Frequently Asked Questions
In most PhD programs, students get both a tuition waiver and a stipend. The size of the stipend varies by the PhD program and it may depend on qualifications. Some schools and departments admit students only with a full stipend. In addition, many PhD programs allow for students to earn additional income through research assistantships (RA) and teaching assistantships (TA). Such RA and TA activities are also important to acquire experience and develop necessary skills to then be successful both as a researcher and as an instructor.
The main intended goal from pursuing doctoral studies is to embrace research and eventually become a professor at an academic institution. The passion for research and discovery, and the knowledge of being able to have an impact on policies to make things better, is the main driver of researchers who embrace an academic career.
Many PhD students decide to become professors after they graduate, but not all do. Many PhD students may eventually prefer to go to work for a government organization, such as the Federal Reserve, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, or the Security Exchange Commission (SEC), to name a few. Others may prefer to go to the private sector, like consulting, investment banking, technology firms, and so on. Some others decide to go to work for non-profit organizations and put their skills to use to help others.
This chart shows the percentage of doctoral graduates by type of occupation (U.S. job positions only). The data are from the NSF Survey of Doctorate Recipients of 2017:
Many people with a PhD go on to a faculty role. This chart reports the distribution of faculty salaries in business schools as reported by AACSB:
The next chart instead shows median salaries across different types of occupations reported by the NSF Survey of Doctorate Recipients of 2017 across various disciplines (Computer Sciences, Mathematics and Statistics, Social Sciences and, as part of the Social Sciences, Economics):
A pre-doc isn't a prerequisite to being admitted to a PhD program, but there are several reasons why you might want to do a pre-doc anyway. Pre-docs are great choices for people who aren't sure whether they want to do a PhD, or who are sure, but need a little more experience to be competitive. In the PhD application process, they offer a similar credential as a master's degree, but a pre-doc is a paid job, compared to a master's degree you would have to pay tuition for. A successful application to a PhD program depends on many parameters, ranging from strong grades, to a convincing statement of purpose, to strong reference letters, to the convincing display of creativity in research from, e.g., a research sample. While a pre-doc is one way to strengthen your application, there are many other ways to prepare, as well.
Many pre-docs, as the name implies, go on to doctoral programs in economics, business, and other quantitative social sciences. Some go on to careers in policy research (e.g., at the Federal Reserve System) or industry. For more specific outcomes, check an individual program's website. PREDOC consortium members who have predoctoral programs have agreed to track their outcomes and share as they are able.
The application process varies among different institutions. Very generally, they tend to follow the pattern of an initial expression of interest (submitting application materials like your CV), collecting a sample of work (either a data task or something you have already put together), and finally an interview with the professor.
Predoctoral positions are available throughout the year, and start dates vary by sponsoring institution. Broadly speaking, however, many institutions hire in the fall, with start dates in the subsequent summer. There also tends to be a smaller recruiting season in late winter/early spring, again with start dates typically in the subsequent summer. Typically, candidates must have at least a Bachelor's degree by their start date, but do not need a Bachelor's degree in hand in order to apply (i.e., many candidates apply while in the final year of their undergraduate programs).
Not at all! In fact, many institutions are explicitly trying to recruit more candidates from fields outside of business and economics. There is a strong belief that a diversity of academic backgrounds can only improve the research environments at our respective institutions.
There is no set list of prerequisite coursework for predoctoral positions. Faculty research varies so widely that it is difficult to provide specific guidance. That said, having a strong background in quantitative analysis and statistics is always useful, and core competence in at least one statistical software program like R, Python, or STATA is broadly useful. For more specific recommendations, ask faculty in the field you are interested in. The requirements for specific positions are stated in the job postings. You can also learn more here.
A CV is intended to be a broad document which includes all your professional accomplishments. It is helpful if you can highlight items that are of particular relevance to predoc positions, including your degrees (including those in progress), relevant coursework, past RA experience, and any coding languages you are proficient in, as well as you level of proficiency.
Your cover letter is your opportunity to give more context to items that appear in your CV. Be sure to talk about your interest in the specific program you are applying for. It's especially worth highlighting past RA experience, independent research, and significant coding projects or field work. If you earned your degree outside the US, you might want to give some added context to your transcript. Cover letters are generally about a page long.
This varies by program, so be sure to check with each institution you are interested in to see if they are able to support a visa.
First, read the application's requirements to be sure you are meeting any specific criteria, such as a preferred language or submission format. Generally speaking, choose a substantive project you are proud of, and be sure the code is well commented and neat. One of the most important things your code will be judged on is whether other members of a team could pick your code up and use it easily.
Pre-doc experiences vary from institution to institution, but there are some common themes. Pre-docs are full-time jobs, so you should expect to work around 40 hours a week. As with any job, there will be longer hours close to important deadlines, as well as more relaxed periods. While the main job of any pre-doc is to support the research of their supervisor (referred to as their Principal Investigator, or PI), most pre-doc employers also encourage their pre-docs to take advantage of their intellectual environment by taking classes and attending workshops and seminars. A pre-doc's PI is their mentor as much as their supervisor, and PIs regularly advise their pre-docs not just on the work a pre-doc is doing for them, but also on PhD applications and other steps pre-docs take to advance in their careers.
When you are deciding whether to accept an offer to work as a predoc, there are several things to consider. Some of this information may come from whoever is making you an offer, but you may also want to ask if you can speak to current predocs at that institution, ideally those working for the professor or group making the offer.
- Are you working in a lab or directly for an individual professor? Labs tend to be more structured and involve work with other predocs, graduate students, postdocs, and other researchers. Working directly for a professor can mean more breadth of projects and more one-on-one time with the professor.
- How aligned are your research interests with the job being offered? Perfect alignment isn't necessary--indeed, one of the benefits of doing a predoc is to experience other subfields. But there should be some affinity with your interests.
- What opportunities are there to take courses, attend seminars, and pursue your own skills development?
- How many other pre-docs are there at the institution? Is the culture among the pre-docs collaborative? Ask if you can talk to any current pre-docs in the program to find out.