ECON 490 Course Information

2024-2025 Descriptions

These descriptions are for the Winter 2024/2025 academic year. New descriptions will be posted in May 2025.

ECON 490 (Seminar in Applied Economics) is the capstone course for BA Economics students.  It is an opportunity to showcase everything you’ve learned in your degree, and one of the most valuable learning experiences in the economics program.  It’s also a signature of the VSE experience.  However, to get the most out of this course, you should pay close attention the differences between the sections of ECON 490:

  • Section topic and focus: each section of ECON 490 has a different topic, chosen by the instructor, based on their interests and expertise.  It is a good idea to choose a section that matches your interests!  Some sections allow you to be more independent, while others guide you more closely along the way: being thoughtful about the skills and time you bring to the course will help you to choose a section that’s right for you.
  • Section format: some sections of ECON 490 are offered in different formats, ranging from individual thesis-style projects, to group-learning, to community-engaged learning.  Choose a section that matches the kinds of skills you want to demonstrate and learn.

You can learn more about both of these types of ECON 490 sections below.

Please note that it is your exclusive responsibility to verify that you meet the prerequisites for every course you register in. In particular, it is very important to note that UBC’s online graduation-check tools, as well as Arts Advising, will only verify whether you will satisfy your graduation requirements if you complete all of your courses successfully. They will not check if your intended order will cause a prerequisite conflict.

Example: Suppose you need to take courses A and B to graduate, and A is a prerequisite for B. You register in course B in term 1 and in course A in term 2. In this case, the graduation check will say that you satisfy the graduation requirements. However, you will not be allowed to complete course B in term 1, because you are missing course A as prerequisite. As a result, you will not be able to graduate on time.

It is therefore essential that you verify that you will satisfy the prerequisites for each course you intend to register in, in the sequence you intend to take them.

Please also note that all upper-level economics courses have prerequisites (including 490), which you must complete before you can start the upper-level course.  You may not complete any prerequisite at the same time as the relevant course – you need to satisfy them in advance. This is particularly important as you plan your ECON 490 registration.

For reference,  all of ECON 301, 302, 325 and 326 are prerequisites for ECON 490. They must all be successfully completed before enrolling in ECON 490. They may not be taken concurrently with ECON 490.


ECON 490 Section Formats

In order to accommodate different student goals and needs, the VSE offers ECON 490 in two different formats. Please familiarize yourself with the features of each ECON 490 format in order to select the one most appropriate for your academic background and objectives.

Most sections of ECON 490 are offered in the course’s traditional format, with sections containing approximately 20 students. The first weeks of the course will include a brief econometrics refresher and a general discussion of research methods. Each student will then design and carry out an individual empirical research project, with guidance provided by the instructor in one-on-one meetings.

Students then usually present their research projects to the class prior to submitting their individual final papers. Many traditional format sections have a predetermined theme (e.g., development economics, labour economics, international finance, etc.). Students who choose to register in traditional format sections should:

  • Be comfortable with the material taught in ECON 326, and familiar with econometric software (STATA or R). A grade of 75 or above in ECON 326 is recommended.
  • Be interested in the theme of the section, and expect to conduct a project in that field of economics.
  • Be prepared to work independently, with occasional guidance from the instructor

In 2024, these are ECON490 sections 001 - 005

In the team research section, students conduct their research project in a small group setting (max 4 members), rather than individually. The instructor provides a research direction and guidance on how to work in a group. The team research section will have a higher enrolment than traditional ones.

However,  the structure of this format allows the instructor to spend twice as much time meeting with a given group than would normally be available to an individual student in traditional format sections. The team research section also features a more thorough review of econometric concepts and the use of statistical software at the beginning of the course. Students who feel they need a stronger refresher of the concepts taught in ECON 326, who are not comfortable with independent research, or who would like to build their teamwork skills should strongly consider registering in the team research section.

In 2024, this is ECON490 section 006

ECON 490 Section Descriptions

In addition to the formats described above, each section of ECON 490 has a different topic, chosen by the instructor.  You can find the current list below, separated by term.

Important Note

These descriptions are subject to change.

Term 1

Prof Michael Vaney

This section of Econ 490 will focus on empirical issues in Financial Economics.

There will be lectures and computer labs in the first weeks of the course. The lectures will introduce some of the foundational material in financial economics as well as cover empirical methods that can be of particular use in finance. The computer labs will familiarize students with data collection and coding of statistical software and specific labs will focus on portfolio finance, measuring the cost of capital, and event study methodologies. During this time students will also be formulating their own research question. Following the structured lectures and labs, students will work independently to complete their own research project. In the final weeks of the course, students will present the results of the research in both a formal paper and an in-class presentation.

Prof Ratna K. Shrestha

This section of ECON 490 guides students in performing independent research on a topic of their choice. While the primary focus is on climate change, sustainable development, and energy or environmental economics, students may choose topics from any aspect of data analysis or empirical economics. The goal is to produce a research paper that is potentially publishable in a reputable academic journal in Economics, Natural Science, Political Science, or Psychology.

The course starts with a refresher on basic statistics and discussions on how to formulate an interesting research question. The first assignment will focus on basic data manipulation or wrangling (in R or Python). The second assignment will require students to find data of their interest and perform exploratory data analysis. The midterm and final will involve more rigorous data analysis, using one or more statistical techniques such as Logistic Regression, Multivariate Regression, Panel Data Analysis, Instrumental Variable Regression, Difference-in-Differences, and Regression Discontinuity Design. Although the focus is on causal inference, students may choose to conduct any other rigorous analysis of their choice, including inequality analysis and market segmentation. As part of both the midterm and final, students are required to make a class presentation (via ZOOM or in-class). This will provide an opportunity to receive feedback and comments, and revise their papers before the final submission.

There will be several one-to-one or group Zoom sessions as necessary, in addition to regular office hours, to guide students towards producing robust data analyses with potentially fascinating results worthy of publication.

Prof Felipe Valencia Caicedo

In this course, students will familiarize themselves with the study of economic inequality from the perspective of applied economics, development economics and economic history. Among other things, they will get to know about relevant dimensions of inequality and explore how inequality changes along different stages of development of a country. We will look at the impact of inequality on both developing and developed countries, as well as the intrinsic and functional aspects of this phenomenon. An important part of the course will be devoted to uncover the historical origins of inequality. Next to developing their understanding of econometric tools, students are expected to learn how to measure inequality in the data and compare the degree of economic inequality across countries and time. Most importantly, they will look at the drivers and multifaceted consequences of inequality. The ultimate goal of this research module is to give students a solid foundation for selecting their own research topic in this area.

Term 2

Prof Giovanni Gallipoli

The course is meant to facilitate the development of research skills. Focus will be on producing new research and learning how to give feedback on research by others. We will overview practical aspects such as accessing useful data sources, editing documents, using software for data work, providing comments on other students' papers and actively participating in class presentations. Students will present their work to each other and in a class setting. Learning how to provide feedback and help each other will be an integral part of the course. While students will have a choice of topics to work on, the instructor will provide an overview of topics related to his own research, including current work on the distribution of income and consumption using microdata.

Prof Terry Moon

The main goal of this course is to help students write a research paper in public economics and policy. To do so, the course is divided into two parts: (1) it will expose students to a set of topics in public economics, and (2) it will provide them with econometric tools to analyze data and make statistical inference. Students will learn necessary tools to evaluate a research paper, and will have individual meetings to discuss how to apply these tools to pursue their own research ideas. Near the end, students will have a chance to present their research paper. Possible topics include local public finance, innovation policies, taxes and transfer programs.

Prof Marina Adshade

As the gap between the world's richest and poorest countries continues to widen, economic growth and development remain among the most pressing challenges of our time. In this section of ECON 490, students will explore the factors driving long-term economic growth, utilizing panel data analysis to investigate the determinants of economic outcomes across nations. Through collaborative learning in small teams of three or four, students will conduct a long-run growth accounting exercise, focusing on a specific determinant of economic growth. Emphasizing the use of statistical software and team research skills, this course provides hands-on experience in data analysis and economic research, preparing students for a variety of research-focused careers and programs. For more information on the course objectives, structure, and assessments, please refer to the 2023 syllabus here.