Exploring Economics at UCL

‘ExploreEcon’ is an annual research conference for the university’s economics undergraduates. Introduced two years ago, the conference is seen as a way to further UCL's stated objective of providing a research-based education. This article, by Mateusz Stalinski, is one student’s report on the experience.

University College London’s ExploreEcon conference is an annual undergraduate research showcase that takes place in March. The conference provides an excellent opportunity for undergraduate students to demonstrate their passion for the subject as well as to share their research ideas with peers. There is nothing more motivating to start your own project than the prospect of presenting it to others. The UCL Explore Econ has been extremely popular among UCL students and many high quality submissions have been rejected due to time constraints on the conference day. For me, personally, participating twice in the UCL Explore Econ conference was a truly enriching experience that allowed me to shape my research interests and gain invaluable skills necessary to purse my interests further.

The conference is a genuinely professional event durng which all presentations are assessed by a panel of distinguished judges. This year students had the privilege to share their work with Janet Henry (Global Chief Economist of HSBC), Gill Hammond (Bank of England), Adam Lyons (UK Government’s Department for International Development) and Professor Stephen Smith (UCL Department of Economics). Apart from students' presentations, each conference has a keynote speaker who gives a brief introduction into their subject of expertise. This year the audience thoroughly enjoyed a presentation by Sharon White (Ofcom’s Chief Executive) on the role of the communication regulator in the UK and cooperation between Ofcom and the EU competition authorities.

It is important to note that the UCL Explore Econ conference is preceded by a long period of preparations. In fact, for the participants, this is the most valuable part of the project. All of us received detailed feedback both on conference proposals and on our first drafts. What is more, the conference organisers: Dr Parama Chaudhury, Dr Cloda Jenkins, and Dr Christian Spielmann (UCL Economics Department) run a series of workshops (called Skill Labs) on data exploration, academic writing, and giving presentations. Not only have the extra classes provided us with the skills necessary to do well on the conference day, but they have also inspired many of us to start researching a particular topic.

In my presentation ‘Consequences of incomplete employment contracts in a laboratory experiment’ I discussed results of an economic experiment which I conducted with university and high school students from December 2015 to February 2016. The main aim of the experiment was to evaluate impact of incomplete employment contracts on wages. 209 students played a computer game in which buyers and sellers could make interactive decisions. The game imitated labour market, in which effort levels chosen by workers were disclosed to employers with probability 0.6 in treatments, and 1 in controls. Comparing wage rate choices in the two groups allowed me to capture impact of incomplete employment contracts on wage determination. In my paper the empirical results were supplemented by a simple dynamic programming model of labour market which permitted long-term consequences of losing employment. The experimental data supported the research hypothesis that higher degree of incomplete employment contracts is associated with higher wage required to motivate workers to exert maximum effort.

In the conference students’ ideas are presented in different formats: essays, posters, and videos. Last year, as a first year student, I presented a research poster ‘Why (not) to join Boko Haram?’ evaluating push and pullfactors of joining terrorist groups (Figure 1). The experience from the previous conference greatly helped me in writing an essay for ExploreEcon 2016.

Figure 1

Conducting research, especially collecting primary data for the first time, was undoubtedly a big challenge. It would not have been possible for me to create a methodologically valid experiment without guidance from members of the UCL Economics Department. Analysing feedback, opportunity to ask questions, and discussing the project during countless meetings with professors and other students, was a great learning experience. Thanks to participating in ExploreEcon I could apply theory from my microeconomics and econometrics classes in practice, which only enhanced my understanding and motivated me to study the often abstract concepts and models further. I strongly believe that the experience that I gained by participating in ExploreEcon will improve my future employability and help me to achieve success in further studies.

Finally, ExploreEcon is a great opportunity to get inspired by work of others. Watching my colleagues presenting their research was a great pleasure and yet another reason to start one of our endless debates about economics.

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