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Robert Vega, Director FAC 18 / 2304 Whitis Ave. Stop G6200 78712-1508 • 512-471-7900

Graduate Student Profiles - Economics

Eva Dardati – Environmental Economics and Industrial Organization
Timur Hulagu – Monetary Economics
Noah Kaufman – Environmental and Natural Resource Economics
Kyle Kretschman- Applied Microeconomics
Tess Stafford – Environmental and Natural Resource Economics
Jeff Thurk - Intellectual Property Rights

Kyle Kretschman

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Economics in Applied Microeconomics, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation Topic: The Application of New Econometric Methods to Public Policy Issues

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Economics, University of Pittsburgh - Pittsburgh, PA

What is graduate student life like?
For me, graduate school is quite different from undergrad. A normal day in undergrad usually entailed about 4 hours of schoolwork and the rest of my day was spent working at a bar/restaurant or working on my social life. I didn’t exercise or do many outdoor activities in beautiful Pittsburgh. The majority of my time was filled with fraternity activities or exploring different parts of the Burgh. Undergrad was the first opportunity to live in an urban city and I was never bored. Therefore, I never felt the need to challenge myself academically. The material in undergrad came very easily to me and I did not have to do extra work ouside of attending classes and completing assignments. Basically, school was a part-time job.

What is a day in the life of a graduate student like?
Now, school is a full-time job that demands numerous overtime hours. A typical day during the semester entails waking up around 7 A.M. and biking to my office by 8:15. I will spend the morning either in class or grading homework and exams. I normally take an extended lunch break to workout or play basketball with the other guys in my office. My afternoons are split between holding office hours and either working on assignments or my own research. During busy weeks, I eat dinner in my office and work until about 9:30 at night. This type of “typical” day happens six days a week during the semester. Even though it might sound like a lot of work, I love what I am doing so I do not mind the long hours.

What makes a graduate program more difficult than an undergraduate program?
There are two main differences between grad school and undergrad:

  1. While the material is harder, the amount of material you must learn and completely comprehend is exponentially greater. There were many times when I left a lecture and had completely forgotten what was presented at the beginning of the lecture. Also, I was lacking a really strong background in mathematics and had a lot of catching up to do.
  2. Just because you get accepted into the Ph.D. program does not guarantee you will earn your Ph.D. Grad school is competitive. In fact, only about a third of the students who initially enroll in the program will graduate with a Ph.D. In my program, not only are there first year qualifying exams and a second year paper that must be passed to continue, but there are a lot people who just decide that a Ph.D is not right for them. For these reasons, I to had dedicate countless hours the first couple of years to determine if I wanted a Ph.D. and then prove that I was capable and dedicated enough to earn it.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
The coolest thing about my program is the freedom that it provides. I mentioned a typical day during the semester, however there is no such thing as a typical day during the summer or vacation months. After my first year, I took 2 months off from school and just lived in Austin with no responsibilities. Last summer I interned for the Office of Management and Budget in Washington, D.C. This summer, I am not taking any classes but am working on my own research and do not have any sort of set schedule. I really enjoy this kind of personal freedom not often available to many people. My program also provides a lot of academic freedom to research any economics topic that you choose. My current research focuses on how expenditures by Congressional election candidates can not only sway voters, but also how they can attract a greater number of people to vote. My next project will be studying a college grant program in Pennsylvania that is designed to increase the number of Pennsylvanian workers in technological industries. Economics is one the few, if not only, graduate programs that allows me to do research on an array of different topics.

What recommendations would you give a student who is researching economics programs?
My best advise for comparing grad schools and choosing your program: look at the jobs that the recent graduates from that program obtained. We call these placements. The recent placements by the department should be a big factor when deciding on a school. While rankings can help guide you, it is better to see if your interests match well with their placements. After all, you are going to grad school to get a job that you will enjoy. Also, make sure you get a really good idea of the requirements and the material you will be studying. Before I started my program, I had no idea just how important math theory and proofs are to the first year economics courses. This left me a little unprepared and I had to do a lot of independent work to catch up. Basically, find the program that is the best fit for you to get the job that you want and go for it.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
After undergrad at the University of Pittsburgh, I came straight to grad school and have now been in school for 21 consecutive years. With any luck, I hope to become a college professor when I finish my Ph.D. and then will never have to leave the academic lifestyle.

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Jeff Thurk

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Economics, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation Topic: Intellectual property rights and their effects on firm innovation

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Economics, Carleton College – Northfield, MN

What can you tell me about life as a graduate student?
Life as a graduate student is, well, complicated. Those outside academia tend to be nostalgic about school life. They remember all the fun things they did as an undergraduate and assume grad school is much of the same. In actuality, graduate school is not very different than having a “real world” job. You'll work hard and be challenged every day. Before grad school, I worked as a management consultant and I can honestly say that I work as hard now as I did as a consultant. The difference, of course, is that I get to choose what I work on and where I spend my time. For me that's a great thing – I get to work on projects I find interesting. When things get stressful and deadlines loom, however, I have no one to blame but myself!

How about graduate school activities, what is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
I typically get into the office around 8 am and leave around 6 pm, with an hour or two of work at home each night. I try to take Saturdays off and Sunday is usually a half-day. My dissertation is math and computation heavy, so I spend a lot of time programming (ie, I'm at my desk a lot). It may seem weird, but I can become so totally engrossed in what I'm working on that occasionally I'll go an entire day without having a real conversation with somebody. For that reason, my day usually flies by.

What would you consider the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
Ambiguity. Earning a PhD requires a lot of work, patience, and determination. Whereas as an undergrad, the course plan is more or less laid out for you, writing your dissertation is completely up to you. Sure, professors are there to help you along the way, but they're busy people. Success requires a self-driven and motivated demeanor.

Is there anything you know now, and wish you knew then?
Math, math, and more math. Having a strong math background is essential in economics.

What are your top tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Again, take a lot of math as an undergrad, especially Real Analysis.
  2. Have an idea of what you're interested in pursuing with your degree. You're going to spend a lot of time and effort working towards your degree, so it's important that you have a goal in mind when stress levels are high.
  3. Take a break. I worked for a couple years after undergrad. Those experiences solidified my desire to pursue a PhD, as well as instilled valuable work and inter-personal skills. I think it's important to understand how the real world works.
  4. Don't take yourself too seriously. I think grad school is designed to make you feel stupid at least once every day. Learn from your mistakes and deficiencies.

What is the most important piece of advice for a prospective grad student?
Be humble. You probably did well as an undergrad, but graduate school is a different ball game. First off, the people around you will be as intelligent and accomplished as you, if not more. It may be difficult to not be the smartest person in the room. Second, you're going to be bombarded with material, concepts, and tools. I liken it to drinking from a firehouse. Success is dependent upon you facing your weaknesses and actively working to address them. When you miss a question on a test or problem set, really take the time to understand why you missed it. When someone critiques your paper, make sure you address their concerns. Above all, don't pretend that you understand something when you really don't.

Eva Dardati

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Economics – Environmental Economics and Industrial Organization, The University of Texas at Austin (May 2009);Dissertation: “Environmental Regulation and Firm Dynamics”

Undergraduate Degree: Economics, University of Buenos Aires – Argentina

What is grad school life like?
In general, we have a lot of freedom with our time in the economics department. That is, professors are not always checking in on what we are doing, or not doing. Given that, sometimes it is difficult to sit and work the whole day so for me it is important to have a routine and stick with that. During the week, I usually wake up between 7:30-8, go to my office, work there until 6-7. I go to a couple of seminars a week. Besides work, I try to go to the gym a couple of times a week. I do yoga. I try to take off one day of the weekend (the brain also needs to rest!) and usually I work a half day the other day of the weekend. Of course, it depends on my schedule. If I have an upcoming presentation I don’t take days off! But in general, I leave some time for going out or doing some social activities. I really need it, in particular after a long day of hard work.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
We have a lot of freedom to choose what we want to work on. In economics, we have to find our own research questions, which can be really difficult sometimes but it also allows you to be creative and do what you most enjoy.

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
I am in candidacy, which means that I spend all my time working on my dissertation.

Can you tell us a bit more about your dissertation?
The title of my dissertation is “Environmental Regulation and Firm Dynamics.” The focus is on cap and trade programs. In particular, I use the experience of the Acid Rain Program in the US which implemented a cap and trade system to control sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants. My research question is about the free allocation of permits and how they influence the firm dynamics (investment, exit and entry). I find that firms with more free permits are less likely to invest in new equipment. Since they have free permits they prefer to keep the old equipment to get the permits rather than invest in a new one and lose their right to get free allowances. Of course, this has adverse consequences for welfare. I use this fact to give advice about the optimal design of cap and trade programs.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I currently have a TA position but I have also had an AI role. As a TA you are expect to hold office hours, grade homework and exams but there’s a lot of heterogeneity depending on the professor you work with. In the past, I have also done review sessions, or prepare homework and exams. If you are an AI, you are in charge of your own class. That implies doing everything! (preparing the lectures, the exams, the homework, etc, that is a lot of work but it is also a great experience!).

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
During the first couple of years of grad school you have to take classes and exams, which makes it more similar to the undergrad experience. It is much harder though! You have to spend the WHOLE day studying, solving problem sets, and you have an infinite amount of work. Once you start to work on the dissertation, being a grad student is completely different. It is more like a job. You spend the whole time doing research and working toward your dissertation. And the outcome of that will determine the type of job you get in the future, so you work with much more responsibility.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
Being a grad student is learning how to do research. You should really consider whether or not you like that.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Check the placement stats in the department to see where alumni start careers.
  2. Research the faculty. Do you like what they do? Would you like to do something similar?
  3. Consider where you see yourself in the future. What would you like to do? Where you like to be? Would a PhD be useful for that?

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I did some research work when I was an undergrad. I would completely recommend research because it gives you some idea of what grad school will be like.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your next choice?
Rice University and Arizona State University

Do you have a “grad school survival tip” you would like to share?
Begin a grad student is not only a job but it is also a life experience. You have to be humble. You regularly get frustrated (you don’t get results, results are not as you expected, you get stuck in the mode, etc) so you have to learn to be persistent and patient. 

Noah Kaufman

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Economics, The University of Texas at Austin; Research Interest: Clean Energy and the Various Impacts of Climate Change

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Economics, Duke University – Durham, NC

What is grad school life like?
It really depends on the student. Some treat it like an extension of the undergraduate experience, working when they have to but not letting it take over their life. Many of these students don’t make it past the first couple years in the program because they can’t keep up with the workload, but others do just fine relying on their intelligence alone (befriend these types because they are fun to have a beer with, and resist the urge to strangle them when they do better than you on tests). Other students seemingly do nothing but work. It depends on what type of person you are, what your goals are, and how prepared you are for the program. Personally, I found that for the first year or so I had to work extremely hard, and as I have become more comfortable with the material, I’ve been able to enjoy a more humane work/life balance.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
I make sure every day is a little different. Some days I work from home, other days I go to my office, and still others a coffee shop – most days I jump around from place to place. In general, I try to wake up between 7 and 8, and then start working or heading to campus around 9. I take a break at some point in the day to play basketball or go for a run. Nights are totally dependent on my schedule – if I don’t have plans or a football game to watch, I work some more.

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
I worked in finance before graduate school, and spent 50-80 hours per week behind a desk in cubicles and offices. The best part about graduate school by far is the freedom it offers. The requirements can all be accomplished on your own time. If you feel like working in a coffee shop instead of your office in the economics department, you can. If you feel like playing basketball in the middle of the day or taking the day off and going to Houston for dinner, you can. This type of freedom does not exist in the real world. People who prefer or need a more regimented schedule sometimes find it difficult to adjust to this freedom. I am not one of these people.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
Specifically, my research has focused on clean energy and the various impacts of climate change, in terms of the methods and magnitude of prevention efforts.

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
In spring 2009 I earned my MA and I am now in the third year of the program en route to the PhD. The first year consists almost exclusively of coursework, with lots of readings, exams and problem sets – not all that different from the format of undergrad classes. If you’re like me, you may at first be underprepared and overwhelmed by the intensive math and statistics required in these classes, so you spend most of the first year feeling like you’re behind the program. Fortunately, a year is a long time. The second year is a transition between coursework and research. You take more specialized courses in the fields in which you are most interested. These courses are a little less intensive than the first year, and you have a much better idea of how to succeed in a graduate level class. This gives you some time to begin conducting your own research. Starting with the third year, you can still take classes, but the focus is mainly on research and writing from this point on.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I’ve been a TA every semester I’ve been here (this spring will be my 6th TA-ship). The work is mostly tedious tasks that the professors don’t have the time (or inclination) for, such as grading problem sets and exams. I hold office hours for 2-4 hours per week; they are generally very quiet in the beginning of the semester and very hectic at the end of the semester and before exams. Nobody goes to graduate school in order to fulfill the dream of becoming a TA – but the work is important, and it’s how the funding for graduate students is justified (Ph.D. students don’t pay tuition and receive a small stipend). Not to mention, the opportunity to teach review sessions and answer questions in office hours can be valuable experiences for graduate students who hope to one day become professors.

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
The biggest difference for me is the goal of the experience. As an undergrad I mainly tried to have fun and get good grades, hoping the grades would get me a decent job after college and convince my parents to continue to subsidize the fun I was having. In graduate school my goals are to become an expert in economics and begin a career as an economist. Two important notes on the difference: 1) the disappearance of the word “fun” from the graduate school description; 2) there is no such thing as being “done” with graduate school work like there is with undergraduate work. There is always more to learn, and to be successful, you need to learn the material even though you don’t have to. That’s why it’s important to be passionate about whatever you choose to study.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I wish I knew that what I learned in undergraduate classes was far less important than the experiences I had and the relationships I built. In two different jobs and in graduate school, I’ve found that specific knowledge isn’t expected at the outset – what is far more important is intelligence, responsibility and a positive attitude. For that reason, as an undergrad I should have worried less about the details and more about my big picture development as a student and as a person.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Talk to as many people in the program as possible. Just send us an email. We like the attention.
  2. Don’t go to graduate school in economics if your goal is to avoid getting a job in the real world. There’s a good chance you won’t make it through the program if you are not excited to learn the material or to become an economist. Not to mention, the workload is at least as intensive as any 9 to 5 job you will find.
  3. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you won’t succeed in any graduate school program because of a lack of previous experience with the subject. These programs are very, very, very long – there is plenty of time to catch up from any starting point.

What is one an interesting website you would tell a friend interested in economics to check out? is a great place to find practical, interesting and amusing examples of economics in our society.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Graduates of the economics program find jobs in academia, the private sector, or the public sector. I hope to find a job that gives me the opportunity to utilize the tools I’ve gained in grad school. I could see myself as a consultant, working for the government or becoming a professor. The more I get to travel the world, the better.

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Timur Hulagu

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Economics (December 2009), The University of Texas at Austin;Dissertation Topic: “Essays on Monetary Economics”

Other Degrees: M.S. & Undergraduate Degree, Statistics, Middle East Technical University – Ankara, Turkey

What was grad school life like?
Finishing the graduate studies is a huge relief, I must say. The PhD program in economics is extremely demanding, especially in the first and last years. The first year is the most stressful stage because you can fail to continue the program unless you succeed the comprehensive exams at the end of the first year. You have to understand the core of macro and micro classes and need to have a high level of analytical skills to be able to pass these exams. The final year, on the other hand, is the one in which you complete your own research and this research will get you a good job if you do it well. The final period of your graduate school life will not be easy; you will start to think about details of your research every minute. No matter what you are doing; walking, eating, chatting with friends or even watching the Horns’ game, you think about your research. So, be well prepared. You will be more comfortable in your final year if you spent your previous years working hard. It is almost impossible to do decent research in the final year without giving enough effort after the comps.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
I must admit that I didn’t have a well programmed schedule for my days in school. All I could plan was to have 8 to 10 hours study time in any part of the day. Don’t think that you will be free after those hard working hours, you will be thinking about your research all the time. This is really the worst part of graduate school life. The achievement, on the other hand, is great. Once you are done, you will have one of the most honorable degrees which you will have the rest of your life. I think it will be worth all the pain.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My thesis title is “Essays on Monetary Economics.” Mainly, I analyzed the interaction between inflation and inequality in my research.

Did you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I had both TA and RA positions in different semesters to finance my studies. In my opinion, RA positions are better even though they are more demanding. You learn much more compared to a TA; assisting a professor in research teaches you a lot about the basics of conducting decent research. You have to proctor and grade exams if you are a TA, which are really time wasting activities. You may prefer a TA position in your final year because it is very hard to concentrate on your own research in RA positions. Either way, I think the professor whom you are assisting is very important and can turn your life to hell if you do not perform well. I was very lucky in this sense, all the professors I assisted were nice people (or I performed well enough that they didn’t show me their evil side ☺ ).

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
There are well prepared exam questions that you need to answer in your undergrad program. They all have an answer and you need to learn the way to get to that answer. Doing research in the graduate school, however, is different. You come up with your own question and this question might not have an answer. You can find yourself in an endless road and this can cost you precious time.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
If I were an undergrad now with this experience in my pocket, I would get more high-level math classes, especially real analysis. I also would take honors macro and micro classes.

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
I would have accepted Georgetown’s offer if I hadn’t accepted UT’s offer, but I am so happy to be a horn after all (Hook’em!). Georgetown is also a great school with many valuable professors but I loved my school and city so much that I would make the same choice today.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I am currently an employee of the Central Bank of Turkey as an economist and I can see myself participating deeply in the economic policy of the Turkish economy 10 years from now.

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Tess Stafford

Graduate Program: Ph.D., Economics, The University of Texas at Austin; Dissertation Topic: Essays on environmental and natural resource economics

Undergraduate Degree: B.A., Economics, Vassar College – Poughkeepsie, NY

What is grad school life like?
Early on in my grad school career, I had the mentality of a student. I thought of the summer and winter breaks as just that – breaks from work – and I did a lot of traveling. As the years progressed, my mentality changed and I began to think of grad school as a job, or really more of a business that I owned and ran. I think once this happens, you realize there are no breaks, only days and evenings that you decide to take off. So, while freedom and ownership are the benefits to grad school, they are also a huge responsibility. There is always more work to be done so it can be difficult to take time off with a clear conscience.

What is a typical day in the life of a grad student?
The daily routine definitely changes over time. As a first year grad student, I was on campus for 10 or so hours a day working with other first year students on problem sets and preparing for exams. It was a very social time for me. We ate out a lot. I think we were all a few pounds heavier then! This routine slowly started to change to more time working alone and, for me, less time on campus. Now, in my last year, I work entirely from home and rarely go to campus. I have a fancy desktop (thank you fellowship) that I can’t part with!

What is the coolest thing about your graduate program?
Independence. And I think this is true of most economics PhD programs. We have two years or so of course work and then you are on your own more or less to work on your research. This of course can be dangerous if you don’t stay focused since, in many cases, no one will be checking up on you!

Where are you in the PhD sequence?
I am currently in candidacy and working full time on my dissertation research.

Can you tell us a bit more about your current research interests?
My dissertation consists of several essays on environmental and natural resource economics, which touch on many aspects of applied microeconomics. My job market paper assesses the effect of indoor air quality in schools on student attendance rates and test scores. My second paper estimates the wage elasticity of labor supply using data from the Florida lobster fishery. My third paper examines the bias associated with ignoring the multi-species aspect of labor supply decisions in spatially explicit bioeconomic fishery models. And a final paper is a second-best general equilibrium analysis of pollution taxes and environmental quality.

Do you have teaching responsibilities in your department?
I am currently on a fellowship that pays my tuition as well as a generous stipend. Not only this, but the only requirement of the fellowship is for me to continue to work on my dissertation research. I highly recommend looking for fellowship opportunities while in grad school. The money is out there!

What would you consider to be the greatest difference from your time as an undergrad?
I work about 10 times harder now. Grad school is so much more demanding of your time.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you knew as an undergrad?
I wish that I had taken more math and econometrics. Even if you end up changing your mind and not going to graduate school, these classes will probably still be of use to you.

What are your top 3 tips for students interested in applying to a program like yours?

  1. Take more math and econometrics courses.
  2. Consider doing a one-year master’s program in economics (or math). My impression is that those students that entered the program with a master’s degree suffered much less than the rest of us. At the very least, many concepts that were covered the first year were familiar to them, which goes a long way. Also, I think having a master’s improves your chances of getting into better PhD programs to begin with. Of course, this means dedicating another year of your life to school, delaying the PhD, and these programs often cost a fair amount. But it’s something to consider.
  3. I would suggest applying to many schools. The marginal cost of applying to another school is fairly small, but doing so will increase your options. It can also be difficult for undergraduate professors that may be advising you to determine where they expect you to be admitted if they do not regularly send undergraduates to PhD programs every year. So, applying both high and low will help with that uncertainty. Also, being admitted to more programs improves your ability to negotiate with schools regarding funding.

Did you work on a research project as an undergrad? If so, what was it? Would you recommend research for undergrads?
I completed a senior thesis as an undergrad. In retrospect, it was not a very good paper, but it was a great experience and I really enjoyed it. I think undertaking a task like this early on will help you identify if you’re really interested in conducting original research. My topic was in American economic history and required reading through old census records. I found that I really enjoyed the investigation and creativity. And, if you’re lucky, it may even turn out to be a good paper!

If you wouldn’t have accepted the UT Austin offer, which school was your #2 choice?
My decision came down to UT Austin, University of Wisconsin at Madison, and UC Santa Barbara. It was a difficult choice, but I think I made the right one!

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself as a professor, involved in both research and teaching.

Do you have a ‘grad school survival tip’ you would like to share?
I don’t know if this classifies as a survival tip, but I strongly recommend attending and presenting at conferences as much as possible while in grad school for several reasons. First, it’s great practice. Being able to orally communicate your research is very important. Second, it gets your name and research out there, which can be very helpful when it comes to getting a job. And third, you’ll begin to meet the network of economists that you will be working with for the rest of your career. In the end, it really is a small group of people so get outside of your home institution and go and meet them!

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