The Department’s highly regarded doctoral program enrolls about twenty-four students each year. 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 economic theory.
Graduates of the PhD 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 theoretical projects and in empirical fields, where learning-by-doing transfers information about data sets, research strategy, and econometric tools. For instance, Chris Walters (PhD 2013) has worked with Joshua Angrist and Parag Pathak to explore the potential for Boston’s high-performing charter schools to close the city's racial achievement gap. Walters contributed to an early collaboration that showed that these schools generate impressive average assessment score gains, using lottery-based quasi-experimental research designs. His dissertation extended this research, motivated by the question of how to use the lottery results to predict the effects of charter school expansion. His work shows how structural models can be combined with quasi-experimental estimates to assess various expansion scenarios. Walters’ surprising conclusion is that powerful demand-side forces work against the ability of charters to close citywide gaps. This academically innovative work has already influenced the education policy debate. Walters’ work was profiled in The Boston Globe (June 2013) and his results have prompted policy efforts to improve charter school access in Massachusetts.
Graduate study at MIT consists of more than just satisfying the course requirements. Regularly scheduled department workshops, also known as seminars, offer a forum for students to learn about the latest research in their fields from invited speakers.
In contrast to the more formal nature of seminars, a key component of the dissertation advising system at MIT is a set of informal weekly field lunches 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 meetings 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 lunches as a central departmental responsibility.
Many past graduates of MIT’s PhD program report that field lunches 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 lunches 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 lunch each week and to make a presentation in at least one lunch during the course of the year. Many students present their research in multiple lunches 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.