Oliver W. Kim

Research Tips

Sep 22, 2022

Here are some tips (mostly “life hacks”) with fairly broad applicability to research students. I’ve found that advice more often reflects the experiences of the giver than the needs of the receiver, so reading unpersonalized advice on the Internet can be very hit-or-miss. But, if you’re a Berkeley econ grad student, or interested in econ grad school in general, I’m happy to chat. DM me on Twitter or shoot me an email and we can set up a time.

First Year

Second Year

Third Year

On Self-Efficacy. I’ve previously stayed away from giving advice about life and work as an Economics PhD, in part because I don’t think there’s a whole lot new I can add—who am I to give advice? But recently I’ve been reflecting on what I’ll call (in a half-remembered muddle of political science and pop psychology) self-efficacy: the feeling that you can solve the problem in front of you, if you just set your mind to it.

If you wanted to design a system to undermine your sense of self-efficacy, you couldn’t do much better than academic research. The positive rewards are few and far between, and, crucially, there isn’t a clear relationship between effort and outcomes. You can spend months painstakingly cleaning and building a dataset, only to find a pile of statistical mush. Worse, you could spend years working on a paper, only to have Professor Bigshot publish the same idea a week before submission. For every rare rush of discovery, there are countless lonely nights deep in the dim bowels of Evans Hall.

One helpful tip is to find a hobby that reinforces your sense that if you set your mind on something, you can do it. It almost goes without saying, but it’s really important to remember that you are not your work. Dedicating a portion of time every week to something that isn’t research reminds you of this. I think, unconsciously or not, this is something that most graduate students eventually figure out. Among my friends in my department, there are bakers, chefs, painters, sailers, climbers, skiers, runners, musicians, cyclists, gamers, gymnasts, and lifters. (And some contained in the same person.) For me, painting, writing, and (occasionally) tennis have helped keep me sane.

Fourth Year

Fifth Year

If you get a dog, make sure to keep the beautiful Congolese tapestry that you brought all the way back from fieldwork in Kenya out of reach, just in case she gets the idea in the middle of the night to eat a corner and throw up all over the house.

Sixth Year… and Beyond

I’ll let you know when I get there.

← Back to home