Econ research short on funds

The Department of Economics may offer fewer slots for students to research alongside professors this summer.

The Undergraduate Research Opportunity in Economics has less funding to operate the 2011 program than in previous years due to the financial crisis. The summer research opportunity began in 1998 and has paid for nine to 13 students to assist Yale professors in advanced economics research projects in each of the past six years. Economics Department Chair Benjamin Polak said fewer stipends may be awarded this year since the program’s endowment took a hit beginning in 2008.

The research opportunity grants $3,000 to undergraduates for 160 hours of work on projects with professors from the Economics Department or the School of Management between June 1 and Aug. 1. Money for the research fellowships comes from the James Tobin Fund for Undergraduate Research Opportunities, a specific endowed fund that rises and falls with the University endowment and was affected by a 24.6 percent plunge in the Yale endowment during 2008-’09.

“With the decline in the endowment two years ago, we weren’t sure we had enough funds to do it [this year],” Polak said. “We wanted to make sure we still had enough money coming in from the fund to do it, but we do. Everything is fine — we’re going to be a little scaled back.”

Polak estimated that the department will be able to fully fund eight proposals this summer — four from the Economics Department and four from SOM. To generate extra money for the research opportunity in the future, Polak said he will consider fundraising in the upcoming year ­— potentially beginning at a reunion for graduated doctoral students in economics in early April.

In the meantime, the program’s greatest limitations will be the number of deserving research proposals submitted by faculty and the number of students who apply, he added.

Applying to the program was not competitive, said William Sawin ’13, who conducted research in the program last summer. If the program budget does indeed shrink and make the more selective, he added, it will better ensure that students most interested in economics are the ones to receive funding.

Ben Gifford ’12, who participated in the program last summer, said he found the exposure to academia to be particularly valuable.

“As an economics major who is potentially interested in research, I wanted to see what a higher degree might look like,” Gifford said. “I don’t know if I’ll continue down the academic path, but it was still very fulfilling to be involved with research.”

The program is an important one, said Polak and economics professor Anthony Smith, who organizes the program alongside economics professor Ray Fair. Though the Economics Department was a month later than usual in notifying students of the opportunity via e-mail, which the professors said they did just last week, the program should continue beyond this summer.

“I’m very much in favor of keeping it up and running,” Smith said.

The Research Opportunities in Math and Economics Project encompasses the summer opportunities offered to undergraduates by the Economics Department.

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