Reading Group Connects Students, Profession

Macro development reading groupJust about any Friday during fall and spring semesters, 360 Heady Hall is the source of spirited discussions and the smell of pizza.

Sessions of the Macro-Development Reading Group regularly attract around 20 economics graduate students and several faculty, and usually include at least one presenter—sometimes as many three—most often students. Along with the pizza, attendees consume lively discussions of papers and lots of ideas and possibly unexpected comments.

“Macroeconomics involves a lot of data, but it’s more about looking at the data with theory in mind,” says Juan Carlos Cordoba, the professor who started the group with Professors Rajesh Singh and Joydeep Bhattacharya in 2017.

“It could be about any kind of theory — environmental, trade, macro, development. There are many things in between, a lot of the papers presented are half econometrics, half theory. Many people who present in this group also present in the other group.” (The other department discussion group focuses on econometrics, a more data-based field, run by Assistant Professor Otavio Bartalotti and Associate Professor Helle Bunzel.)

Macro development reading groupA few faculty members, such as Gary Lyn, assistant professor, are invited to each meeting, sometimes presenting to the group. But the group is primarily open to all students, who benefit by discussing diverse topics and practicing their speaking and presentation skills.

“A key aspect of the group is the early feedback students receive on their work,” says Bhattacharya.

“This not only helps the student but also others who attend. Regulars, such as Sher Afghan, Jiaoting Shi, Anni Isojaervi, Jia Cao, Mohammad Hasan, Gyu Kim, and many others, learn more about how a paper in economics is to be critiqued.”

“Initially it was to be a macro-development group. Eventually we tried to expand it more, so we invited some trade people,” says Cordoba. “We’re talking with Quinn (Weninger) about also allowing the environmental resource students to present part of the time.”

Changing the equation

Cordoba liked what the other group had been doing and finally had time to start one for macro once he’d become a full professor and had had some significant articles published.

“I didn’t expect this to succeed—this department is not a macro department. That was the thing, how many students would we be able to attract, given basically macro is only secondary here,” he said. “But the students were very positive to the idea, and the feedback was good. I got really good signals from students and faculty.”

Cordoba has found the students, some of whom are in applied fields, may not be interested in macro per se, but are more interested in having serious discussions of economic theory.

“We have people in the group who are probably never going to do anything like macro, but they come regularly, because it is a side of economics that is very important,” Cordoba said. “As an economist you need to be able to argue and understand what people are talking about, to get engaged and feel more comfortable, and not isolated. They are interested in being more well-grounded candidates, knowing a little bit about everything in a deeper sense, not just superficially. I think that’s why many students like this, they feel like it’s more serious, and that it connects them to a bigger profession.”

Photos: Gyu Kim