Thursday, August 6, 2015

Macroeconomics Research at Liberal Arts Colleges

I spent the last two days at the 11th annual Workshop on Macroeconomics Research at Liberal Arts Colleges at Union College. The workshop reflects the growing emphasis that liberal arts colleges place on faculty research. There were four two-hour sessions of research presentations--international, banking, information and expectations, and theory--in addition to breakout sessions on pedagogy. I presented my research in the information and expectations session.

I definitely recommend this workshop to other liberal arts macro professors. The end of summer timing was great. I got to think about how to prioritize my research goals before the semester starts and to hear advice on teaching and course planning from a lot of really passionate teachers. It was very encouraging to witness how many liberal arts college professors at all stages of their careers have maintained very active research agendas while also continually improving in their roles as teachers and advisors.

After dinner on the first day of the workshop, there was a panel discussion about publishing with undergraduates. I also attended a pedagogy session on advising undergraduate research. Many of the liberal arts colleges represented at the workshop have some form of a senior thesis requirement. A big part of the discussion was how to balance the emphasis on "product vs. process" for undergraduate research. In other words, how active of a role should a faculty member take in trying to ensure a high-quality final product of a senior thesis project versus ensuring that different learning goals are met. What should those learning goals be? Some possibilities include helping students decide if they want to go to grad school, teach independence, writing skills, econometric techniques, the ability to for an economic argument. And relatedly, how should grades or honors designations reflect the final product and the learning goals that are emphasized?

We also discussed the relative merits of helping students publish their research, either in an undergraduate journal or a professional journal. There was a lot of lack of clarity about how it affects an assistant professor's tenure case if they have very low-ranked publications with undergraduate coauthors, and a general desire for more explicit guidelines about whether that is considered a valuable contribution.

These discussions of research by or with undergraduates left me really curious to hear about others' experiences doing or supervising undergraduate research. I'd be very happy to feature some examples of research with or by undergraduates as guest posts. Send me an email if you're interested.

At least two other conference participants have blogs, and they are definitely worth checking out. Joseph Joyce of Wellesley blogs about international finance at "Capital Ebbs and Flows." Bill Craighead of Wesleyan blogs at "Twenty-Cent Paradigms." Both have recent thoughtful commentary on Greece.


  1. Thanks Carola! I definitely second your endorsement of the workshop. Maintaining a strong research agenda while working at an institution with serious teaching expectations isn't easy, so I'm always impressed to see the interesting and high-quality work our liberal arts colleagues are doing.

    It was nice meeting you and best of luck with your first semester at Haverford!

  2. Sounds like it was an interesting workshop. My two cents on research with undergrads. I think the ones that are really interested, can learn quite bit and end up writing good undergrad-level papers. Now publishing those in econ journals is a different story. The papers would have to compete with those written by PhDs with much more extensive tool sets. In my experience, very few if any undergrad papers will end up being published. So an AP should not be worried about having too many papers co-authored with undergrads in low ranked journals. An AP can always ask to just be thanked for guidance in the acknowledgments rather than be a co-author.

    So the best outlet for these undergrad theses we have found is a yearly Undergrad Research Conference internal at the university. And a journal which is like the proceedings. I think that is optimal for students.

    Best of luck!

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