The Department's highly regarded doctoral program enrolls about twenty-four students each year. The program was ranked as the best economics Ph.D. program in the United States in the most recent National Research Council study, and was also ranked as tied for first place by U.S. News and World Report. Doctoral students take required courses in microeconomic theory, macroeconomics, and econometrics. Students are also expected to complete four fields in economics (two major and two minor) and to pass general examinations in their major fields. The field options include public finance, industrial organization, international economics, monetary economics, labor economics, economic development, econometrics, financial economics, organizational economics, political economy, and advanced theory.
Graduate study at MIT consists of more than satisfying course requirements. Every major field has a weekly research workshop as well as a weekly faculty-student lunch. Faculty and students discuss research ideas at the informal lunches, while the workshops provide a more formal setting for discussion. Fall workshop schedules typically include many students introducing the research papers that they plan to present on the job market. Graduates of the Ph.D. program teach in leading economics departments, business schools, and schools of public policy. They work on congressional staffs and government advisory councils, and with organizations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the National Economic Council, the Council of Economic Advisers, the Federal Reserve, and the Treasury Department. They are also found among the most influential positions in the market economy, ranging from corporate executives to hedge fund managers to economic consultants.
Graduate students work in intense collaboration with faculty to learn the craft of research. This occurs both in empirical fields where learning-by-doing transfers information about data sets, research strategy, and econometric tools, and on theoretical projects too. Alexander Wolitzky, for example, recently worked with Daron Acemoglu on a theoretical paper which aims to improve understanding of slavery and other coercive labor practices. They view coercive labor practices through the lens of the principal-agent framework and argue that important features to add to the classical model are that workers have no wealth and employers have the opportunity to invest in punishment technologies which impose hardships on workers who leave the relationship. Thinking about when employers have more and less incentive to invest in technologies, they derive a number of insights about where labor coercion will be more and less severe. They embed their model in a general equilibrium framework to gain insights into questions like how the rise and fall of feudal institutions may have been related to population changes and urbanization.
A key component of the dissertation advising system at MIT is a set of weekly field workshops held during lunch time at which students who have passed their general exams try out new research ideas. The presentations can range from very early stage research, hardly more than a literature review and a few ideas for future work, to nearly-complete dissertation projects. The informality of these workshops makes it possible for students to explore research topics in a setting where no one is expected to present finished work. Faculty members view attending field workshops as a central departmental responsibility.
Many past graduates of MIT’s Ph.D. program report that field workshops were invaluable in providing them with a sounding board for new research topics. Since most thesis writers volunteer to present a talk each semester, the field workshops also have the important benefit of setting near-term, but manageable, deadlines for dissertation progress.
All students who have passed their general examinations are required to attend at least one field workshop each week and to make a presentation in at least one workshop during the course of the year. Many students present their research in multiple workshops, and thereby obtain a range of different faculty and student input. First and second year students who are carrying out research are also welcome to participate in these workshops. Third year students are required to complete and present a third-year paper.
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