Grad School Advice

So, you’re headed off to grad school. Here’s some temporally enumerated advice:

First Year

1. Every thing must be dedicated to getting past your pre-lims – of course the best scenario is to pass the first round so that you can have time to recover and start working on your dissertation.

2. Do some networking – like attending talks given by professors at your university or visiting professors.  

3. Remember that this whole process is a marathon – especially the first year.  You do not have to get the highest grade on every assignment.  The only thing – the only thing – that matters is getting past your prelims.  Your final grades will have no determination on where you land a position after graduating.  On the job market there are three things that count: letters of recommendation, your dissertation, and some teaching.

Second Year

1. Its time to really network and get creative.  You now have almost complete freedom to become the scholar you want to be.  

2. Start looking for a couple professors to attach yourself to.  Offer to provide free research and teaching assistance.  You need to get to know your chosen professors.  They need to know your name.  

3. Keep an ear out for any political factions in your department.  I did not spend anytime on this and it ended up hurting me during my dissertation defense.  

4. Find a protector – someone who  will have your back during your dissertation proposal and defense (see below).  

Dissertation Proposal and Defense

1. Choose your committee and chairperson carefully.  Of course your choice should be dictated by your chosen topic and their interest in mentoring you; however, be sensitive to any political factions and power struggles.  One of the best ways to score points against an opposing faction is to take down an opposing faction’s student during a proposal and/or defense.

2. Before entering the room for your proposal and defense, go to everyone on your committee and point blank ask them whether or not they are ready to give you the go ahead.  Any comments, suggestions, and critiques should occur in each committee person’s office not during the proposal or defense.  They should be there to bolster you and assist you in handling the comments and critiques of those not on your committee.


1. Except for your first year, you should take time to stay on top of the economics literature.  Make a list of the top economics journals and those top journals in your field, go to the library or on-line and review the table of contents and take the time to read a few of the articles.  

2. Attend conferences to network.  Networking is key.  Nurture these relationships over the course of your time at your university. Make a list of scholars who you inspire you and make it a point to connect with them after passing your prelims.  This will pay off when it comes to time to go on the job market. 

3. Make it a point to submit your work to present at conferences.  Sometimes economics departments can be a bit insulated from the profession.  Those on your committee and/or those in the department may not pick up on a shortcoming in your work – a shortcoming that may be obvious to the general profession.  Conversely, your committee and/or department may not appreciate your work as much as they should – but the wider profession may be more receptive.  Going to conferences is the way to get this feedback.     

4. Go to dissertation proposals and defenses of other students in your program.  Do a little bit of this during your first year.  Here you will pick up on any customs or norms that are adhered to but not written down.

Finally, remember that you are one-of-a-kind, unstoppable, a force of nature.  Good luck! 


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Thanks. – shawn