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Taylor_wright
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I think another potential factor could be the level of existing financial support for grad students across these programs. I haven't looked at the numbers nor do I know if such numbers exist in Canada, but anecdotally it appears that economics graduate students receive better funding packages than do other disciplines (my guess as to why is that the student pool that economics draws from likely have better outside offers, and so it is required in order to attract students). As a result, committees could be giving funding to other areas because economics students are already doing relatively well in terms of financing their degrees. On your point about economics professors writing lousy references: I'm not sure if you mean lousy in the sense that economists tend not to be good writers or lousy in the sense that they are relatively less emphatic in their praise than other disciplines but I have a little story: I had a conversation once with someone who was doing the filtering at the faculty level for SSHRC and this person told me they had never seen so many "top five percent" students. In fact, I was told that in one program the applicants were nearly all internal and so this person and the other economist present calculated that over 20% of the applicants from the in-house program were considered top 5%. A bit of a puzzler for them. I'm also thinking that it can be difficult for non-economists to evaluate the quality of the research proposals written by economists (this is no doubt not helped by economics students writing poor proposals). Not only because we tend to be more quant-y than other disciplines (though it seems the differences in that respect have been shrinking) but also because the types of questions we tend to ask and the scope of the questions we tend to ask likely are very different than those in other disciplines. For example, a proposal with a research question in the style of Steven Levitt/Freakonomics (or what some might disparagingly call "cutenonomics") probably has a better shot at being well understood since it more closely resembles the work done in other disciplines. Contrast that with a proposal where someone wants to estimate market power in the brewing industry (to take a recent NBER IO paper). Anyways, those are some of my ramblings on this ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
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