Monday, June 30, 2008


I was in Barcelona last week teaching a course on the economics and econometrics of program evaluation with my friend Michael Lechner. We originally got into the course business in the late 1990s when the IFAU in Sweden wanted to repeat the successful course offered by Jim Heckman and Costas Meghir but was unable to induce them to do so. Michael and I were brought in as substitutes (a tall order indeed and one that I make no claim to fulfill). Since that time we have done versions of the course twice in IFAU, once in Nuremberg at the IAB, once in Cologne, once in Aarhus and once in Copenhagen. We have also both dones mini-versions on our own at various places.

This iteration of the course, which included doctoral students from around Europe, including a large delegation from Uppsala, as well as people from Germany, Italy, the US, Russia and Spain and maybe one or two other countires, was one of the most fun for us. This course differed from previous version in that there was no empirical aspect for the students but there were student presentations of papers. This made it more like the annual European Summer School in Labor Economics that the IZA runs and which I taught in a few years ago. The paper presentations seemed to induce a differential selection of more advanced and more engaged students as the lectures were more interactive than we recall them being in previous cases, which is of course great fun for us.

There are a lot of these sorts of courses in Europe - Guido Imbens is coming to a different university in Barcelona to give a course in applied econometrics in two weeks for example, and my friends Petra Todd and Ed Vytlacil have both done such courses. For the students, they provide a chance to meet, learn from and perhaps impress scholars from North America or from leading departments in Europe. Most European departments are relatively small by North American standards so it also provides a chance for the students to see different approaches that they might not get in their home department. The students also get a chance to start networking with students from elsewhere in Europe.

For me, it is always fun to go to Europe and to see Michael. I also get to look around for up-and-coming young labor economists in Europe whose careers I can encourage (and who would make good referees for the Journal of Labor Economics)! I also enjoy hearing about the research that the students are doing as it is a cheap way to learn about what policies are presently of interest around Europe. I think there are also benefits to my citation count as occasionally some of my papers are mentioned during the course lectures. :)