Sealing the Deal

Litterman fellowship gives Ariel Zetylin-Jones a solid foothold for research and teaching

Ariel Zetlin-Jones, a Ph.D. student from New York City, was last year’s Litterman Fellow. I spoke with him to get a sense of what it’s like to be a graduate student at Minnesota.

What qualities were you looking for in a graduate program?

I wanted a top-quality economics program with a proven history of training economists to think rigorously about real-world phenomena. Doug Gollin (Ph.D. ’96), a faculty member at Williams College, where I earned my undergrad degree, thought my interest in macroeconomics would align well with this program —Minnesota’s reputation in macro is excellent.

How did the department entice you when you had several other options?

Minnesota was ahead of the pack in having its recruitment weekend. Since I was leaning toward Minnesota, I came just to make sure I would fit in with the students and faculty. We spent one day at the Minneapolis Fed, meeting with faculty members and students there, and another at the University, where grad students gave presentations on their research. The University’s approach to developing its students and the exceptional opportunities available here increased my appreciation for Minnesota. I think what sealed the deal was spending time with students and faculty members — that really showed me how collegial and friendly everyone is and how they all work together.

Minnesota’s faculty is roughly half the size of the faculty at other highly ranked economics departments. How has this affected the quality of your experience here?

Interestingly, there’s a sense that you get more attention from the faculty here at Minnesota. The faculty here is accessible and devotes quite a lot of time and attention to the students. There’s no feeling that we have to fight against our peers to get attention from faculty members. For the most part, your class comes together not to compete, but to work together to make sure everyone understands, keeps up, and does well.

How has the Litterman Fellowship helped you in the past year?

If I hadn’t received the Litterman Fellowship, I would have been teaching to fund my studies. Most first-years are either teaching assistants or graders, and many hold recitation sections for the larger lectures. Not teaching gave me much valued extra time to think, to research, and to explore.

When I got the fellowship I realized I would have enough time to take a second- or third- year field course , without compromising time I would need to spend to stay on top of the material in the core classes. Now, going into my second year, when a lot of my peers are taking econometrics, I am free to take additional field courses — that’s been a significant advantage.

The fellowship also allowed me time to apply for a National Science Fellowship. I didn’t get it, but I had the opportunity to think about research topics and talk with faculty members about my ideas. As we developed different tools and methods throughout the year, it was useful to me to think about how I could possibly apply them to the topics I had started to think about for the NSF. It made the different models we were learning much more relevant in my mind, and that helped me maintain a high level of focus throughout the entire year.

The Litterman Fellowship was for your first year. What’s next?

The fellowship allowed me to gain a solid foothold. Now I’ll teach for the next few years of the program — next year I will be the teaching assistant for micro for the first-year Ph.D. students. I was a teaching assistant for undergrads at Williams, so I’m excited now to be able to teach and hold recitations again. With my first year behind me, I’ll be a better and more confident teacher. And it’s good training for my academic future.

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This page contains a single entry by cla published on June 23, 2008 8:48 PM.

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