Advice For Grad Students

I’ll put a little advice here. Some signs that you’re going to struggle to finish:

  • You’re not working on your research at least two hours every weekday.
  • You’re not working on your research at least twenty hours every week. This is a lower bound. Most weeks you should be working on your research a lot more than that.
  • You’re taking classes because you think it will kickstart your research.
  • You’re afraid of making mistakes and it’s causing you to procrastinate. All research has big flaws in the beginning. You need to accept that.

Based on many years of watching grad students make mistakes:

  • Research is tough for everyone. If you want to work on a well-defined topic with a step-by-step outline for how to proceed, you should save yourself some time and begin your search for a new career now.
  • There’s no substitute for good feedback. The reason for talking about your research with others is because it might have mistakes in it, not because you want to show them your mistake-free work.
  • You have to know the literature in order to write a paper. Reading is the only way to familiarize yourself with the literature.
  • You should model your writing after papers written by top economists in your area.
  • If you haven’t rewritten everything at least ten times, don’t ask others to read it. Some grad students ask their advisors for comments on work that has only been rewritten three or four times. That does not end well. Writing takes a lot of time. Yes, that rule applies to you, even if English is not your first language.
  • Nobody cares about the fancy econometric methods you’ve applied. The use of a particular econometric method is not motivation for your research.
  • Others will doubt the importance of your work. The best you can do is explain clearly what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. No matter how well you write (or present) most economists won’t care about your work.
  • Don’t wait until you’re done getting all of your results before you start writing. That’s usually a disaster, because you have to throw away much of your work once you start writing and thinking deeply about things.

If you want my professional advice on the grad school decision, the grad school experience, or the start of the tenure track, feel free to send me an email. I will respond to the best of my ability within a few days.

Something I wrote about learning to program before starting a PhD program in economics

A Few Links

I don’t necessarily endorse everything in these links, but there’s a lot of good advice in here. Note that this is not my advice. I’m simply linking to things others have written. There’s also a separate page with useful resources here.

Ph.D. Thesis Research: Where do I Start? Donald Davis, Columbia University
If You Want Me to Serve as a Thesis Sponsor or Co-Sponsor Donald Davis, Columbia University
David Romer’s Rules for “Out in Five”
John Cochrane’s Writing Advice
John Cochrane Blog Post on Publishing Yep, it’s tough even for the best
Experienced Advice for “Lost” Graduate Students in Economics Ariel Rubenstein, Tel Aviv University
How to Publish in Top Journals
Practical Tips for Writing and Publishing Applied Economics Papers
How to Write a Research Paper in Economics
How to Get Published in an Economics Journal
The Young Economist’s Guide to Professional Etiquette
Tyler Cowen’s Advice
Tom Sargent on Math Courses