Program Description

Core Requirements

Proficiency is crucial for successful completion of the first year of study, in the Department of Economics, at the University of Pennsylvania. Broadly speaking, familiarity with two years of mathematics at the undergraduate level is a minimal level of preparation.

A minimal level of preparation consists of two years of mathematics courses in college, including courses in multivariable calculus, probability theory and statistics, and linear algebra. An excellent level of preparation consists of additional courses in real analysis, point-set topology, and measure-theoretic probability theory.

Students must meet the mathematics requirement by passing the course Econ 897 with grades of A or B.

Students must meet the Economics 897 requirement by the end of August before they begin their first year of study. Upon admission to the program, students receive a sample 897 waiver exam, which enables them to judge their level of preparation and competence. Most take Econ 897 in the special mathematics institute during the second half of July and in August before they officially begin the program.

To pass the Qualification Evaluation at the end of the first year, an Economics doctoral student must pass each first-year course with a grade of B- or better and have at least a B average in these courses. A student who does not meet this criterion must take an August exam in each semester class where the student did not receive a grade of B or better.  The graduate examination committee then decides whether the student has passed on the basis of course and August exam performance.

As part of academic training, students serve as teaching or research assistants in years two through five.  Students with select types of external fellowships may be exempt from some of these requirements with permission of the Graduate Chair.  The Economics Graduate Group considers teaching—and the ability communicate ideas about economics effectively—to be an essential component in preparing students for the demands of the profession.

Only students who have been certified as being fluent in English in the classroom by English Language Programs can be appointed to Teaching Assistantships (TA).

Being a Research Assistant (RA) does not preclude a student from being a TA later. An important consideration for a student to be a RA is whether the work is related to the student's research, and whether such will be a help or hindrance in his or her studies.

The Empirical Economics requirement must be satisfied by the end of a student's second year in residence. It is intended to ensure that every student is acquainted with some real economic institutions and with how economic data are analyzed. The requirement is satisfied by passing a course (with a grade of B or higher) approved for this purpose, with the agreement of the instructor. The list of approved courses is announced at the beginning of each year.

For the list of courses that fulfill the requirement for each semester, go to Courses that Fulfill the Empirical Economics Requirement

The Graduate Group in Economics offers many upper level courses in various fields. Besides providing an introduction to the various subdisciplines of economics, these courses bring students up to the research frontier. Courses offered change over time, reflecting the interests of the faculty and trends in the profession. All Ph.D. students must pass four 700-level Econ courses (above 706, and excluding 7x9 which are workshops) with a grade of A- or higher.

An important component in years three and above is workshop participation. Students are required to register in two semesters of the department workshops, and present work in at least one of them. In addition, there are student workshops: the longstanding shadow and twilight workshops, in which students present to their peers their own nearly completed research, and new "bag lunch" workshops in econometrics and international economics in which more tentative ideas and developments in these fields are presented.

Starting in the third year of residence, students are expected to engage in a major piece of original research, suitable for publication in a scholarly journal. By the end of their third year, all students are required to have a faculty advisor within the Graduate Group and are required to have completed a research paper, approved by two members of the Graduate Group. The paper may be in any area, and the ideas explored in it will often be the genesis of at least one paper in the thesis. This requirement ensures that students become familiar at an early stage with research practice; from the process of generating an idea through its implementation via model building, written exposition, mathematical word processing, and the seminar presentation.

Taking into account all of these various requirements, a typical program for the first two years of graduate study might be:

  • First Year
    • Fall Term
      • Microeconomic Theory I (701)
      • Macroeconomic Theory I (702)
      • Econometrics I: Fundamentals (705)
    • Spring Term
      • Microeconomic Theory II (703)
      • Macroeconomic Theory II (704)
      • Econometrics II: Methods & Models (706)
  • Second Year
    • Fall Term
      • Empirical Economics Course
      • Two or three electives
    • Spring Term
      • Three electives

Note: A student who holds a research or teaching assistantship may not take more than three courses per term.

Starting in the third year of residence, students are expected to engage in a major piece of original research, which is suitable for publication in a scholarly journal. All students are required to have a faculty advisor within the Graduate Group by the end of their third year in residence. The role of the faculty advisor is to help the student make the transition from coursework to research and identify suitable dissertation topics. Often the faculty advisor is the major advisor for the dissertation.

Active participation in workshops often leads students to formulate their own research topics and stimulates them to engage in independent research. For these reasons, workshop participation is required for at least two semesters. In addition, students are required to present at least one research paper in a workshop by the end of their fourth year in residence.

By the end of their fourth year in residence, students must have completed either a written dissertation proposal or a paper that will form one chapter of the dissertation. In addition, students are required to present one research paper in a workshop by the end of the fourth year in residence.

The dissertation is typically supervised by one major advisor, and it must be defended before a committee of three members of the faculty. Usually, students will consult with several members of the department during the dissertation stage of the program, and normally they will be expected to present a major piece of work during their fourth or fifth year of the program.

In recent years, students have typically presented theses which consisted of one large paper or two or three smaller papers. In order to participate in the job market, students must have brought their research, on at least one part of their dissertation, to a stage in which a polished paper is ready for presentation at other universities and at institutions, by October of the fourth or fifth year in the program. Students are encouraged to develop a working relationship, at least a year in advance, with the faculty members they expect to provide references for them.

The Graduate Group in Economics does not offer a special program for the A.M. degree and does not accept students who seek only this degree. Ph.D. students may apply for the A.M. degree after passing eight courses, writing a satisfactory research paper, and demonstrating proficiency in economic theory, statistics, and other areas of economics deemed appropriate by the Director of the Graduate Group. Prospective applicants should consult the Director of the Graduate Group for more information.

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