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Empirical Economics Research Proposal

Nathan D. Grawe, Carleton College
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This material was originally developed as part of the Carleton College Teaching Activity Collection
through its collaboration with the SERC Pedagogic Service.

Summary

Most of the traditional undergraduate curriculum engages students as consumers of empirical research. But in the senior year, many programs invite students to become producers of novel work. Many students find this transition difficult because the skill set required to be a critical reader are insufficient for being an effective researcher. In particular, as researchers students must learn how to generate interesting questions with clear connections to theory; where to find relevant data to answer the posed question; how to shrewdly revise the research question in light of data availability; and how to situate the original work within an existing literature. This assignment gives sophomores and juniors a chance to practice these skills in the context of a 5-page research proposal.

Learning Goals

In completing this assignment, each student should:

Context for Use

This assignment is designed for a field course taught after introductory economics, but before the intermediate theory sequence. The assignment presented here is designed for industrial organization, but I have taught the same assignment in Labor economics and it could easily be recast for other courses.

I have used it in classes of 25 students, though it could easily work in larger classes.

Description and Teaching Materials

I hand out the attached assignment at the beginning of a 10-week term. In the first two weeks, we meet with a reference librarian to talk about finding articles in the primary literature and common datasets. In the third week, I ask students to see me to discuss their topic to ensure they are heading in a reasonable direction. The assignment is due on the last day of the term.

Materials:
Examples of the material discussed with the reference librarian can be found here:

Assignment handout (Microsoft Word 35kB Mar31 09)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Assessment

Ultimately, I grade holistically. But to help me provide students with feedback and to guide my grading, I give "plus, check, minus" scores to each of eight categories:

The economics
The writing

References and Resources