BPP Student Institutions

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Informal and Formal Institutions

This page provides the informal and formal institutions of being a BPP PhD student. No doubt this document has changed over the years, and will continue to evolve here. However, this is one document that should be changed only by concensus with the entire BPP PhD student body, so please use the discussion page to propose changes before implementing them. The first version posted to the wiki was that received by Ed Egan from Orie Shelef in August 2009, and was pasted verbatim with only formatting changes.


Few would argue with the fact that peer interaction has been the true strength of the BPP Ph.D. program over the past decade. The program has over time developed a strong set of informal and formal institutions which have helped strengthen this interaction and promote ties among us which spillover as we head out as newly-minted faculty.

Informal institutions

Over the years, BPP has developed a pretty strong series of “cultural” norms among the camaraderie of Ph.D. students. These have inarguably strengthened the program both by increasing Ph.D. student cohesion and helping build a strong alumni network. A set group or cohort of students is usually responsible for organizing each activity.

Chronologically, from the start of the Fall semester, these are the events which have become standardized:

  • Post-first midterm drinks with 1st years (August): Most first years attend Econ 204, which tends to have a midterm before the Fall semester even starts. All BPP students typically host the 1st years for celebratory drinks after this first midterm, at a near-campus bar like Blake’s or Spats. The new second years organize.
  • Post-OEW beer and pretzels (September-May): Every week after OEW we have beer and pretzels (or in more recent semesters, fancy cheese and high grade wine). It has become the norm that second years are in charge of procuring and bringing the amenities. The beer should be cold. You must bring pretzels although no one eats them. You must not bring fat-free chips.
  • Welcome dinner (September): After some OEW at the start of the semester we all go to a local restaurant and have a big dinner. It is a good time to catch up about the summer, and generally stuff our faces.
  • Williamson Society (has varied, but tends to be in the Spring): Once a year, students who have passed their orals since the last Society meeting are inducted into the Williamson Society, where they take the formal secret pledge and are awarded with a wooden TCE schema. The Society meeting is often led by an alumnus of the program, who speaks of the importance of BPP in his/her career. Each cohort of students then prepares a skit, game or song where they “roast” the new inductees. In the past, a cohort may also roast BPP professors. We then have a big party. The third years (who will take their orals at the end of the year) are in charge of the administration of the Society meeting, but again, each individual class is in charge of its own skit.
  • BPP Holiday Party (December): BPP traditionally has a holiday party at a faculty member’s house, oftentimes after the last OEW. Sometimes faculty shirk on this responsibility. It’s our job to remind them.
  • Post second-year exam bowling (Mid summer): Soon after 2nd year exams, the first years typically organize a pizza and bowling night to congratulate second years. We reserve a couple of lanes at Albany Bowl and drink lots of Bud Light.
  • BPP alumni event at AOM (August): The students who just completed the job market are in charge of organizing a small get together at AOM, for current students and alumni. In the past, the BPP program pays up to $250 towards this event.

Note these are only the formalized informal norms; there are many informal informal norms such as cohort dinners, BBQs, poker nights, Strada jaunts and others.

Also, one of the most important informal institutions is simply hanging around the office and talking about research with colleagues. Alums have identified this as the biggest part of their BPP experience.

Formal institutions

Traditionally much of our formal training in critical thinking, as well as formal feedback on our work, has come via two formal BPP institutions: the student seminar and OEW. We only get as much from these as we put in, and it’s therefore important to clarify what expectations have been in previous years, when both institutions apparently worked so well.

Student seminar

2nd years and above attend 279S, the “student seminar,” on a weekly basis. This seminar is usually held early Thursday afternoons. The seminar consists of a weekly presentation by a BPP Ph.D. student (or sometimes by a student from another department or a visiting scholar). The schedule for presentations is decided at the first meeting of the semester. Both the presenter and the audience have obligations:

Presenter Obligations

  1. The presenter is responsible to distribute a paper on which her presentation will be based at least a few days before the seminar. This deadline has slipped in recent years, which may have contributed to fewer people actually reading the paper. Therefore, having an early deadline (not after Monday) is important. One of the major points of the seminar is that we should be reading one another’s work, so it’s important for the speaker to get his/her paper out early. Although the practice seems to have slipped a lot in recent years, it is very helpful to read one another’s work and give written feedback.
  2. The presenter is responsible for making a presentation that reasonably covers their allotted time (usually 90 minutes but sometimes less if a seminar is split). Presentations do NOT have to be a summary of the entire paper. It is quite acceptable and in some ways preferable to focus the discussion on parts of the paper that the presenter feels need the most work. Only for very early papers, or for students about to go on the job market, does a comprehensive presentation make sense.
  3. Part of the presenter’s job is to convey what will help him/her the most in terms of comments (e.g. the “Toffel slide” saying “this is what I want feedback on today”)
  4. It is a tradition for the speaker to bring chocolate for people to share. You will hear a great many opinions about the type of chocolate presenters are required to bring, but these rules are not codified. Traditionally this “chocolate” was thought of as penalty for distributing a late paper. However, this simply allows people an easy excuse to be late, and pretty much everyone brings chocolate these days. So bringing chocolate should not be thought of as an excuse to distribute your paper late.

Audience Obligations

There are really two obligations of the audience:

  1. Actually read the paper in advance
  2. Participate

Both norms have become increasingly ignored in the last few years. Every BPP student should allocate at least an hour a week to prepare for 279S, and should actively help and challenge the presenter during the seminar. In previous years many students have provided written feedback in advance of the presentation; this is not required but is certainly welcome, and the demise of this informal norm is further evidence that too many of us are ignoring our 279S responsibilities.


2nd years and above attend OEW, which is traditionally scheduled for 4-6pm on Thursday. After OEW we have pretzels, beer and chips.

Students have four responsibilities for OEW:

  1. Read the paper: Like with 279s, students should budget an hour or more to read the OEW paper every week.
  2. Referee reports: Every student is required to write a ~1 page referee report for 4 papers over the course of the semester. For these 4 weeks, students will obviously have to budget more time. Referee reports should not just summarize the paper; they should provide useful critiques and suggestions, and the basis for participation in the seminar.
  3. Participate in the seminar: OEW is traditionally an “active” seminar where the speaker is peppered with many questions. BPP students should be a part of this process, but we increasingly have not been. This may be because fewer and fewer of us are actually reading the paper or taking the referee reports seriously. Good preparation will hopefully help make us more of a part of the seminar.
  4. Attend a pre-seminar meeting with the speaker: BPP students traditionally meet with outside speakers for about 45 minutes before OEW starts. This has provided us with a great chance to “sell” the program and help build its reputation; many speakers have made positive comments about these meetings to our faculty. However, participation is often not very good. Students should plan on participating every week and missing a speaker meeting should be an exception, not the rule. Sometimes they are a drag, but more often than not the conversation is really interesting. It’s usually the responsibility of an upper-year student to lead the meeting, although the meeting is casual.

It should be noted that some students say that the topics chosen by invited speakers are becoming increasingly distant from our research interests; there are a few answers to this criticism. First, faculty convening the seminar are usually very open to suggestions from us about who to invite. In recent years we have instituted a very successful formal speaker nomination process by Ph.D. students which the faculty seem to like a lot. The speaker nomination process is usually performed by the BPP peer advisor. Second, you can still learn a lot by reading and thinking critically about a paper not directly in your research field.

Agreed Revisions / New Institions

On Thursday 27th January 2011, the BPP students attended a meeting with Steve Tadelis, where an agreement was reached on a new institution for presenting at the student seminar. Details are here: