Austrian Economics in Graduate School
At the Austrian Scholars' Conference and again at Mises University, a number of people asked me what it takes to get into and succeed in a graduate program in economics. I hereby offer the following nuggets of wisdom to the aspiring economics graduate student.
To begin, I'll recount my own experience and mistakes in order to provide context for the rest of the discussion. I received my BS and MA in economics from the University of Alabama in May and August of 2001, respectively, and began graduate studies at Washington University in Saint Louis that same summer. I also attended seminars and conferences at George Mason's Center for the Study of Public Choice, the Economic Science Laboratory at the University of Arizona, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
I had very extensive coursework in economics, but my math skills were lacking. Most of the first-year courses in graduate school are "toolbox" courses in which you learn how to model economic phenomena. I didn’t prepare for the math requirements like I should have, and I had to re-take the theory preliminary exams over the summer as a result.
The most common question I heard at the Mises University was "how much math do I need to take?" At the bare minimum, a three-course sequence in calculus, a course in matrix algebra, and courses in statistics are absolutely necessary. One could also substitute a two-course sequence in linear algebra for the matrix algebra class. In addition, courses in probability and real analysis would be extremely helpful.
Actually learning some economics is important too, and this can be done in a variety of ways. Obviously, one (presumably) learns economics by taking economics classes, but participation in summer seminars conducted by organizations like the Mises Institute provides a refreshing and unique perspective, as well.
It is important to find a program that fits your personality and interests. It may be worthwhile to peruse back issues of the Journal of Economic Literature to find out which professors are doing work that interests you. You can also see the Mises Institute's faculty page along with affiliations.
Some programs, like that at George Mason University, have worked to attract people interested in Austrian economics, which is wonderful. Students there have enjoyed great success. But most programs will not be accommodating to such a research program. Austrian issues must be fit into other categories of research. It would be a good idea to find a field in which Austrian insights can be readily incorporated-economic history, for example, or perhaps the history of economic thought.
There are plenty of horror stories about the first year in graduate school, but as you move farther along in the program you begin to understand just how valuable your first-year training is. Graduate school is a very rich, very rewarding experience.