Program of Study

While differences in backgrounds and interests mean that student's programs vary, there are four basic stages in the doctoral program: core curriculum, advanced coursework, research proposal, and dissertation completion. Each stage requires about one year of study.

During the first stage, courses deal with the fundamental disciplines of microeconomics, optimization, econometrics, decision theory and game theory. Preliminary examinations are taken at the end of the student's first year. The examinations are in three fields: (i) microeconomics; (ii) game theory and optimization; and (iii) (a) decision theory, (b) empirical methods in strategy, or (c) econometrics. In addition, in their first year, students also take another year-long sequence of electives according to their individual background and needs. This sequence is often mathematical analysis at the undergraduate or graduate level, and sometimes courses in operations or economics, or other suitable courses, including independent studies designed to allow early exploration of research.

The second year is when coursework becomes more finely-tuned to a student’s particular research interests. Students must take three sequences (each sequence is at least two courses) in advanced fields, but wide latitude is allowed in the choice of fields. Normally one of these fields is the sequence on competitive strategy and the structure of firms (MECS 449-1, 2). Other fields are drawn from a large selection of those offered, both by our departments as well as other departments such as the Department of Economics and the Kellogg School’s Finance Department. Other electives and independent studies round out the second-year coursework and give plenty of opportunity for in-depth exploration of research interests.

In at least two of the fields (the major fields), the student must also write a paper during the second-year. Each paper is supervised by a professor in the field. The two research papers must be completed before the third year and are an excellent opportunity to learn what type of research is the best fit for you.

The third year of the program involves independent study and research supervised by a faculty adviser or advisers. Important resources for doctoral students during this stage are the research workshops organized by our two departments, the economics department and other Kellogg School departments. These provide opportunities for students to see top research faculty from Northwestern as well as institutions throughout the world present their work and to interact with faculty in their field. Students are also expected to present their ongoing work in a doctoral student research seminar designed for third-year students and are encouraged to present at conferences and internal faculty seminars.

By the end of the third year, each student convenes a faculty committee to evaluate their dissertation proposal. The proposal itself is usually a presentation of research already completed together with a plan for ongoing and future research. Students must successfully propose before the start of the fourth year.

The remainder of the program consists of continuing and completing the dissertation and other research while preparing for the academic job market. Having polished, high-quality research papers ready for the job market is typically the focus at this stage. The market for most economics and business school jobs begins in the fall of the academic year, so students need to be ready for this well before their dissertations are completed.