These guidelines are designed to help students plan. Because requirements change over time, these guidelines are most accurate for students most recently admitted to the program.
The PhD degree is a combination of coursework and dissertation writing. In economics, the coursework is roughly a year in microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics training, followed by a year in field training. At Northeastern, we formally support fields in labor economics and industrial organization, and informally support a field in development. Students must satisfy grade requirements in two fields. Students may write their dissertation in any field of economics provided they have a dissertation committee that supports them.
2. Learning Goals of the PhD in Economics
Upon completion of our Ph.D. program in Applied Economics students will be able to:
- Apply modern micro and macro-economic theory to formally describe economic problems and to make discipline-based policy evaluations and recommendations, including being able to explain the links between economic decision making at the individual and firm level and policy recommendations at the market and macro-economic level.
- Describe and apply the formal tools in the economics discipline for evaluating the social welfare of economic policies, including Pareto optimality, economic efficiency, social justice and inequality, and to describe the fundamental tradeoffs between these objectives.
- Evaluate existing and potential market failures and to evaluate and recommend private and public sector economic policies that increase economic efficiency and social welfare by mitigating or solving market failures, including government policies for regulating and limiting the market power of firms.
- Apply the analytic econometric and statistical skills required to frame and implement hypothesis testing and conduct data analysis, including the ability to use modern economic datasets, to combine datasets, and to choose appropriate methods and techniques to generate economic forecasts and to establish causality with non-experimental data.
- Explain, critique, and replicate empirical findings in economics research, including the methodology for the econometric estimation, the theoretical foundations of the hypotheses, and the broader economic relevance of the result.
- Produce and write original economic research and to prepare their economic research for submission and publication in peer-reviewed academic journals, as well as for submission and presentation to research conferences.
- Communicate knowledge of economics effectively both within and outside of academia, including the classroom, conferences, and professional meetings.
Apply these tools in diverse economic and social policy contexts, including labor markets, firm behavior, the environment, inequality, and social and racial justice, and in a variety of career settings, including academia, research, consulting, management, and policy making.
3. Overview of the Program
Throughout the PhD program, each student will have a faculty advisor who will be the student’s point of contact and who also will be responsible for an annual assessment of whether the student is making satisfactory progress in the program. In their first year, this advisor will be the PhD Graduate Program Director. In the second and third year, each student will normally choose a faculty member in the student’s chosen research field to be their advisor. At the appropriate time, typically in the student’s third year, each student will choose their dissertation chair who will then be their advisor.
At all points in the program the student must be making satisfactory progress. Satisfactory progress will depend in part on the precise point at which the student is working, but minimum requirements are that the student be in regular communication with their faculty advisor, attend department seminars and workshops in their field, take required coursework, maintain a 3.5 grade point average, pass required exams, and meet deadlines for proposing and defending their dissertation. Failure to achieve satisfactory progress will result, after consultation with the PhD Graduate Program Director, in a written recommendation for corrective action or termination from the program.
The PhD program for each student has two phases: The Coursework/Exam phase followed by the Dissertation phase. The Coursework/Exam phase consists of taking required and elective courses (described separately) and passing the qualifying exams. This phase should be completed within two-and-one-half years of entry into the program (one-and-one-half years for students entering with a master’s degree in economics). Beginning with students entering in the fall of 2022, this phase will take two years for required coursework for all students (these students may need to take additional courses in their 3rd year if needed to satisfy course load minimums).
The student moves into the Dissertation phase upon successful completion of required course work, the comprehensive examinations, and the field exam. The comprehensive exams are normally taken at the end of the second year (at the end of the first year for students entering with a master’s degree in economics). The field exam is normally taken after the student has completed all of his or her required coursework. The field exam is not required of students entering in 2020 or beyond. Instead, those students must earn a grade of B or above in each of their four field courses.
In the Dissertation Phase, the student must:
- Prepare a dissertation proposal
- Present and defend the proposal before a Proposal Review Committee
- Write a dissertation based on that proposal demonstrating the ability to do original research
- Successfully defend the dissertation.
Each student should also regularly attend the department’s PhD workshops and plan to informally present his or her research in one of the workshops.
4. Required Coursework
A. Core Courses
The PhD program emphasizes a foundation in microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics followed by field coursework. Students must take PhD coursework in microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics followed by qualifying exams all three areas. Students will be given two attempts to pass these exams, and may appeal for a third attempt. Students who enter the program in 2020 and beyond will also be required to take and pass a qualifying exam in econometrics.
B. Field Courses
The department currently offers two two-course field sequences every academic year. The first sequence in labor economics, and the second sequence is in industrial organization. Students are required to take four field courses, which would normally consist of these two two-course field sequences. In the future, the field sequences offerings may be extended to include fields in addition to labor and industrial organization.
When the department offers only one PhD course in a field (as is currently the case with health economics and development economics) students may request permission from the PhD program director and the relevant instructors to satisfy one of their two two-course field sequences with a customized sequence. For example, a student may request to have a field exam based on one course in labor and one in development. This course could also be a masters level course if the instructor appropriately modifies the content and requirements for the PhD student. A substitution will only be permitted when it improves the student’s training, not just to relax the requirements of the program. In no case will PhD students be allowed to take less than four PhD level field courses and take fewer than one of the program’s standard two-course field sequence.
For students required to take field exams (this requirement has been eliminated for students starting in Fall 2020 and beyond) customized field exams can be taken with the permission of the PhD program director and the relevant instructors. Customize field exams are offered so that students can focus their dissertation research in additional fields. They are not offered in order to in any way reduce the PhD program’s standards or requirements, or to reduce the number of field courses students take. Students always benefit from being exposed to as many field courses as possible. Students who plan to focus their research in a field for which a standard two-course sequence is available are always best served by taking the field exam in that field.
Students who are not required to take the field exam must receive a B grade or better in each of their four field courses.
5. The Dissertation
PhD dissertations in economics typically consist of three essays or chapters on related research topics. Each of the essays or chapters is written to conform to the norms for submission and publication in research journals in economics or related social sciences.
PhD proposals must be held, reviewed and approved within one year of entry into the Dissertation Phase, which is normally by the end of the third year. Students must also complete the proposal review within two years of finishing their coursework. Students who have not completed the proposal review within one year of passing their field exam must submit a status report and timetable for their proposal for approval by their dissertation advisor and the Graduate Chair. Students who have not completed the proposal review within two years of finishing their coursework, and who do not have an extension granted by the university, will not be eligible to continue in the program.
Students must complete their dissertation defense within five years of finishing their coursework. Postponing the proposal review does not alter this requirement.
Each student will have a dissertation committee chaired by a faculty member affiliated with the economics department, and at least two other faculty members (at most one of whom may be from outside of the economics department or the university). The dissertation committee chairperson should be identified within the first year of the Dissertation phase, and the entire committee should be identified before the proposal review and defense.
B. Proposal Format
A PhD dissertation proposal is a written document between 20 and 30 pages, written in 11-point font, double-spaced, with 1-inch margins. It should describe and motivate the research questions, explain their relationship and importance to the literature, outline the content of the dissertation (model, data sources, specific hypotheses, econometric issues, etc.), and indicate the contributions the research is expected to provide.
The student’s dissertation chair (primary advisor) must confirm to the PhD Graduate Program Director that the proposal is ready for a review and defense. Announcement of the Proposal Review must be made by the economics department at least one week in advance of the scheduled proposal review. The announcement must be accompanied by a copy of the dissertation proposal and the names of the dissertation committee members.
The department recommends that all materials be given to the Graduate Administrative Coordinator 10 days before the proposal in order that we can check that the proposal is in the correct format and make the formal announcement seven days in advance.
C. Proposal Defense (or Review)
The Proposal Review is attended (in person or remotely) by all of the members of the student’s dissertation committee as well as any other interested faculty and students. The event is a presentation and evaluation of the student’s proposal, not a seminar. It is intended to elicit comments and suggestions, provide an agenda for the student, and ultimately to decide on its acceptability. The decision on the acceptability of the proposal is made jointly by the members of the student’s dissertation committee. If the proposal is accepted, all members of the student’s dissertation committee will sign a Proposal Approval Form. If it is accepted with revisions, those revisions should be noted on the form. Upon successful completion of the Proposal Review, students will become dissertation candidates. Candidacy makes students eligible for higher stipends and is an essential step in making satisfactory progress in the PhD program.
The student is expected to follow the agreed-upon proposal in writing the PhD dissertation. Where unforeseen circumstances require substantial modifications, the student should get the approval from all of the dissertation committee members. The student is normally expected to present the proposal in its various stages at least once per year in either one of the department’s field workshops, as a department seminar, or at a research conference.
The PhD dissertation may include essays (or chapter) co-authored with other students or faculty, but at least one essay (or chapter) must be authored solely by the student. Ideally, the lead essay (the “job market paper”) should be sole authored.
6. PhD Student Feedback & Evaluation
The program will evaluate students annually. Evaluations are based on course grades, teaching and research assistantships, exams, dissertation progress, and feedback from the student’s academic advisor, the student’s dissertation committee, and the PhD program director.
Students who don’t meet program requirements in a timely manner will have their status changed to unsatisfactory. This includes not passing qualifying exams or field exams, not maintaining a 3.5 grade point average, not receiving B grades in their four field courses, and not fulfilling their teaching or their research assistant responsibilities. Unsatisfactory status is not permanent. That is, there are no long run consequences of unsatisfactory status as long as students return to satisfactory status.
In some cases, students will be asked to leave the program. This could be for a variety of academic and non-academic reasons. Most notably, students who fail to pass qualifying exams (or field exams if applicable) after being given the opportunity to retake the exams and the opportunity to appeal, will be asked to leave the program. In most other cases, a student is put on probation and notified that they are at risk of termination before being asked to leave the program. Probation status and termination decisions are determined by the graduate curriculum committee (which includes the PhD program director and the department chair) and are subject to review by the college. All department feedback and evaluation decisions may be appealed to the graduate curriculum committee. In addition, PhD students may appeal any academic decision. More information about the university appeals process is available at http://catalog.northeastern.edu/graduate/academic-policies-procedures/appeals/
updated April 2021
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