How can I get some research going before my Ph.D. program?

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Short answer: Be creative and work hard.


Long answer: You should not be too worried about getting your name connected to working papers before a Ph.D. program. If the opportunity presents itself, then take it, but don't lose any sleep over not having a working paper (or more) when you enter a Ph.D. program.

If you really want to get started on a research paper, find a professor who does research in the area in which you are interested. See if you can help the professor with a research project. To help means you do whatever he/she asks extremely well, without complaining, and without expecting to be a coauthor. Most of the time, this means you are collecting data. If you do a good job on one, or a series of projects, the professor may be inclined to coauthor with you on another project.

You should not expect a professor to be willing to put you as a coauthor on a paper just because you helped out. Being a coauthor requires a significant contribution of time, thought, and ability to a paper. Also remember, that before you start working on a Ph.D. you have limited skills and ability to conduct rigorous academic research. Therefore, your main asset is to put a lot of time into the research process. Your one hour of work is not equivalent to one hour of a professor's time, and therefore you should not expect to be putting in a 1 to 1 ratio of time with the professor if you are going to be a coauthor (this is true even as a new Ph.D. working with senior level colleagues). This applies if you are just trying to ride on the coat-tails of a professor's good ideas. The game changes a bit if you come up with the idea, and present it to a professor. In all stages of your education (at BYU and beyond), if you approach faculty with well thought out and looked into ideas, even if they are not successful in the end, it will let the faculty know you are intrinsically interested in research and they will be more inclined to let you help them with one of their ideas.

At some Ph.D. programs, you may do the same work you would do as a coauthor at BYU as a non-coauthored research assistant. Individual professors and programs have different ideas as to what is sufficient to merit coauthorship--especially of Ph.D. students. You may want to consider this factor when applying to Ph.D. programs. It may even happen that individuals believe you were "given" a coauthorship while at BYU. The best way to demonstrate that this is not the case is to work on successful projects early on in your Ph.D. program with non-BYU people.

Before you start your Ph.D. program you might consider trying to coauthor a simple piece of research. You may not want to target a top-tier journal with your first piece of research, but instead try to replicate an important study and shed a small bit of new insight into what the paper did or some small way the paper changed. Being exposed to the research process at any level (even if it is not a top tier article level) will benefit you significantly in your Ph.D. program.

There are, however, several things to consider when thinking about this. First, if you target a lower tiered journal with lesser quality work, is it going to help you, or hurt you? The answer to this question is debatable. It may not help you if you apply to a school that does not value that type of research (and there is some possibility it could hurt you). One could safely say that if the professors at the university where you are applying sometimes produce the level of research you are intending to produce, they could never fault you for it.

For example, if you started working on what you thought was an amazing project, hoping to publish it in a journal perceived to be of low quality (call it Journal LQ), a school (call them school #1) might look down and say, "Wow, is that all this kid can produce? Is this the kind of research s/he wants to do forever?" However, another school (school #2) might say "Wow, this student is really a go getter. He is engaging in research as an undergraduate, is learning the process, and while he might not be producing amazing stuff now, with that kind of background and with our training, he will be amazing." These two reactions are both possible. Some individuals report hearing esteemed faculty at "great" schools saying, essentially, "You don't want your name associated with trashy papers, even if they get published in OK journals." Either way, it may be unwise to make your research "experience" the center piece of your application letter to school.

If you are intrinsically interested in the research process, and don't want to worry about any of the considerations above, you have several choices. First, just do amazing research at BYU. There have been track members who have done this--been a part of articles which hit top journals. Second, submit your lesser articles to non-accounting journals, like a general business journal. Third, don't submit your articles anywhere, and just use them as the basis for a great learning experience as part of a Econ 388 or 588 project. The knowledge you develop from working on any project (even a 388 or 588 project) will greatly help you as you work on research in the future.


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