Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Information for Prospective PhD Students

In the US, a proposal is not a requirement for applying to do a PhD. Usually, students do one to two years of coursework before writing their proposal and it is enough to confirm that a department has faculty specializing in the general area that a student is interested in, say energy economics or climate change in my case. But, here in Australia, we expect students to submit a detailed proposal, even though in practice this proposal will be extensively revised after they start study. And in our economics program there is a year of coursework before students switch to research only. It makes sense to me for a student to select an area of interest to the potential supervisor and then discuss with the supervisor how to develop the proposal. Of course, a student might have a burning issue that they can't wait to conduct research on. But I doubt there are really many such cases. I certainly didn't know what I wanted to research. This was one of the main reasons I went to study in the US rather than remain in the UK. In the UK I would have needed to submit a proposal with my application.

Jack Pezzey has some good guidelines to help potential PhD students think about the application process in Australia. He recommends developing the proposal in consultation with him. He also has a great summary of his current research interests. That was meant to be one of the purposes of this blog. I used to have a research page on my website. But I scrapped that when I started this blog. I've decided it's time to put up a research page again. I hope this will be useful to give potential PhD students and collaborators an idea of what I am currently working on or would be interested in working.

Some previous thoughts on PhD applications.

World Energy Outlook 2012 and the Rebound Effect

I have been reading the 2012 World Energy Outlook from the IEA.  There is a special focus section of three chapters on the role that energy efficiency improvements could play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The report is generally very conservative on estimated uptake of alternative energy and, therefore, efficiency will be needed if there is to be any chance of staying within a 2C trajectory.

There is, however, only one mention of the rebound effect in this whole section in Box 10.2 on p316. Somehow they come up with an estimated rebound effect of only 9%. This is almost certainly an underestimate of the rebound effect. Typical estimates for direct rebound in consumer applications are around 30%, while on the production side and at the macro-level rebound effects can be much larger than this. The report does correctly note that:

"A significant portion of this could avoided by appropriate pricing policy"

A cap on carbon emissions will induce energy efficiency improvements as part of the solution. Though there will still be a rebound effect it can't result in the emissions reduction goal not being met. However, an efficiency policy without a carbon cap is likely to yield disappointing results in my opinion. With a carbon tax, rebound means that the carbon tax would have to be higher than it would be if there was no rebound, I think.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Being on the Cutting Edge

I was just reading another essay by Paul Graham, which I thought was worth linking. A lot of this is true for academic research too. The best way to get lots of good research ideas is to put yourself at the cutting edge. Doing research on any idea you have should lead to more ideas. Having a prepared mind is important. Studying and doing research prepares your mind. A short-cut is to put yourself in an environment where there are people at the cutting edge. This is why it is important to go to a good place to do graduate study etc. Going to conferences and seminars even not in what you think is your area. Something a lot of grad students don't do, but the successful ones do.

Eventually, you'll find you have so many ideas you have to pick and choose and prioritize between them. Having ideas will no longer be the problem, bringing them to fruition will be. That's when you'll start getting other people to work on them for you :)


I haven't posted so far this month. I have been travelling. First I was at the IPCC Working Group 3 meeting in Vigo, Spain. Then I was in Vienna where I gave a presentation on trends, drivers, and mitigation of climate change at W.U.. Now I am in Israel visiting family. Just coincided with kind of a war going on... Early tomorrow morning I start the long trip back to Australia.