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Undergraduate Research

Undergraduate students are encouraged to seek out research opportunitites within the Department through coursework, as well as on campus through the Academic Enrichment Programs, and Research Experience and Applied Learning (REAL) Portal.

These opportunities supplement and enhance coursework, provide a chance to participate in ongoing research in the Department, and foster collaboration with faculty (helpful for obtaining letters of recommendation).

Departmental coursework related to research include ECON 191A-B: Senior Essay Seminar and ECON 199: Special Studies.

ECON 191A-B: Senior Essay Seminar

These classes give students with superior records in the Department of Economics an opportunity to learn how to do research and then write an original research paper. Enrollment is limited to seniors who have completed their microeconomics and econometrics core course requirements, earned typically a 3.5 or above GPA in their upper-division economics courses, and who show promise for conducting original research.

These courses are required for those who wish to graduate with the "Highest Distinction" honors designation on their diploma.



ECON 191A-B Information Session & Application Information

Students interested in taking the Senior Essay Seminar with Professor Vespa in Fall 2021 and Winter 2022 must fill out the ECON 191 A/B Application and submit their application task (must be signed in to your UCSD google account) by 11:59pm on Tuesday, June 1st.

We will be holding a virtual information session via Zoom to discuss what we look for in the application task and paragraph at 11:30am on Thursday, May 6th.  Please register for the Zoom meeting using your official UCSD email address here: ECON 191 A/B Information Session

The Senior Essay Seminar (Econ 191A-191B) is for those of you with superior records who would like to build on your training through the pursuit of a research topic in the economics subfield of your choice. Completion of these two courses is part of the requirement for majors wishing to graduate with the phrase “with highest distinction” on their diplomas. The typical completed paper runs 5,000-7,500 words and can serve as a writing sample for graduate school and job applications and may even be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Completing a research project and interacting closely with faculty and motivated peers is likely to be the most engaging, stimulating, and memorable part of your undergraduate training.

Enrollment is restricted to assure participants close contact with the faculty supervisor. These courses are normally limited to students with a GPA of 3.5 or better in upper division courses and who will have completed the intermediate microeconomics (100A, 100B, 100C) and econometrics (120A, 120B, 120C) sequences prior to the start of the first course. Students are further selected based on demonstrated potential for research through submission of an application task and a one paragraph proposal.

Class meetings focus on research methods, introduction to library resources, and student presentations of work in progress. Attendance is required. The meetings help to provide structure and feedback, but the bulk of the research process will be carried out independently. The research process includes a sequence of steps including:

  • Topic selection
  • Consultation with specialist librarians to identify data and literature
  • Literature review and data acquisition
  • Devising specific analysis plan in consultation with expert faculty
  • Managing data and conducting analyses
  • Building from a detailed proposal and rough draft to a polished paper

If you are interested in these courses, please fill out the Google Application (link above) and be ready to submit/upload the following:

  1. A 3-4 page document with your answers to the application task (see applicationtask.pdf)
  2. One paragraph describing your research interests.
  3. A copy of your degree audit in PDF format.

Your proposal and your overall record will be used to decide who is admitted. Admission decisions will be made by Tuesday, June 8th.

For reference, you can review some of the most successful papers written by students in recent cohorts and an example of a successful application at


ECON 199: Special Studies

Special Studies courses provide the opportunity to explore a particular topic in greater depth. The course may be used for upper-division Economics elective credit (Pass/No Pass) if taken for four units, but not if taken for two units. The topic, frequency and nature of meetings with the faculty member, and method of assessment are all determined in advance with the faculty member.


  • Completion of at least 90 units of undergraduate study.
  • Cumulative GPA of 2.5 or better.

Helpful Hints to Obtaining Faculty Support

  • The topic is not one already covered in a course.
  • You have taken the classes that are related to your topic.
  • You ask faculty who might have an interest (see faculty profiles) and know something about your topic (typically the faculty who teach the classes related to your topic).
  • You have done a brief search of the economics literature on your topic (look for articles written on your topic on EconLit or JStor for example).

How to Apply

  1. Discuss with a faculty member the possibility of a Special Studies project in the faculty's field of interest.
  2. Submit a request to enroll in Special Studies 197, 198 or 199 through the Enrollment Authorization System (EASy)
  3. Meet with your instructor first and then fill out the appropriate sections of the application.
  4. Include your project plan and prerequisite knowledge.
  5. Check with the sponsoring department for applicable application deadlines. 

Confirm that you have been enrolled in the class. 

  1. You will receive notification through EASy when you have been enrolled. 
  2. Check your schedule on WebReg to confirm your enrollment. 

Research Assistants - Program on hold until further notice

Research Assistants (program on hold)

Undergraduate Research Assistants work with faculty, or advanced graduate students, on their research projects.

If you are interested, please complete the information below. Be sure to press submit, after entering all of the requested information.

If a faculty member, or graduate student, is interested in working with you, they will contact you directly.

As of FA20, the Research Assistants Progam is on hold, until futher notice. This webpage will be updated as new information becomes available.  Upated: 11/20/2020


Contact Information

First Name *
Last Name *
UCSD email address *
Phone number
Year of graduation *
Major *
Are you proficient in any language other than English? If so, please list the language(s) and indicate whether you are proficient in speaking, writing and/or reading the language.

Microeconomics courses taken

Econometrics courses taken

Other relevant courses taken, including economics electives (if any)

Faculty previously worked with (if any)

Software familiarity *


Programming and web development familiarity*


Research areas of special interest (if any)

Preferred types of work (if any)

Faculty you are particularly interested in working with (if any)

Desired hours / week*

Available to work starting on...*

Available to work until...*


UC San Diego's McNair Program

Are you interested in pursuing a Ph.D? Are you considering a career in research or university teaching? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you should think about applying for admission to the UC San Diego McNair Program. 

Learn about UC San Diego's McNair Program, which helps low-income, first-generation college students prepare for doctoral study.

If you are interested in the McNair Program, please first see our Vice Chair of Undergraduate Education, Dr. Melissa Famulari, for details. Vice Chair's Office Hours and contact information is available here.