A Guide for Undergraduate Research in Economics

To my knowledge there is no detailed written guide for undergraduate research in economics for students and professors. My hope is that this work and the conversation it sparks will help to create a guide! This guide from Reed College is a good starting place for students, but I wanted to go a little more in-depth for students and include advice for faculty. If you know of other guides please let me know and I will post them.

As of early April I have a rough draft of roughly two-thirds of this guide and since I plan to present the guide at the Conference on Teaching Research in Economic Education at the end of May, I’m hoping this series of posts will serve as a commitment device to finishing a draft by Mid-May.

I will post a couple of sections a week and the ones I have available to share are linked below.

Choosing a Project and a Research Partner
(1) should you do an undergraduate research project?
(for students and for faculty)
(2) preparation including course work
(3) choosing a research partner (for students and for faculty)
(4) Choosing a topic for undergraduate economic research (link)
(5) approaching a professor (link)

How to start once a professor and student have matched
(6) writing an agreement and a timeline (link)
(7) how to have a productive meeting
(8) reviewing the literature

Data Work
(9) obtaining data
(10) data cleaning
(11) doing econometrics

Writing and Everything After
(12) outlining the paper
(13) writing the first draft of the paper.
(14) presenting the paper
(15) thesis defense
(16) submitting the paper to a journal
(17)  how to reap the benefits of your research

Before getting started here are some questions for students and faculty interested in undergraduate research.

Student Big Picture Questions

  1. Have you taken the relevant course work including a related field class and statistics/econometrics?
  2. Does your academic record and future plans suggest they would greatly benefit from an individual research project?
  3. Do you have a general idea of what you want to study?
  4. Do you have a full calendar year until graduation and are willing to do work during the summer?

Professor Big Picture Question

  1. Do you think the joy from mentoring will outweigh the opportunity cost of the large amount time needed to invest in a single student?
  2. Does the student who approached you have the necessary course work to complete the task?
  3. Do you have the time to work with the student?

Section 5: How to Approach a Professor about Supervising an Undergraduate Economics Research Project

Having read the previous sections (link) and chosen a professor making a good first impression is key. A good idea is to approach your professor late in the spring semester of the summer before you plan to work with them. If you currently have the professor in class, I would recommend approaching them after class […]

Section 4: Choosing a topic for undergraduate economic research

This post is part of a series (link) on undergraduate research in Economics   For the Student: There are a few good write ups on how to choose a research topic. I really like Doug Miller’s 5 things needed for a good economics thesis topic (link), which I shorten as:  It is economics, it is your […]

Section 3.B: Choosing a research student

What to look for in a student? A successful undergraduate student researcher requires a combination of general and specific skills. Mentoring students from underrepresented groups can be a great way to help increase diversity in the economics profession, which I’m a firm believer is important to do [I’m still gathering my thoughts on how to […]

Section 2: Preparation for Undergraduate Research in Economics

For the Student: At a minimum before starting independent research should take introduction to economics, a related field course(s) to their proposed research topic (e.g. development economics, environmental economic, or labor economics) and an econometrics class. The last class is the most important for data work. You should be able to open a data set, […]

How to Organize Your Own Mini-Economics Conference

This past weekend I attended the Midwest Economics Association Meetings. I had submitted four sessions on development and was really happy with the quality of papers. I was inspired to organize my own set of sessions after seeing a lack of opportunities to present development papers. There are several great conferences in development economics (NEUDC, […]

Reasons for Economics Professors to Work with Undergraduates on Research

The benefit to working individually with students is the same joy you get from teaching or if you are a parent seeing your children do well. The most fulfilling moment has been watching my students learn new skills. I have taken great pride when my undergraduate student presented and people thought she was an advanced […]

Why do an Undergraduate Research Project in Economics? For Students

Undergraduate students can get great experience doing research with faculty!  I have three students doing projects with me currently and two papers I will be presenting at the Eastern Economics Association next weekend that are co-authored with students and my fantastic co-author Erin Fletcher.  This research often involves analysis of survey data from low income […]