Research opportunities for economics majors, though not as plentiful as in other disciplines, e.g. the natural sciences, do exist.
While you probably will not be able to generate Nobel-Prize-winning research during your undergraduate career at Penn, as a major in economics or mathematical economics you might write a paper that is publishable in an undergraduate economics journal. One of those journals is published by Penn’s Undergraduate Economics Society.
Here are links to the papers
- “It’s the Economy, Stupid: How Economic Growth Predicts Social Tolerance” by Eben Lazarus;
- "Quality Disclosure, Limited Attention and the Availability Heuristic: The Influence of College Rankings on Student Demand" by Kathy Qian;
- "The Role of Retail Investors in Book Built IPOs: Evidence from India" by Seth Pollack;
- "The Diffusion of Abandonment Decisions: An application to pulmonary artery catheters" by Julie Berez;
- "The Dynamics of Art Demand: The Interaction Between Monetary and Non-Pecuniary Drivers in the Art Auction Market" by Peter Hess
- "People Following Goods: Are Refugee Flows Associated with International Trade?" by Rachel Philbin.
These journals were written for the Econ 300 Honors Thesis course and won the Lawrence R. Klein Prize for Outstanding Research in Economics by an Undergraduate (an annual Student Award) in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 respectively.
As part of the year-long ECON 300 Honors course students are required to write a thesis which typically involves an empirical analysis. Students formulate their own research questions, gather data, conduct an econometric analysis, and write a research paper summarizing the results. In addition, some of the advanced (200-level) courses might require you to write research-style term papers.
Some faculty members hire undergraduate students as research assistants (RAs), but you will face strong competition from graduate students. Since the days when journal articles needed to be photocopied in the library have long passed, most of the RA assignments involve the collection and/or analysis of economic data. Thus, a background in statistical analysis and computer programming is very useful. Empirical analysis in economics often utilizes software packages such as EVIEWS, GAUSS, MATLAB, R, or STATA. Some projects involve coding in FORTRAN or C. Doing well in an advanced course, taught by a professor, increases your chances of getting hired as an RA by that person.