Resources for PhD students
- Jump to “Coding and data management”
- Jump to “Version control (Git)”
- Jump to “Picking topics and developing ideas”
- Jump to “Data visualization and presentations”
- Jump to “Reading and writing papers”
- Jump to “Professional development and citizenship”
- Jump to “Mental health and making it through”
- Jump to “Other resources”
Invest early on in good coding habits: abstraction, documentation, orderly file structures, and minimal clutter.
- My lectures on “Code, Data, and Version Control: Best Practices for Economic Research”
- Code and Data for the Social Sciences: A Practitioner's Guide by Matt Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro
- Coding for Economists by Ljubica Ristovska
- Coding Style Guide by Michael Stepner
- Best Practices for Computer Programming in Economics by Tal Gross
Some classics in software engineering:
- Clean Code: A Handbook of Agile Software Craftsmanship by Robert Martin
- The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering by Frederick Brooks
Get proficient with workhorse computing tools like the Unix/Linux shell, regular expressions, and web scraping.
- A Gentle Introduction to Effective Computing in Quantitative Research: What Every Research Assistant Should Know by Harry Paarsch and Konstantin Golyaev
Use version control. Git is the industry standard.
- Git for Economists by Frank Pinter (a good place to start)
- Pro Git by Scott Chacon and Ben Straub (free e-text)
- Version Control with Git by Jon Loeliger and Matthew McCullough
- Most Git users pair it GitHub or GitLab
- Visual Studio Code is a superb text editor with built-in support for version control
If you want to dig deeper into effective Git workflows:
My two cents: think in terms of developing topical expertise, not (just) coming up with viable projects. Lots of things have to line up for a proposed project to succeed: in applied micro, you need an interesting question, suitable data, and convincing variation, with novelty along one or more of these margins. This is hard, and you can expect to pitch many projects unsuccessfully before you land on one with legs.
Instead of jumping immediately to specific questions/data/variation, give some thought to what topics really interest you, and solicit feedback on whether a potential thesis topic seems promising. I’m talking here about something broader than a research paper but narrower than a field. Within labor economics, some examples would be “the economics of working conditions”, “racial disparities in labor market outcomes”, or “the labor market for health care workers”. (A useful test: can you see it as the title of your dissertation? Or would it sound too narrow, too broad, or simply unimportant?)
Why think in terms of topics? First, if a particular research idea doesn’t work out, you can recycle more of what you’ve learned about the economic questions, available data, and potential sources of variation. Developing topical expertise will speed up the process of triaging ideas. Second, working within a well-defined topical area will equip you with a coherent research identity and the beginnings of a longer-term research agenda. By contrast, focusing too narrowly on project viability can leave you with a portfolio of unrelated, one-off projects in areas where you don’t have deep expertise.
Effective graphics are easy to comprehend and hard to misunderstand, and they highlight the contrasts you want to emphasize. They also look slick and convey spit, polish, and professionalism. Find templates you like, and then fine-tune.
Up your graphics game:
Improve your presentations:
- Better Presentations: A Guide for Scholars, Researchers, and Wonks by Jonathan Schwabish
- Beamer tips and templates by Paul Goldsmith-Pinkham
- How to Give an Applied Micro Talk by Jesse Shapiro
Reading papers and learning the literature:
- Reading Papers: Some Tips by Brendan Price
Good economic writing is good writing. Classic principles apply.
Leave enough time for the writing stage. Writing out an argument brings tensions and inconsistencies to the surface, and it often points the way towards changes in the analysis that can strengthen the paper.
Make your manuscripts look professional. Become fluent in LaTeX.
Deeper dives for the typography enthusiast:
- Professional Development Resources from the American Economic Association
- The Hidden Curriculum, a podcast on professional development in economics
- CSWEP Programs for female economists
- CSMGEP Programs for economists from underrepresented minority groups
- Summer Economics Fellows Program sponsored by the American Economic Association
Morale and mental health:
- Graduate Student Mental Health: Lessons from American Economics Departments by Paul Barreira, Matthew Basilico, and Valentin Bolotnyy (forthcoming, Journal of Economic Literature)
- Impostor Syndrome Is Definitely a Thing by Rachel Herrmann
- An Unofficial Guidebook for PhD Students in Economics and Education
Some potentially healthy perspectives: