Wednesday, July 18, 2018

From Senior Thesis to Publication

One of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of my job at Haverford College is advising senior theses. At Haverford, every student in every major writes a senior thesis (or equivalent capstone project). I co-teach the senior thesis course in the fall with two or three colleagues, and advise thesis writers in the spring. In the fall, students work on choosing a topic and research question, conducting a literature review, and developing a research proposal. In the spring, they work one-on-one with an advisor to see the proposal through.

Every completed thesis is an achievement, and we celebrate all of our seniors with a champagne reception on the due date. But today, for the first time, one of my advisee's theses has successfully made its way through the peer review process and is published!

Samantha Wetzel, Haverford College class of 2018, excelled both as an economics student and on the basketball team. We published "The FOMC versus the staff, revisited: When do policymakers add value?" in Economics Letters. (This link should provide temporary free access to the published version; here is the SSRN working paper version.)

The thesis, and this letter based on it, follow up on Romer and Romer's (2008) similarly-titled paper. Here is the abstract:
The Board of Governors staff and the Federal Open Market Committee both publish macroeconomic forecasts. Romer and Romer (2008) show that policymakers' attempts to add information to the staff forecasts are counterproductive. In more recent years, however, policymakers have improved upon staff forecasts. We show that policymakers' value-added is greater when economic conditions are unfavorable or uncertain.
For other undergraduate researchers hoping to write a successful, potentially publishable thesis, I have a few bits of advice based on this advising experience. First, start early if possible. Samantha came up with her thesis topic during junior year, when she read Romer and Romer (2008) in my course on the Federal Reserve.

Second, ask a well-defined question. This may be the hardest part. Your thesis (like Sam's) will probably be much longer than the 2000 word limit of Economics Letters, with a longer literature review and more robustness checks etc., but you should be able to easily explain what you asked, what you found, and how you found it in a few pages. Your thesis is far more likely to be successful if you have a primary hypothesis that you can precisely state. (Even if you think you can state it, write it down to be sure!)

Third, come up with a plan so that you can make progress each week-- use your advisor to help you decide on a timeline for key goals and to hold you accountable. For student athletes like Samantha, this means thinking in advance about when key games and travel will be, and planning accordingly.