Documentation:Economics Info Session: Making the Most of your Economics Degree

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Economics
Documentation
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Making the Most of
Your Economics Degree
This info session is designed to help incoming Economics students plan the 3rd and 4th years of their degree.
Key Info
  • Date: July 2, 2020
  • Session Facilitator: Jonathan Graves



Part 1: The Big Picture

The biggest strength of a Bachelor of Arts degree (BA) is its flexibility, but this can also be its biggest weakness. A BA gives you a great deal of control over what courses you take and in what order. A key goal of your last two years should be to create a degree focus for yourself: this is like a statement or narrative which summarizes your degree. You’ve already taken the first step by declaring a major in economics; you now need to build on this decision by selecting courses and other specializations to make your BA your own.

Activity 1: Motivation

In order to do this, it’s important for you to articulate why you chose economics as a major. The reasons might be philosophical, or they might be very practical. However, they should take some thinking – try to go beyond the superficial to really identify why you chose economics, and UBC in general. Some questions which can help with this process are:

  • Who or what inspires you?
  • Who do you view as a model for yourself or your career?
  • How would the “best version” of yourself answer this question?
  • Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years?

You should think about this more as you continue learning and taking more courses. For now, you want to write down your motivation as a simple, affirmative statement about why you chose economics. For example:

“I chose economics because I want an interesting, well-paying job, and I want to make financial systems more fair for everyone in the economy”

Or

“I chose economics because I love data and math, and was really inspired by my first year professor who showed me all the topics you could learn.”

There’s no right or wrong answer to this question, as long as it is authentic to who you are, and what you value. Write this down somewhere as we continue working on this exercise.

Activity 2: Degree Vision

The next step is to envision how you can link your motivation to your degree. Thinking about your motivation for your decision, the next step is to imagine yourself in an interview after your graduation, where you’re asked to explain your degree. Again, try to write it down as a simple, affirmative statement about what you did in your degree. You might say something like:

“I did a Bachelor of Arts in Economics, focusing on…."

You’ll want to decide how to fill in the gaps. Some examples could be:

“I did a Bachelor of Arts in Economics, focusing on applied macroeconomics, especially economic development and the study of developing countries”

Or

“I did a combined Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Political Science, where I focused on political institutions and their impact on the economy of a country”

Or

“I did a Bachelor of Arts in Economics, with a minor in geography, focusing on applied data analysis and econometrics, especially including spatial models.”

The key here is not the degree but what you learned as part of your degree. You can craft this by choosing courses, both in economics and elsewhere, in a thoughtful and purposeful way.

Once you’d identified your motivation (your starting point) and your goal (your finishing point), the next task is to start filling in the gaps with courses that will take you towards your goal.

Part 2: Core Courses

Every Economics degree will, in its last two years will take five “core” courses:

  • ECON 301: Intermediate Microeconomic Analysis I
  • ECON 302: Intermediate Macroeconomic Analysis I
  • ECON 325: Introduction to Empirical Economics
  • ECON 326: Methods of Empirical Research in Economics
  • ECON 490: Seminar in Applied Economics

Many students will also want to take a (optional) sixth "core" course; this may be required for specific programs (e.g. combined majors; see below and the calendar):

  • ECON 303: Intermediate Microeconomic Analysis II

These courses are required in order to graduate; there are some equivalencies, but everyone must meet these requirements one way or another. The third year is where most of this hard work is done; we refer to this sequence as “micro, macro, and ‘metrics.” We will return to ECON 490 later in this document.

Many students, upon entering the Economics major, erroneously assume that things will suddenly get a lot easier after all the grade pressures of 2nd year. This is not true; while the grade pressure will let up a little bit, the difficulty ramps up dramatically. To be clear: most students find the core sequence very challenging. This is partially because of the mathematical sophistication, but also just the overall complexity; more math will help, but it won’t fix everything.

As a student, you should thoughtfully prepare for this sequence by planning your degree around the challenge posed by the core courses. To this end we have several suggestions to manage your workload in third year:

  1. First, complete all of your third-year core courses during third year. Resist the urge to push courses into the fall of your fourth year; this will hinder your ability to take electives, and make your last semesters very challenging. Also, avoid taking any of the core sequence in the summer; the compressed timelines of the summer semester hinder learning retention and lead to worse outcomes.
  2. Second, take complementary courses when possible – that is, try to manage the amount you are learning. Take similar courses, or courses which complement each other in some way. You know your learning best, so plan accordingly:
    • Example 1: you struggle with mathematics and can only focus on one math-intensive course a term. In that case, avoid math-intensive electives entirely during third year and focus only on the core courses. Take less-mathematical third year electives (e.g. they don’t have MATH 105 as a pre-req.) instead, and reserve other electives to year four.
    • Example 2: you learn best when courses are similar. In that case, take groups of classes each term, focusing on similar topics or methods. Maybe take a bunch of statistics or applied economics courses, or go deep in one specific sub-field.
  3. Third, seek help immediately when struggling. The core courses are called “core” because nearly every senior course builds off them. You cannot just barely pass them, then succeed later on – you really need to know the material. This is especially true in ECON 325/326, which you may not have any exposure to before. Don’t let them get away from you, and reach out for additional support if you’re struggling.

Specific Requirements for Combined Majors

Combined majors sometimes have additional Economics requirements, as well as requirements from the combined department; they may also relax requirements for the number of Economics-specific electives. You should check these carefully using the calendar. Some specifics for Economics courses are listed here:

  • Combined Major Economics - Philosophy: strongly recommend ECON 319 and 318
  • Combined BA Major Economics - Statistics: required to take ECON 303 and ECON 425
  • Combined Major Economics - Political Science: no specific additional ECON courses
  • Combined BA Major Economics - Mathematics: no specific additional ECON courses

Important: Provisional Offers in 2020

The recommendations above are particularly important for individuals who received provisional admission to the Economics majors in 2020 due to COVID-19 related disruptions and Cr/D/F grading. Students who have provisional admission must earn at least 68% in their economics courses in 2020W1 (Fall 2020) to order to continue in the major program.

Part 3: Capstone Courses

Every Economics degree has a “capstone” course (ECON 490 for BA, ECON 499 for Honours) which should be taken in either the fall or spring of your fourth year. The capstone is unique, in that every section has a different focus and covers different topics. However, the capstone always involves carrying out an applied economics research project, under the direction of an instructor, then writing a paper describing your research. They also involve some element of communication - usually a presentation, video recording, or poster session.

Many students are very worried before they take ECON 490, but they shouldn’t be – overwhelmingly, students describe the course as one of the most rewarding and valuable learning experiences. This is usually because they do not feel like the have adequate preparation, and are not confident in their applied skills (particularly econometrics). Accordingly, to get the most out of your capstone you need to plan ahead and prepare appropriately:

  1. First, make sure you have taken appropriate electives (see Part 4) before taking your capstone. Having exposure to economic research and especially more experience with different tools (like econometrics) will make your research project easier and more rewarding. One of the most valuable electives is ECON 425 (Introduction to Econometrics), if you have a background appropriate for it.
  2. Second, ensure you have the necessary technical skills. All sections of ECON 490 will use statistical software and econometrics, which you should be familiar with from ECON 325/326. Check that the section you’re interested is using software you’re familiar with; if you feel unprepared, reach out to the ECON 490 coordinator for information about help sessions. There is a TA for the course whose job early on is to help students with statistical software and econometrics.
  3. Third, choose an appropriate section of ECON 490, appropriate to your interests and skills. Some sections give you a lot of freedom (choose your own project) while others guide you much more (work on a certain dataset); some sections have community engaged learning projects, others have group work; some sections meet frequently, others meet less often. Look carefully at the outlines and syllabuses, and decide which project you think is best for you. If you’re not sure, email the instructor and explain your concerns, then ask for some advice.

A general rule of thumb is that in ECON 490, you get what you put into the course. If you challenge yourself and do something creative and sophisticated, you will get much more out of the course. There is a graduation prize (Erwin R. Diewert Award) for the best ECON 490 paper, and you should aspire to try for it! I tell my students in ECON 490 that the right way to think about this is that one day you will be in a job interview, and you will need to explain something interesting about your degree. This is a good way to point to something tangible which summarizes your skills and experiences in a meaningful way – so seize it!

Another common question is which term should you take ECON 490? This is a challenge, as there are pros and cons to either choice. In term 1, you will likely be “fresher” with more motivation; you will also have more chances to improve your paper for publication or competitions in the future. In term 2, you will have taken more electives, and will be more experienced overall. Generally, I recommend Term 1 for students who have a clear project idea in mind, and have been well-prepared in their previous years for the project. I think Term 2 is for people with more unclear projects, or who need more time to do their electives. If you think you have a really amazing project, do it in Term 1 so that you can compete for prizes like the Bank of Canada awards or the UBC MURC.

Again, the key take-away from this course should be your research project: a concise, “portfolio-ready” summary of your degree which you can use as evidence of what you’ve learned and the skills you’ve mastered. Focus on this key principle, and the rest will fall into place.

Part 4: Electives

Students frequently treat electives as an afterthought; a set of courses they need to do in order “check the boxes” and get enough credits to graduate. They end up taking the easiest ones they can find, or the ones their friends are taking, or the ones with less math, etc. This is a very bad idea. Electives are not ancillary to your degree – they are, in fact, the most important part. They are what makes your degree your own – they’re how you fill in the “…” in “I did a Bachelor of Arts in Economics, focusing on...” To be clear: choosing electives poorly makes your degree less valuable, less employable, and harder to obtain. Choosing electives properly makes your degree more valuable, more employable, and easier to obtain.

So, how should you choose electives? Return to your motivation in Part 1, then select electives which will build out your “story” or focus. These can be electives within economics, or outside – if you are doing a standard BA, you will need more credits than just the upper division electives in Economics in order to graduate. In Table 2, below you can see a list of all the electives for this year, including their “Fields” and whether you need MATH 105 (or equivalent) to take the course. In economics, the fields are usually described as in Table 1; these can be a useful way of identifying how to "package" your degree since fields have a lot of disciplinary and topical overlap.

Table 1: Economic fields for courses at UBC (2020)
Field Description
Public The study of public finance and policy, concerned with the regulation and operation of the economy, welfare, and government. Topics include taxation, benefits, public goods, health care, etc.
Philosophy The study of the philosophical background for economic thought, including historical development and contemporary issues. Topics include distribution, justice, and value.
Labour The study of the supply and demand for labour, and the interaction of these two forces in the economics. Topics include wages, discrimination, inequality, unemployment, and the job market.
Econometrics The study of how to apply statistical tools and models to economic situations, both theoretically and practically. Topics include causation, identification, machine learning, and statistics.
Theory The development of economic models, their mathematical properties, and their application to economic situations. Topics include game theory, dynamic programming, optimization, and choice theory.
History The study of history through an economic lens, use economic models and tools to analyze and describe history events or forces. Note: not the history of economics. Topics vary but could include colonization, economic development, religion, and war.
Development The study of economic development and the developing world, including both theoretically and in a historical perspective. Topics include economic growth, technological change, policy, and specific attention to historical examples (e.g. China).
Monetary The study of money, specifically including the role of banks and central banks, and their impact on the economic. Usually also includes a focus on policy. Topics include interest rate determination, recessions, optimal bank policy, stabilization, and financial crises.
Finance The study of the flow of money through the economy, usually include financial instruments, institutions, and their impact on the economy. Topics include asset pricing, financing, securitization, and stock markets.
Micro The study of individual agent decision making; microeconomics. Topics include consumption choices, political decision-making, industrial organization, utility theory, and markets.
Environment The study of the interaction of the economy with the environment, with a special emphasis on the impact of policies and government decision making. Topics include carbon pricing, externalities, renewable resources, and energy.
Macro The study of the economy as a whole; macroeconomics. Topics include GDP growth, inflation, financial systems, and government's role in the economy.
Trade The study of the economic motivations and consequences of trade; open-economy macro and microeconomics. Topics include comparative advantage, tariffs, trade deficits, technological diffusion, and conflict.


Table 2: Economic electives for courses at UBC (2020)
Course Subject Field I Field II Math?
ECON 317 Poverty and Inequality Public Labour No
ECON 318 History and Philosophy I Philosophy History No
ECON 319 History and Philosophy II Philosophy History No
ECON 323 Quantitative Economic Modeling (NEW for 2019) Econometrics Theory Yes
ECON 334 Economic History of Europe History Development No
ECON 335 Fertility, Families, and Human Migration Labour Development No
ECON 336 Economic History of Canada History Development No
ECON 339 Economics of Technological Change Development History No
ECON 345 Money and Banking Monetary Finance No
ECON 350 Public Finance Topics Public - No
ECON 351 Women in the Economy Labour Development No
ECON 355 International Trade Trade Macro No
ECON 356 International Finance Finance Macro No
ECON 360 Labour Economics Labour Public No
ECON 365 Topics in Industrial Organization Micro Labour No
ECON 367 Economic Analysis of Law Micro Public No
ECON 370 Cost-Benefit Analysis Micro Public No
ECON 371 Economics of the Environment Environment Public No
ECON 374 Land Economics Micro Public No
ECON 398 Introduction to Applied Economics (NEW for 2019) Econometrics Micro Maybe
ECON 407 Topics in Macroeconomics (NEW for 2020) Macroeconomics - Yes
ECON 420 Optimization and Economic Theory Theory - Yes
ECON 421 Introduction to Game Theory Micro Theory Yes
ECON 425 Introduction to Econometrics Econometrics Theory Yes
ECON 441 Economic Development Development History Yes
ECON 442 Issues in Economic Development Development History Yes
ECON 447 Monetary Theory Monetary Macro Yes
ECON 451 Public Expenditures Public Labour Yes
ECON 455 International Trade Trade Macro Yes
ECON 456 International Macroeconomics and Finance Macro Finance Yes
ECON 465 Market Structure Micro Theory Yes
ECON 466 Economics of Regulation Micro Public Yes
ECON 471 Economics of Non-renewables Environment Public Yes
ECON 472 Economics of Renewables Environment Public Yes
ECON 482 Consequences of Religion Development History Yes
ECON 485 Political Economy Micro Public Yes

You should try and identify a couple of courses which you think fit into your area of interest, then start trying to “build out” a proposed focus from those courses. Advice from your previous instructor or advisers can be invaluable in this if you are not sure about something. Notice (in Figure 1), that not only about half of your courses are taken up by courses which are required to be in Economics; you can select the other ones from a variety of departments, so long as they meet the Faculty of Arts requirements to graduate. We strongly advise always running any proposed plan by Arts Advising (or your home faculty) before making final decisions, as well as checking out the calendar while you are doing your planning.

Figure 1: A rough outline of your electives in Years 3 and 4
Year 3 Year 4
Term 1 Term 2 Term 3 Term 4
ECON 301 ECON 302 (4) ECON 490
ECON 325 ECON 325 (5) (6)
ECON 3/4XX ECON 3/4XX ECON 4XX ECON 4XX
ECON 3/4XX (1) (7) (8)
(2) (3) (9) (10)

This is a good opportunity to customize your degree by pursuing a minor; nearly any minor is complementary with an economics degree (yes, even Fine Arts). Some particularly useful skills come from disciplines with substantial methodological or topical overlap with economics:

  • Computer Science
  • Mathematics or statistics
  • Political Science, sociology, or psychology
  • Commerce
  • Geography
  • History or philosophy

However, you should keep a focus - a minor is just a "packaged" focus. Your degree remains what you make of it, and the courses you choose - so choose appropriately.

Grad School Track + Math

One particular question comes up with respect to mathematics: how much math should you take? To be honest, the short answer is “more is better” – mathematics (and statistics) is the modelling language of economics, and the more powerful the math at your disposal, the more well prepared you will be for more advanced topics. This is especially relevant if you are thinking about graduate school. The so-called “graduate school track” (Figure 2) recommends taking (in addition to the regular BA courses) ECON 303, 307, 421, 425 as well as MATH 200, 221; taking the honours sequence is also recommended. Additional useful math courses include MATH 220 and MATH 302; if you are good at math (I mean, really good), consider also taking MATH 320 (real analysis), but it can be very challenging.

Figure 2: A rough example of the "grad school" track
Year 3 Year 4
Term 1 Term 2 Term 3 Term 4
ECON 301 ECON 302 ECON 3/4XX ECON 490
ECON 325 ECON 325 MATH 221 ECON 425
ECON 303/306 ECON 307 ECON 421 (3)
MATH 200 MATH 220 (4) (5)
(1) (2) (6) (7)

Reference Letters

When applying to graduate school (or some job opportunities), you will normally be asked to provide 2-3 references who can write a letter on your behalf. These are very important, since they make your file stand out from other, similar files! Your electives and capstone courses are excellent opportunities to build the kinds of relationships with your professors which are necessary for them to write a strong letter of reference. The main idea of a reference letter is to (i) illustrate and support your suitability for graduate school, both in terms of your academic skills as well as your personal characteristics, and (ii) to highlight any special features of your application and/or explain irregularities (such as a failed class or a non-traditional degree program).

It is important that the person you are asking to write your letter can honestly discuss you in these terms; if all they can say is the grade you got in their class, and can't discuss you in any depth, they're probably not a good reference. This requires that you take the opportunities in your electives and capstones to build a relationships with your instructors. ECON 490 is a natural fit, due to the seminar environment, but electives (particularly in the 4th year) will also give you these kinds of opportunities. Seize them and plan electives to help support them, if you think graduate school might be in your future.

Frequently Asked Questions (for 2020)

How easy is it for me to switch programs (e.g. major to honours, combined major, etc)?

It depends – all economics students were admitted as part of a single pool, and so adding or changing your major depends on what you are doing.

  • Easy: Moving from a combined major to a regular major, or honours to regular major – request submit your request in writing to the department office.
  • Easy: Moving from a regular major to a combined major in Economics and Philosophy – submit your request in writing to the department office.
  • Medium: Moving from a regular major to honours.  You should discuss with the Economics Honours advisor if you would like to do this; you will need to take extra courses, and space is a serious constraint. The Honours Advisor may ask students to complete their 3rd year in the straight major and then apply as a 4th year Honours applicant during admissions process in May.
  • Hard: Moving from a regular major to a combined major in Economics and Statistics or Mathematics. The associated departments are limiting the amount of students we admit into these specializations due to course constraints. Only about the top 20 or so are accepted yearly. Students should contact the associated departments for more information.
  • Hard: Moving from a regular major to a BA combined major in Economics and Political Science.  This requires you to be admitted to the Major in Political Science, which is handled through the Political Science Department.  You should contact their coordinator to get more information.

What do I do if there’s a mistake in my grades?

If there is a mistake in your academic record, you should first contact the instructor for the course, and discuss it with them.  You should do this in writing (e.g. by email) and include a clear statement of what the error is and the rationale for correction.  Note that requests on compassionate grounds are not valid reasons for reassessment, and be aware of the deadlines below.

If the instructor agrees with your request, they will submit a “change of grade” form, which is validated by the department and Dean’s office, then processed by academic records.  This usually takes a few weeks; after this process is over it will be reflected on your transcripts.

If you disagree with your instructor’s decision or cannot reach them, then you will need to submit a request for Review of Academic Standing to Enrolment Services.  You can find the information, fees, and forms for this request in the Calendar. This request will then be reviewed by the VSE and the results communicated to the student within 45 days.

  • Important: note the deadlines of March 15 for Term 1, July 15 for Term 2, October 15 for Summer courses.

Who do I contact if I have a problem or complaint about an instructor?

If you have an issue with an instructor and do not feel comfortable discussing it with them, or have not been able to reach a resolution, the next step is to discuss it with the VSE Ombudsperson (currently Wei Li) via email or you are always welcome to contact the Undergraduate Coordinator Prof. Kevin Song. Ombudspeople are third parties who advise on allegations of unfairness or injustice, and help students by providing information or assisting in seeking redress through formal or informal channels.

You may also be interested in contacting the UBC Ombudsperson for Students ([1]) if you feel the issue goes beyond the VSE’s scope or concerns an issue at the Faculty level.

What’s the deal with credit exclusions (e.g. STAT 200 credit exclusion list)?

The credit exclusions (see here) and how they relate to degree requirements are confusing. Basically, these are lists of courses which the Faculty of Science (and Arts) recognizes as equivalent and will not grant credit for completing multiple versions.  The VSE recognizes some of these as equivalent for the purposes of pre-requisites towards degree completion but will NOT recognize them as ECON courses for the purpose of number of ECON credits towards graduation or for the undergraduate application process.

  • In other words, they can fill the need for a specified course on the exclusion list, but do not count as ECON credits towards the 42 total credits in the straight ECON major needed to graduate.  You need to take an extra ECON elective at the same level or higher to make up those credits.

Here are some examples:

  • Example 1: you have taken STAT 200.  This will count as ECON 325 towards completing the required courses for a BA, but will not count as a 300 level ECON course towards your total 300/400-level credits.  You will need to take another 300-level ECON or 400-level Econ course to fill that requirement.  You cannot take ECON 325 and receive credit for it.
  • Example 2: you have taken STAT 200 and want to take ECON 226. Bad idea! You cannot receive credit for ECON 226, because you are not allowed to take it if you have taken ECON 325 or equivalent – which includes STAT 200.
  • Example 3: you are a combined major in Economics and Statistics.  You have taken ECON 326 and want to take STAT 306.  This is not a good idea: you cannot receive credit for STAT 306 since it is equivalent to ECON 326.
  • Example 4: you are a double major in Economics and Political Science.  You have taken POLI 380, and want to take ECON 326.  You need to take ECON 325 first, since we don’t allow POLI 380 or SOCI 328 in lieu of ECON 325.  If students have taken POLI 380 they must take ECON 325 for the major/combined majors/honours program.  Faculty Advising office will determine whether or not they will receive credits towards their total graduation requirement.

You should always double-check issues like these with your faculty advising office or the VSE if you are not sure, especially when making critical decision about your degree program.

Contacts

The VSE offers by-appointment advising which can be scheduled by contacting the VSE reception desk (link). You can arrange a meeting with either:

  • Tina Marandola, Undergraduate Administrative Assistant
  • Kevin Song, Undergraduate Director

Please schedule appointments through the reception desk, not directly with advisers. If you want informal advice about courses, contact one of your favourite instructors (or Jonathan Graves at jonathan.graves@ubc.ca)!