Saturday, January 1, 2011

Is it too Difficult to Survive in an Economics PhD Program?

Difficulty of Survival in an Economics PhD program: this is a question which hovers in the mind of most of the applicant especially the ones who have not a very strong hold over mathematics. One of the reasons behind that I guess is the preconceived notion that economics PhD program is highly mathematical and is suitable for those who are very good at mathematics. Though this could be partially true, but it’s not an absolutely perfect reason in any means. Having a solid mathematical background may be an advantage though. In some courses, mathematics is required which needs fair knowledge of linear algebra and calculus.

The survival in a PhD program can be separated into two different parts, a successful completion of master’s program, clearing the qualifier exam and thereafter successful submission of Thesis which will ultimately get you a Doctorate degree. The master’s program consists of a number of compulsory courses including Mathematical Economics, Econometrics, Microeconomics and Macroeconomics. Needless to mention, all of these courses need a fair knowledge of mathematics. Notice that I have been using ‘Fair’ and not the exceptional knowledge of mathematics and that’s what the truth is. All that is needed then is to work hard and one would be able to complete all the courses without much difficulty. Again by working hard I don’t mean that one has to go away from social life and study 12 hours a day and something. But yes… one may have to devote significant hours of the day studying. I am not here talking about top 20 programs, unfortunately I don’t have any experience about them. As far as optional courses are concerned one may choose ones which don’t need very complex and abstract mathematics.

Once the master’s is over, working on a thesis again depends primarily upon the patience and not upon the mathematical ability. One learns the required mathematics in the course of working on his thesis. It’s the patience and the hard work that is needed when one has to find the desired result of the thesis. When a lot of papers are needed to be read and a large volume of data has to be played and manipulated with. I think I would have much to say about this once I start working on this but I can say this much from the experience of other PhD candidates who did well.

Normally the first semester would be easier and it would get more difficult in next semester and that makes perfect sense. In the first semester one is in a transition phase from being an undergrad student to a graduate student. As time goes one, one gets accustomed to the course pressure and working hard. The conclusion is surviving in a PhD program in Economics is not too difficult if one is sincere and motivated. If you are interested in going in detail click here but I think that’s not of much relevance as of now and you may want to check it out later once you are done with you applications and waiting for the results.

Good luck with your applications. Please let me know if I should address any particular topic. If you find the blog useful please follow the blog and make comments.


  1. do i need to do the masters program since i have already completed my masters in economics...cant i directly pursue phd?

  2. Yes ... you do need to be enrolled in Masters Program even if you have completed your Masters (I assume, you have Masters from India). In US it's an integrated program.

  3. Hi,

    I have a masters degree in Operations research and am considering doing a PhD in economics (or econometrics)... Will the transition into economics be very different (I am also pursuing my actuarial sciences and hence, have a somewhat solid base in economics)

  4. As long as you have solid background in economics, you should be fine. However, I am not sure how seriously an application from a different discipline is taken. What I know is that if your Masters background is math intensive you will be given due consideration for admission. In that sense, Masters in Operations Research seems okay.