PhD Program Philosophy and Requirements

We believe that economic thinking provides a uniquely powerful method for understanding social phenomena. And further, that economic understanding of the world is important, and that it is the duty of the economist to contribute to this understanding by exploring questions, developing answers, and communicating those answers to others. Our PhD program is designed to produce economists who do these things.

Sirrine Hall (Home of the Economics Department
The program develops analytical skills that enable students to conduct research on economic issues, emphasizing empirical analysis that is firmly grounded in economic theory. The first two years of the program builds student skills in economic theory and its application. Beginning in the spring semester of the second year, the focus shifts toward field courses, writing, and the development of a research agenda. The cornerstones of the program are (I) comprehensive proficiency in economic theory and econometrics; (II) proficiency in two or more fields of economics; (III) the second-year paper, completed in the spring semester in conjunction with a field course; (IV) the third year workshop; and (V) the dissertation. Each of these will be discussed in turn, followed by (VI), a capsule summary of the graduate school’s procedures and how they mesh with the program.

I. Qualifying Exams in Economic Theory and Econometrics

Students are required to demonstrate proficiency in economic theory and econometrics prior to advancing to candidacy for the PhD. Normal progress requires that proficiency be demonstrated at the beginning of the second year in the program.

Proficiency in economic theory is demonstrated by passing a comprehensive examination. Preparation for the exam consists of a continuous and sustained period of study spanning two semesters, guided by course sequences in micro and macro theory. Students continue their study throughout the summer of the first year. The Examination is offered on the first Friday of the Fall semester. Students continue their study of theory with a third semester of both micro and macroeconomics in the Fall of the second year. For students who do not pass on the first try, the examination is given again on the first Friday of the Spring semester.

Proficiency in econometrics is established in two steps through a three course sequence in econometric theory. The first step consists of a two course sequence (currently 8060 and 8070) which should be taken in the first year. The final exam in Econ 8070 is composed and graded by a committee, under the direction of the course’s instructor. A student must receive a grade of B or better on this exam to satisfy the requirement for the first step. A second exam will be offered to students who fail this exam. If a student fails to pass this exam, he or she is strongly advised to retake the course sequence in the following year. For the final step students take a course in either cross-section (Econ 8080) or time series (Econ 9090) econometrics, and must pass the course with a grade of B or better.


II. The Second Year Paper

Coursework becomes field-intensive in the spring semester of the second year. A student should make sure in this period to take a field course in which a paper is required. All 2nd year students are required to turn in their paper at the end of the spring semester to the graduate program director.

Monetary prizes will be awarded for the best papers turned in each year. However, we do not expect these papers to be fully developed within one semester. Hence, the prize will be awarded early in the fall semester, allowing papers to be refined over the summer and presented in the 3rd year workshop. A committee formed by the graduate program director and the instructor of the third year workshop will award the prizes, with advice from the instructors of the field courses, for the best papers. Students who turned in their second year paper to the graduate program director will be eligible for the prize.

Normal progress towards the PhD requires that students fulfill these first 3 requirements – proficiency in theory, proficiency in econometrics, and completion of the second year paper – by the end of the second year. Financial support for students will be heavily concentrated on those who meet these requirements in a timely fashion. Students who fail to master the subjects of economic theory and econometrics by the end of the second year are likely to lose some or all financial support. From the moment a student enters the graduate program in applied economics, two objectives should at once be clear: study the material on a continuous basis in order to pass the qualifying exams in a timely fashion, and begin thinking about research that will form the basis for scholarly papers.

III. Fields of Study

Competency in two fields – one primary and one secondary – is required for the PhD. Primary fields require that student take at least two approved courses and pass a field exam. Secondary fields are achieved by taking and passing a designated two course sequence in a field.

A student must pass at least one primary field exam before being advanced to candidacy (students may take as many field exams as they wish). Exams in financial economics, industrial organization, labor, international economics, and public economics are offered on demand, meaning at least once per year if requested by a student who is making normal progress towards the PhD. Faculty expertise also exists in the economics of education, growth and development, monetary economics, natural resource and environmental economics, and regional and urban economics. Field exams in these areas are offered as student demand warrants.

IV. Field Workshops

Students begin presenting and critiquing each other's research in their third-year in the field workshops (sections of Econ 982). A good workshop embodies the process of science: problems are defined, ideas pursued, and research is communicated and scrutinized.

Students in their third year and beyond are expected to register and contribute to the field workshop in which they are doing research each semester. Because the workshop is the vehicle for defining projects and papers that are capable of becoming successful dissertations, the approach of students to this course cannot be casual. A successful workshop requires that presenters distribute their paper well in advance of the meeting, that the audience read the paper and related material, and that all come to the workshop prepared for informed discussion.


V. The Dissertation

The dissertation will generally be the outgrowth of research that a student has initiated in the 2nd year paper and developed in the field workshop, but it need not be. The dissertation can be a collection of essays on the same or different topics. The important aspect of the dissertation is to show the profession that a student has mastered the ability to undertake scholarly inquiry and that the student has an agenda for future work.

Students are expected to engage in research from the beginning of their graduate career and are specifically required to present evidence of this in the form of the 2nd year paper. However, advancement to candidacy for the degree marks the point where the student, in conjunction with the student’s advisor, should plan and outline the dissertation research.

VI. Procedures

The graduate school has many forms that must be filled out and filed in a timely fashion to ensure that a student graduates on time. Below is a step-by-step guide to these forms and how they mesh with the program requirements in Economics. Please note that students are responsible for any changes made subsequent to this document, and should consult the Graduate School Announcements and the web page of the Graduate School. All quotes below are from the 2004-5 version of the Announcements.

The MA Degree in route to the PhD

For students on the PhD track and continuing beyond the first year, an MA degree is awarded upon the successful completion of thirty credits, focused on the PhD core courses: Econ 801, Econ 802, Econ 805, Econ 806, Econ 807, Econ 808 (or 909), Econ 901 and Econ 905.

Course of study

The GS2 form listing courses completed (and to be completed) must be filed prior to taking the qualifying exam, preferably near the beginning of the second year. The Graduate School requires that each student file a GS2 form that shows the student's plan of study. The GS2 for PhD students does not require that courses be listed. However, it does identify the members of the student's dissertation committee. Students should file a GS2 as soon as they begin working with a faculty member who will likely be their dissertation director. The form can be changed anytime at the student's discretion reflecting changes in the dissertation director and members of the committee. There are deadlines for filing the GS2 prior to graduation and the student should consult the Graduate School Announcements to maintain compliance with these deadlines (see this page at the Grad School website for exact dates).

Qualifying exams

The GS-5 form signifies that the student has passed the qualifying examination required by the program and is advanced to candidacy for the degree. In our program this occurs when the student has satisfied the requirements for proficiency in econometrics, and passed the qualifying examination in economic theory. For purposes of the monitoring within the department, student progress in meeting the theory requirement is recorded on the Student Progress Report form, by the chair of the Economics department PhD examination committee. The chair of the econometrics committee records the progress of students in meeting the econometrics requirement on the Student Progress Report. This form is kept on file for each student by the chair of the department.

Field work

At the beginning of the third year, students will be assigned to a faculty advisor by the department chair. The advisor and the student will plan a course of study that insures that field requirements are met in a timely fashion, and that research progress towards the dissertation stage. The advisor can be easily changed at the initiation of the student, as a good match will pair the student with the ultimate chair of his dissertation committee. Progress in meeting the field requirements is recorded on the Student Progress Report by the chair for each field, as designated by the Economics Department PhD examination committee.

Writing the dissertation

Dissertation research takes place under the careful attention and guidance of an advisor. The Graduate Diploma Application, GS4, announces to the Graduate School that a student anticipates completing the dissertation and intends to graduate. This form must be filed very early in the semester – in the first two or three weeks – in which the student wishes to graduate. The chair of the dissertation committee must confirm from the Student Progress Report that the student has passed the qualifying exam, the econometrics requirement, and the field requirements prior to signing the GS4 form. The practical impact of this rule is that all field requirements must be met in the semester prior to graduating.

Dissertation defense

The final doctoral examination, or oral dissertation defense, must be passed at least three weeks prior to the commencement in which the student graduates. The defense will be administered by the dissertation committee, and members of the faculty and the Dean of the Graduate School are invited to attend. The results of the exam are communicated to the Graduate School on form GS7, within five days of the exam.

The final draft of the dissertation should be given to committee members well in advance of, and no less than three weeks prior to the dissertation defense. This will give committee members time to propose modifications to the dissertation. Revisions to the dissertation can be made after the defense. The following is from the Announcements: “It should be understood that a vote to pass a student on his/her performance at the thesis/dissertation defense (form GS7) does not imply final approval of the thesis or dissertation. Approval of the thesis or dissertation is given by faculty signing the approval page. The approval page should not be signed by the committee until the student has made all revisions as instructed by the committee.” The practical impact of this rule is that necessary revisions can be made to improve the dissertation subsequent to the dissertation defense, and further, that the degree will ultimately be awarded only when such revisions are made to the satisfaction of the committee.