Categories: Newsletter Issue 2020:3

Professional Development Opportunities for Graduate Students in Health Economics

By: Anne Burton

It’s common knowledge that writing a good job market paper is crucial for success on the job market, but that’s not all you need. How else can you distinguish yourself on the job market (and maybe even get some research ideas)? One way is by applying for and participating in some of the numerous professional development opportunities for graduate students. Some of these programs will broaden or deepen your knowledge of health economics. Some will introduce you to future colleagues or senior researchers in the field. And some will help you prepare for the job market.

Many of these opportunities are geared specifically for health economists, while others have a broader reach. In terms of programs focused specifically on health economics, there’s the Ireland masterclass in health economics; the ASHEcon mentorship program; the NBER Summer Institute workshops in Health Economics, Health Care; Aging, and Children’s, the Annual Health Econometrics Workshop student scholarship, and the NBER Health Economics research boot camp. In terms of more general programs, there’s the APPAM mentorship program, the University of Chicago Becker Friedman Institute price theory summer camp, and the Western Economic Association’s graduate student workshop.

The Ireland masterclass is a weeklong event held every other year at a different location in Ireland. The class features lectures about various topics in health economics by prominent researchers, sessions on professional development, and social events. The masterclass provides an introduction to a wide variety of topics in health economics. It’s also an excellent opportunity to meet both senior health economists and other junior health economists. Lastly, the masterclass leaves plenty of time to explore Ireland. Unfortunately, you have to pay your own way, but check with your department or university to see whether they can subsidize some of your expenses.

The ASHEcon mentorship program is designed for graduate students in the last two years of their Ph.D. program, and occurs at the annual ASHEcon conference. You participate in speed mentoring, which means you have the opportunity to speak with several health economists for 15 minutes each (you are matched in advance). In each session, there are a few other students with you. You’re likely to get the most out of mentoring if you happen to be matched with mentors who have similar research interests. However, even if you are matched with economists whose areas of expertise don’t align with your research interests, you can still gain advice about the publishing process or the job market, and you can practice motivating your research to economists who don’t work on the same things as you. You need to register for the program in advance, but there is no application process. There is also no cost to participate, but you do need to make arrangements to attend the conference.

The NBER Summer Institute is an annual conference, held in Cambridge, Massachusetts each July, is organized into distinct program areas, or workshops. The workshops most relevant for health economists are aging, children’s, health economics, and health care. Aside from learning about the forefront of research in health economics, you have the opportunity to interact with more senior economists during the coffee breaks, lunches, and informal happy hours (you can almost always find economists to talk to at the hotel bar after the presentations are over for the day). I’ve found that most people at the conference are friendly and happy to talk to graduate students about research ideas and other topics. Attendance at the summer institute is by invitation only, and to receive an invitation as a graduate student, you need to be nominated by an NBER affiliate (usually your advisor). They generally don’t pay for your travel or hotel, but there is no registration fee.

The Annual Health Econometrics Workshop is a small conference that, unsurprisingly, features methodological and empirical advances in health econometrics. The student scholarship allows several students to attend the workshop each year. The advantage of this conference is that it is much smaller than ASHEcon or AEAs, and they organize events in addition to the conference presentations, so you really get to know the other conference attendees. The more senior economists are very friendly and make an effort to talk to the students. There is a short application, and the scholarship pays for your registration, hotel, and most meals, but you need to pay your own travel expenses. Given that the conference is virtual this year, it’s unclear whether there will be a student scholarship, but look for it in future years.

The NBER health economics research boot camp is a three-day camp held at the NBER headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that immerses you in both historically important and cutting-edge topics in health economics. It’s run by Ben Handel. You hear from a variety of prominent health economists about topics such as health insurance, the role of machine learning in health economics, and the importance of behavioral economics in health.

Prior to the camp, there is a reading list of approximately 20 papers that you are expected to read or otherwise be familiar with. While the preparation required is extensive, if you work together with the other 20-30 students, you get to know each other before the camp starts. Not only does getting to know the other participants make the camp itself more fun, but it is also worthwhile because these people are your future colleagues (and potential coauthors), whom you’re bound to run into at conferences for the next 30 years. There is a competitive application process, but if you are accepted, they pay for your travel and hotel (if you are from outside the greater Boston area), and provide food (for everybody).

The APPAM mentorship program is centered around the main APPAM conference in the fall. There is no application process, but space is limited, and the mentorship matching typically occurs on a first-come, first-served basis. You correspond with your mentor over email before the conference, then (if the conference is in person) you meet up with your mentor at a reception for mentors and mentees. After the conference, you’re encouraged to stay in touch with your mentor periodically, whether it’s to get advice about research, the job market, or other topics. There is no cost to participate, but you do need to make arrangements to attend the conference.

The price theory summer camp is a weeklong event hosted by the Becker Friedman Institute at the University of Chicago every July. In the mornings, you attend lectures on topics such as price theory, human capital, and how to do research. In the afternoons and evenings, the camp organizes various social events. In my year, there were approximately 40 students at the camp, representing a wide variety of institutions and research interests. Besides the lectures, there is also great value in getting to know the other participants. There is a short application process, but if you are accepted, the camp provides food and lodging and pays for your travel expenses.

The Western Economics Association’s graduate student workshop is designed for students right before they go on the job market. Students take turns presenting their job market papers to a small group of 3 other students and a faculty advisor. You also have to submit drafts of your paper to your group in the months leading up to the conference. The other participants provide feedback on your paper and your presentation. This past year, things were done a little differently, as we had to move the conference online. Nevertheless, it turned out to be very good practice presenting over Zoom. Normally, in addition to presenting your job market paper, you also participate in mock interviews with faculty. There is a competitive application process, but if you are accepted, the conference pays for your registration, travel, hotel, and some meals.

Some additional opportunities that may be valuable are the numerous mentoring workshops and programs run by various individuals and organizations. I have not participated in these programs (largely due to eligibility reasons) but I have heard good things about them. The AEA Committee on the Status of Minority Groups in the Profession (CSMGEP) runs a mentoring program for underrepresented minorities. The program is for economics graduate students and recent Ph.D.’s. The AEA Committee on the Status of LGBTQ+ Individuals in the Economics Profession (CSQIEP) has also recently started a mentoring program for LGBTQ+ graduate students and economists.

The AEA Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession (CSWEP) also has several mentoring programs, some of which are for graduate students. Each year, CSWEP hosts mentoring breakfasts for junior economists at the AEA meeting, which is for new Ph.D.’s and job market candidates (all genders are invited). CSWEP is also sponsoring a new mentoring workshop for 3rd and 4th-year women and nonbinary graduate students, which is organized by Jennifer Doleac and Maya Rossin-Slater. This research-focused workshop is based on a mentorship workshop organized by Maya Rossin-Slater for California-based graduate students last year.

I’ve greatly enjoyed participating in each of these programs, as they all offer something a little different. The key to making the most of these opportunities is to go in seeking to learn new things and meet new people. Depending on where you are in your graduate program, you may also benefit from some of these opportunities. For more about when and how to apply, see the information below.

When to apply:

  • Ireland masterclass: end of coursework/during research phase
  • ASHEcon mentorship: within the last 2 years of your Ph.D.
  • NBER Summer Institute: research phase
  • AHEW student scholarship: middle of research phase
  • NBER boot camp: beginning/middle of research phase
  • APPAM mentorship: beginning/middle of research phase
  • Price theory summer camp: end of coursework/during research phase
  • Westerns GSW: the year before you go on the job market
  • Mentorship programs: varies

Links with more information:


Anne M. Burton is a Ph.D. candidate in Economics at Cornell University.