to the PhD program. We're also going to make some changes to the econometrics field. These are informal and unofficial, we don't even have a field in econometrics and our field in applied econometrics is something of a second class citizen compared to the rest. But Helle Bunzel, Otavio Bartalotti, and I have discussed these ideas and you should view them as a set of necessary conditions for having one of us on your committee and writing you a strong letter of recommendation asserting that you understand econometrics when you go on the job market.

Lunch workshop

Starting in the Fall, 2016, we're going to organize an econometrics lunch workshop that meets every few weeks. It will have two goals.

  1. We will discuss any upcoming econometrics papers that will be presented in the departmental seminar.
  2. Graduate students will be required to present their research every semester starting in their third year of the program.

Students doing econometrics as a primary or secondary field, (meaning: "students hoping to get a letter of recommendation from profs Bartalotti, Bunzel, or Calhoun supporting the student's claim that he or she understands econometrics.") are expected to attend every meeting. You do not need to present research on econometric theory and do not need to be doing research on econometric theory to attend; you can be interested in "applied econometrics" more broadly. But the research you present must be interesting to a group of econometricians – it should be a bit technically sophisticated and ambitious. (E.g. no OLS papers, even if OLS is the right way to attack a specific research question.)

Second year students are encouraged to attend and will not be required to present. Third year students and up are required to attend and present. If you change fields to econometrics late in the program, we'll work something out. You're not going to be penalized for "missing" meetings during your third year, for example, if you switch to econometrics in your fourth year.

Participating is going to obviously be some work. The benefit is that you'll do better research, learn how to give better presentations, learn more about econometrics, and, ceteris paribus, get a better job when you graduate. We'll work out a time to meet and a schedule as the semester gets closer.

Other expectations

The lunch workshop is the major new component of our informal econometrics field. We'll also list a few other things that have been implicit expectations already but should have been stated explicitly. Namely, students in econometrics are expected to also:

  • Attend econometrics seminars and sign up to meet with the speakers. (And prepare in advance by reading and discussing the paper.)
  • Take Econ 673 and 674. (If it is ever offered, take 675 as well.) Even if you plan to only do macro or only do micro, you need the broader exposure that comes from taking both courses.
  • We occasionally will organize additional reading groups and workshops during the year or over the summer. You are expected to participate in these as your schedule allows. (This is less binding if econometrics is your second field.)

Finally, a "non-econometrics" requirement. You are expected to have one specific, identified research field other than econometrics. (No more, no less. Spreading yourself too thin is effectively the same as specializing too narrowly.) This means that you've taken the relevant graduate coursework for that subject, have a member of your PhD committee that can and will credibly argue that you know the subject, write a substantive empirical research paper on that subject as part of your dissertation, prepare for and attend seminars in that field, and regularly meet with outside speakers who specialize in that field. It has almost nothing to do with the department's "field requirements" for the PhD program.

In particular, this additional field does not need to be officially offered by the department as long as you meet the expectations just listed. (E.g., "micro theory" can in principle be your other field.) If econometrics is your primary field, you should be fully prepared to teach advanced undergraduate and masters level classes in your second field. If econometrics is your second field, you should be fully prepared to teach a PhD elective in your primary field.

Conclusion

If you're planning to graduate from Iowa State and claim that you can "do econometrics," these are the expectations. Most of them are not new, they were just left implicit in the past. It will be work, but if you meet these expectations – which are entirely focused on preparation and professionalism and have nothing to do with the success or failure of your research – we will do everything we can to help you succeed in grad school and professionally.