As Commencement nears, three doctoral students in the College of Business Department of Economics at the University of Nevada, Reno, are continuing to work on their research with the hope their years of hard work will pay off.
“Students in the Economic PhD Program get to experience what academic research entails and took first steps in becoming academic researchers,” Sankar Mukhopadhyay, University economics professor and chair of graduate studies in economics, said. “They find out that research is a lot of work and progress is not always smooth. Often, there are periods in research when there is no progress followed by discrete jumps. It is about persevering even when you do not see any obvious progress.”
Olga Shapoval, fifth year PhD student, economics
Olga Shapoval came to the United States from Russia 15 years ago. She completed her undergraduate degree at Sonoma State University and came to the University of Nevada, Reno after meeting assistant professor in economics, Todd Sorensen. He told her more about the program and she was sold on the great location and smaller program size, where she knew she could have frequent interactions with her professors.
Shapoval’s research interests lie in health economics where she evaluates the Hospital-Acquired Condition Reduction Program (HACRP), a part of the Affordable Care Act. The program is known to penalize hospitals with high rates of infections and Shapoval assesses how hospitals are doing over time as a result.
“This program is designed to target hospitals who have high rates of infection in the hopes that they will improve; however, my research is finding this is not necessarily the case,” Shapoval said. “While, over time, hospitals with bad rates of infection have improved, hospitals who started off reporting excellent conditions got worse.”
Shapoval explained that under HACRP the worst 25% of hospitals are financially penalized. Her research offers explanations for her findings.
“There are a number of factors to consider under this policy,” she said. “Rural versus urban hospitals; some hospitals with the highest infection rates, get the sickest patients; the 1% decrease in reimbursement of Medicare – all play a factor. Additionally, there is public shame for hospitals in the worst 25%. What is most clear, however, is the complexity of these programs – each healthcare system needs people who are trained to understand exactly what they are. I don’t see an incentive for them to realize the hype.”
She said that, because of the complexity and effort needed to sustain them, some hospitals are likely realizing they have some leeway and are shifting their efforts and resources to other areas.
On her experience in the Economics PhD program, which started in the College of Business in 2006, she praised the faculty for their ongoing support and availability.
“My work with my advisor, and really all the professors in the program, has been exactly what I was looking for,” Shapoval said. “This is a small and nurturing program where every single person wants to see you succeed. This is about relationships – I’m getting a degree because of these people, these people who know and support me.”
During her time as a PhD student, Shapoval’s family also grew and she stressed her immense appreciation to everyone in the program for their support.
“After I completed my comprehensives and I knew I passed the exams, I knew I wanted to have a baby,” she said. “Everyone was so supportive. If it wasn’t for this school, I don’t think they would have been willing to accommodate me so much. I was a Teaching Assistant while home with a baby, which meant I still qualified for a fee waiver. I want to encourage other women who want to get a top education, to find a place like this one – where they support you unconditionally."
While in the job market, Shapoval said the support from the Economics faculty was been unrelenting.
“The job market is so tough right now,” she said. “Tenure-track jobs for PhD students have decreased by 65%. I got a role at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama – it was my top choice. My adviser, Sankar, has been the greatest support for me!”
Mobarak Hossain, fifth year PhD student, economics
With an ambition to complete his doctoral degree in America, Mobarak Hossain came to the University of Nevada, Reno after spending three years as a math lecturer in Bangladesh. While he started out here as a math master’s degree student, he quickly realized he had an opportunity to explore a field he was even more passionate about, economics.
Hossain’s primary research area focuses on economic policies and how they are impacting entrepreneurship.
“Entrepreneurs create jobs and grow the economy, so policy makers are very eager to know about entrepreneurs,” Hossain said. “There have been a number of factors debated as to whether some policies impact a person’s desire to become an entrepreneur – health insurance being among them. My research evaluates if health insurance is a factor in a person’s decision to start their own employee-based business.”
With healthcare costs in the U.S. higher than any other industrialized nation, Hossain’s research explores “entrepreneurship lock,” a term used when an employee decides not to go out on their own due to the benefits associated with working for a larger organization – healthcare principal among them.
“Since the Affordable Care Act, no one has looked at the price dimension,” Hossain said. Based on the study, Hossain said findings indicate that health insurance prices do not have a significant impact on an employee’s decision to become an entrepreneur.
Hossain’s other research focuses on policies which could potentially create more entrepreneurs. “We developed and estimated the first dynamic structural micro-econometric model explicitly accounting for employer and non-employer entrepreneurs. In our model, individuals in each period choose to work as an employee, as one of the two entrepreneur types, or to be non-employed. Different work experiences may affect earnings in the three careers in different ways. The model replicates key data patterns. We simulate how policy scenarios would affect individuals’ choices to become employers and non-employers. Our policy simulation results indicate that policy makers can attract potential entrepreneurs by incentivizing them. This incentive could be a onetime subsidy, multiple subsidies, a start-up subsidy, etc.”
After he receives his degree this May, Hossain will be moving with his family to Arizona where he accepted an instructor position. He plans to continue his research and, as jobs become more available, he hopes to find a position in academia.
Together with their advisor, Mukhopadhyay, Hossain and Shapoval, also completed a joint paper, “The effects of the Affordable Care Act on Workplace Absenteeism of Overweight and Obese Workers.”
The paper evaluated whether the expansion of health insurance coverage brought about by the Affordable Care Act of 2010, led to a decline in absenteeism among overweight and obese individuals.
“Our paper about the ACA came out of a research class I was teaching a few years ago,” Mukhopadhyay said. “As with all collaborative research projects we all worked on different aspects. We would often discuss what would be the best way to proceed and everybody brought their ideas. Since they were doing the bulk of the empirical work, they would come up with issues that we did not foresee at the beginning including things such as availability of variables, their statistical properties. Often, they would solve them on their own or propose solutions, since they were more familiar with what was in the data. Once we had our empirical results, I wrote a draft that everyone edited to get to the final paper.”
Ege Can, fourth year PhD student, economics
As an industrial engineer in Turkey, Ege Can, wanted to do more. He changed course, applying to multiple PhD programs across the U.S. On Aug. 2, 2017, he came to Reno, Nevada – sight unseen – to begin his economics PhD.
Can is interested in studying the economics of entrepreneurship. His focus area of econometrics, how one analyzes data and methodology, looks at how public policy changes impact entrepreneurs. For his job-market paper, Can is specifically looking at the changes in income tax policies. By separating entrepreneur businesses into two categories – unincorporated and incorporated – he is analyzing which group of entrepreneurs these tax changes are impacting the most.
“This split sheds light on examining how these two types differ in sensitivity to individual-specific marginal and average income tax rate changes in the U.S.,” Can said. “My empirical findings show that marginal and average personal income tax rates positively affect the decision to become a self-employed worker with an incorporated business.”
In addition to his works evaluating income tax policies, Can has also researched the economic aspects of gambling.
“I aim to provide evidence on why sports gambling is an interesting and appealing tax base and how the results from Nevada can apply to other states,” he said.
Can worked on this essay, the third in his dissertation, with his co-advisor and University economics professor Mark Nichols. When asked about the economics PhD program, Can, who is in his fourth year of the program but in the job market, did not hold back his enthusiasm.
Another aspect of his research focused on the enforceability of non-compete covenants in the U.S. This research took place with his co-advisor, Frank Fossen, associate professor of economics. The research studied the agreements that restrict employees from starting a new company that competes with their previous company with a specific focus on how the enforceability of non-compete covenants reduces entrepreneurial and innovative activities in a state, and this is his second dissertation chapter. In addition to their research on non-compete agreements and entrepreneurship, Can and Fossen also have a forthcoming publication about growth regimes and entrepreneurship in the U.S.
“My co-advisers have been extremely helpful,” he said. “I have worked as a research assistant and teaching assistant and found that this University offers a space where graduate students can really grow. I know I’ve grown here.”
With research as his stated passion, Can wants to stay in academia in the U.S.
“My short-term goal is to enjoy the daily grind of research,” he said. “Even though I’m in the job market, if I don’t find a suitable job, I’ll keep working for another year with my co-advisers. I love Reno – it has become my second home. I love my life here.”