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Goals for Second- and Third-Year Graduate Students

During your second and third years, students should:

  1. Be mindful of the overall objective
  2. If necessary, complete candidacy
  3. Take field courses for credit
  4. Enroll in other courses of interest
  5. Attend field seminars
  6. Maintain full-time registration
  7. Present two papers in the Economics 501 Seminar
  8. Undertake supervised teaching experience
  9. Work on their written and verbal presentation skills
  10. Have a  dissertation prospectus presented at an oral examination


By the end of the third year a student should have decided on a thesis topic and found a faculty advisor(s) and dissertation committee. Students do this by taking field courses and interacting with the instructors of these courses, attending field seminars, participating in informal field lunches and paper reading groups, and presenting their own papers in the Economics 501 seminar.


Students who have not passed all three qualifying examinations at the end of their first year can remediate a lower GPA in a core area by retaking courses during their second year. Specifically, students can retake (in the second year only) as many of the core courses in a specific core area, in which they received a B- or lower grade when the course was initially taken, to bring the GPA in that core area to 3.0. When a course is retaken, the grade in the retake (whether higher or lower than the original grade) supersedes the original grade for the purposes of calculating the GPA in that core area.

Field Course Requirements

Students must take a minimum of nine approved field courses for letter grades (not P/N). These nine courses must include:

At least six of the nine courses must be among those offered by the Economics Department. They must carry an Economics course number.

Procedures and Guidance on Field Course Selection

Incomplete Grades

Except for courses in Economic History, students should receive a letter grade at the end of the quarter in which they register for a course. Please see the department’s policy on incomplete grades.

Other Courses

In addition to the courses taken as part of field course requirements, students are encouraged to take additional courses they find interesting. Unlike courses that count as part of the field requirements, students should generally audit these classes rather than take them for credit. However, students can take additional courses for a letter grade if they wish.

Students have to register for at least three units each quarter to be a full-time student. Students can use Economics 590 in their second year, and TGS 500 in their third year to supplement regular course registrations to obtain full-time status (multiple repeat registration is allowed). These course registrations should also be used in the Summer Quarter when regular for-credit courses are not scheduled.


While not part of the formal degree requirements, attending research seminars is probably one of the most valuable aspects of graduate education. These seminars typically meet in the Fall and Spring Quarters. Students get to meet leaders in each field and observe the cutting edge of new research. Starting in the second year, students should regularly attend one or more of our seminar series. As a signaling and commitment device students can formally register for one or more of these series.

The seminar series are:

Additional seminar series are organized by the Kellogg School of Management.

Most fields also offer weekly informal lunch meetings and paper reading groups, some of which are organized by and for students. These events are invaluable for students to have informal contact with older students and faculty in fields that interest them and in which they might write a dissertation.


Students must register for at least three units each quarter to be a full-time student.

In Fall, Winter and Spring Quarters

If you are registered for three or more courses: no further action is necessary,

If you are registered for two courses: also register for 1 unit of  Economics 590,

If you are registered for one or zero courses: also register for TGS 500. (TGS 500 is listed for zero credits but assures fulltime status, and allows registration in one course.)

In Summer Quarter

Register for TGS 500.

Two Papers Presented in the Economics 501 Seminar

Each student must write and orally present two research papers in Economics 501 Graduate Student Seminar. Two faculty member readers must approve the paper. The Economics 501 seminar is an opportunity to present work in progress that may become part of the student's dissertation. Because the papers are evaluated by two faculty of a student’s choosing, Economics 501 is a mechanism for students to interact with faculty and interest them in becoming their thesis advisor or serve on their thesis committee.

Learn about details of these papers and Economics 501. 

Supervised Teaching Experience

Teaching experience is an essential part of graduate training. All doctoral students are required to act as a teaching assistant for at least one quarter at some point in their graduate career (this need not necessarily occur in the second or third years). As part of these duties, the student must lead a weekly discussion section. Evaluations are made and kept as part of the students' records.

Nearly all students fulfill this requirement while funded as a Teaching Assistant (technically called a Graduate Assistantship). In a few rare cases, a student may be fully funded for all years of their study from other sources and may not need to be funded as a Teaching Assistant. Such students should "volunteer" as an unpaid Teaching Assistant for one quarter to meet the degree requirement. This can be arranged with the Associate Chair.

Irrespective of whether a Teaching Assistant is paid or a volunteer, foreign students must demonstrate acceptable English proficiency as prescribed by TGS.

Written and Verbal Presentation Skills

The effectiveness of research depends crucially on how well researchers can communicate their findings in writing and verbally. In addition, professional economists must be able to communicate with students in the classroom, to clients, and to the public. While these skills are essential for success on the job market, time is scarce during the job-market year, so it is good idea to start working on these skills early.

 The Economics 501 seminar and duties as a teaching assistant provide opportunities for students to develop their skills. In addition, Northwestern University offers several resources for developing writing and presentation skills. See these resources.

A Dissertation Prospectus presented at an Oral Examination

A student will defend a dissertation prospectus at the end of the third year.  Your thesis advisor and a committee of examiners will determine whether the dissertation topic is feasible. 

Read more about dissertation prospectus and oral examination.