BGSE students get PhD offers

In the last few months, several BGSE students have gotten PhD offers. The Voice team has met up with a few of them to find out more about their (academic) experience, and just life in general. This post presents the full transcript of the interview with Erfan Ghofrani, Rachel Anderson and Cristiano Mantovani, interviewed by one of our editors, Demas.


What were you doing before you started the Master’s programme at the BGSE?


Erfan:              I did Electrical Engineering as my major at Sharif University, in Tehran, Iran. I also minored in Economics. I took a couple of courses in Economics at UC Berkeley in the summer of 2015.


Rachel:             Before coming to BGSE, I was studying at Duke University, where I majored in Economics and Computer Science. I also spent some time during my undergraduate summers studying Turkish and Arabic abroad.


Cristiano:       I was working at UniCredit for about 2 years in Milan, Italy, as a risk analyst in the banking sector. Before that, I graduated from Bocconi University with a Master’s in Economics and Social Sciences. I did my Bachelor’s in Business Administration at the University of Parma, which is close to my hometown.


Did you accept the offer of entering the UPF’s PhD programme? Why? Did you apply to other PhD programmes? Why?


Erfan:              Yes, I have accepted the offer. Before Trump’s executive order regarding Iran, and before coming to Barcelona, I wanted to do my PhD at one of the top ten universities in the US. However, after living in Barcelona and pursuing my education at the BGSE, I have had a change in perspective. In my opinion, UPF is a great university with a renowned faculty, and Barcelona is also a really amazing city to live in.


Rachel:              While it was tempting, I did not eventually accept the offer from UPF. Instead, I’ve decided to study in the United States, where I’m from.  Macroeconomics does pique my interest, but I’m more passionate about other fields, which is why I’ve applied to schools that I think will  better cater to my interests – in applied microeconomics and econometrics. I’m happy to say that I’ve been accepted by Princeton University, and will likely be doing a PhD there.


Cristiano:       Yes, I accepted the offer from the UPF. I had only applied to one programme. Fortunately, I did not have to apply to other programmes as I was notified of the admissions decision rather early. I accepted the offer mainly because I was enticed by the Macroeconomics faculty members. Moreover, I really enjoy living in Barcelona.


What have you found most challenging about studying a Master’s at the BGSE?


Erfan:              Living alone, away from family members, is difficult and it will become more challenging if one does not understand Catalan and Spanish as one might not be able to communicate well with people outside the university. My undergraduate education was taught entirely in Persian, and hence the English programme has been a little challenging for me. However, it has helped me a lot with my English.


Rachel:              At first, the most challenging thing about studying at BGSE is living in Barcelona.  Barcelona is such an incredible city, with such great weather, and it has taken some time to learn how to avoid distractions and be productive! I’m glad that I’ve been able to strike a balance between working hard and playing hard.


Cristiano:       In the beginning, it was difficult to get back into the life of a student, as I had been working for some time. The biggest challenge was more of a mental adjustment, and I had to keep up with the fast pace of university life (besides the courses themselves). The free weekends seem to have become something of the past. However, I really enjoy what I am doing, so that keeps me going.


Name someone whose work has inspired you. Please elaborate.


Erfan:              My BSc thesis and project supervisor, Dr. Madanizadeh, inspired me a lot. I found it interesting how he had done the same thing as I was doing – Electrical Engineering at Sharif. Thereafter, he went on to read Mathematics at Stanford and Economics at Chicago. After graduation, he came back to Iran, unlike most of the Iranian students, who usually stay in the US. It seems to me that he loves Iran and wants to help fellow Iranians by improving the economic situation of the country. Now, he is the Head of the Modelling Group at the Money and Banking Research Institute of the Central Bank of Iran, as well as Assistant Professor of Economics at Sharif University.


Rachel:              I am most inspired by Paul Krugman as a communicator. I love how he is able to convey complex economic ideas in a way that is comprehensible to his audience.  I am also inspired by the work of professors at the BGSE like Robin Hogarth, who has made huge contributions to the field of behavioural decision-making.


Cristiano:       My thesis advisor at Bocconi, Antonella Trigari, really inspired me because of her work on unemployment dynamics. She has adopted a macroeconomic perspective, and when I was working under her supervision, it seemed obvious to me that I should study Economics at the graduate level. These are fundamental topics in every part of the world, and are especially pertinent in countries in which the unemployment rate has been increasing constantly. For example, youth unemployment in Italy has soared to 40%, and this has made me want to unravel the dynamics of unemployment.


What are/will be your research interests? Please describe them in two to three sentences.


Erfan:              We have seen dire economic situations in Iran in the last decades. An inflation rate of 40%, stagflation, as well as the Dutch disease are issues that one might have heard about in theoretical texts, but we Iranians have experienced them in reality. These have destroyed the lives of millions of people. My interests lie in monetary policies and macroeconomic policies through which I can better understand the causes of the aforementioned predicaments and I hope that we can prevent them in the future.


Rachel:              Right now, I’m most excited about applied microeconomics and econometrics, as well as behavioural economics. I’m interested in pursuing projects that address real-world economic problems and have the potential for positive social impact. One good example would be studying labour market trends for women in Turkey, which is the topic of my undergraduate thesis.


Cristiano:       Currently, I would really like to study the macroeconomics of labour as well as the interaction between fiscal and monetary policies. However, I don’t want to constrain myself too much, especially at the beginning of the PhD – I am not ruling out the possibility of working perhaps in applied microeconomics, such as public economics or studies on inequality dynamics.



What advice would you give to future PhD applicants?


Erfan:              I would advise potential applicants to work hard in mathematical methods as these are essential for a PhD in Economics. Moreover, reading a variety of papers about Economics is always useful as there is a lot to learn from them. Also, for applicants to universities in Spain, it would be good to start learning Spanish if you don’t already speak it.


Rachel:             Be patient.  Some of the material won’t be easy to understand right away; but if you’re resilient you will learn a lot.


Cristiano:       I have no particular insights with regard to this, but studying in groups and sharing ideas and comments has been particularly helpful for me. Moreover, I would also say: don’t be afraid to speak to professors during office hours – they are always happy to reply to you, and more often than not, they understand your needs and concerns.


Finally, what are your future aspirations?


Erfan:              I would like to be a professor and researcher in Macroeconomics. In addition, my ambition is to help countries with poor economic performance.


Rachel:             Personally, I would like to be a professor at an international research university like UPF, or my alma mater, Duke University. I would be excited to teach Economics.


Cristiano:       My ideal path would be to pursue a career in academia after the PhD, but a job at a central bank, a think-tank, or in the policy sector would all be equally desirable outcomes. When it comes to where I would like to work, I still don’t know, but leaving Barcelona won’t be easy at all, as I have made really good friends over the past few months.

Optimal density forecast combinations (Unicredit & Universities Job Market Best Paper Award)

Greg Ganics (Economics ’12 and PhD candidate at UPF-GPEFM) provides a non-technical summary of his job market paper, which has won the 2016 UniCredit & Universities Economics Job Market Best Paper Award.

authorEditor’s note: In this post, Greg Ganics (Economics ’12 and PhD candidate at UPF-GPEFM) provides a non-technical summary of his job market paper, “Optimal density forecast combinations,” which has won the 2016 UniCredit & Universities Economics Job Market Best Paper Award.

After the recent Great Recession, major economies found themselves in a situation with low interest rates and fragile economic growth. This combination, along with major political changes in key countries (the US and the UK) makes forecasting more difficult and uncertain. As a consequence, policy makers and researchers have become more interested in density forecasts, which provide a measure of uncertainty around point forecasts (for a non-technical overview of density forecasts, see Rossi (2014)). This facilitates communication between researchers, policy makers, and the wider public. Well-known examples include the fan charts of the Bank of England, and the Surveys of Professional Forecasters of the Philadelphia Fed and the European Central Bank.

BOE fan chart. Source: Bank of England Inflation Report, November 2016

Forecasters often use a variety of models to generate density forecasts. Naturally, these forecasts are different, and therefore researchers face the question: how shall we combine these predictions? While there is an extensive literature on both the theoretical and practical aspects of combinations of point forecasts, our knowledge is rather limited about how density forecasts should be combined.

In my job market paper “Optimal density forecast combinations,” I propose a method that answers this question. My main contribution is a consistent estimator of combination weights, which could be used to produce a combined predictive density that is superior to the individual models’ forecasts. This framework is general enough to include a wide range of forecasting methods, from judgmental forecast to structural and non-structural models. Furthermore, the estimated weights provide information on the individual models’ performance over time. This time-variation could further enhance researchers’ and policy makers’ understanding of the relevant drivers of key economic variables, such as GDP growth or unemployment.

Macroeconomists in academia and at central banks often pay special attention to industrial production, as this variable is available at the monthly frequency, therefore it can signal booms and busts in a timely manner. In an empirical example of forecasting monthly US industrial production, I demonstrate that my novel methodology delivers density forecasts which outperform well-known benchmarks, such as the equal weights scheme. Moreover, I show that housing permits had valuable predictive power before and after the Great Recession. Furthermore, stock returns and corporate bond spreads proved to be useful predictors during the recent crisis, suggesting that financial variables help with density forecasting in a highly leveraged economy.

The methodology I propose in my job market paper can be useful in a wide range of applications, for example in macroeconomics and finance, and offers several avenues for further research, both theoretical and applied.


Ganics, G. (2016): Optimal density forecast combinations. Job market paper

Rossi, B. (2014): Density forecasts in economics and policymaking. Els Opuscles del CREI, No. 37

Firms in conflict: adapt or perish

Being an entrepreneur is a difficult activity, and being an entrepreneur in a developing country is even more difficult. But being an entrepreneur in a developing country affected by a violent conflict situation seems almost impossible. In fact, it is not.

Francesco Amodio (Economics ’10) is a PhD student in the GPEFM doctoral program organized by Universitat Pompeu Fabra with the Barcelona GSE. He and co-author Michele Di Maio (University of Naples Parthenope) have published the following post on the blog of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI):

Firms in conflict: adapt or perish

Being an entrepreneur is a difficult activity, and being an entrepreneur in a developing country is even more difficult. But being an entrepreneur in a developing country affected by a violent conflict situation seems almost impossible. In fact, it is not.

Read the full post on the SIPRI blog.

This week, Francesco is co-organizing the first Barcelona GSE Phd Jamboree. The Jamboree is a two-day workshop for GPEFM and IDEA students to share ideas and get feedback on their work in progress.

Note to all Barcelona GSE students and alumni:

If you have been published on the web or in a print publication and would like The Voice to link to your work, please send us a link and a short excerpt.

Transitioning from the BGSE to a PhD

(Originally posted at Econ Point of View)

Determining whether to apply for a Ph.D. program or not, going through each application, and then finally making a decision is exhausting. It forces, rightfully so, the young economist to look on his experiences and his goals. I asked myself over and over about where I had been, where I am, and where I want to go. Here are some of my reflections.

How the heck did I end up here?

Some people find their vocation early in life and take the exact right steps. Other people find their vocation while reading Exchange and Production after a long workday. I took this indirect route. Until I discovered economics, academics were the means and not the ends for me. During my undergraduate, I did well in difficult physics and political science programs and on the football field. This ultimately led to an enjoyable well-paying job. That was my goal for college and I surpassed it.

However, when I started studying economics, my goals drastically changed. Economics turned my life anew. Suddenly, the good job was inadequate. I could not stop researching economics. My free time turned into economics time. Through blogs, ¨pop¨economics, and academic work, I had found my passion. It just kept building. I woke up to read Hayek on information before work and fell asleep to Kirzner on competition and price theory. Throughout my day, I listened to lectures, followed blogs, and economics audiobooks. Economics became my life and it spread from how I made decisions to how I spoke. Continue reading “Transitioning from the BGSE to a PhD”