Dec. 20, 2022Print | PDF
Earlier this year, Yu Ning Mao, an undergraduate Economics student at the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University, was selected as a finalist in the 2022 Canadian Economics Association - Bank of Canada Undergraduate Student Paper Awards, presenting her research findings at the 2022 Canadian Economics Association Annual Meeting.
Her research studied whether students graduating in the COVID-19 recession experienced additional labour market difficulties compared with earlier cohorts, using readily available Labour Force Survey (LFS) data.
Originally started as a course project for EC481: Economics Paper and Seminar, Mao impressed professors with not only the research paper, but her engagement in class and support of her peers.
“Yu Ning Mao is an engaging student who asks thoughtful questions and participates in lively group discussions that demonstrate her interest in economics and especially the impact of COVID-19 on labour market outcomes,” said Ridwan Karim, Assistant Professor in the Economics Department and Mao’s instructor for EC481.
“Her project required her to review the relevant literature, collect the necessary data, and use the data analysis tool, STATA, extensively. Her work was particularly impressive given the time constraints of the course and the ambitious nature of her research question. I am sure she can take the project further, if she chooses to do so.”
Associate Professor of Economics, Christine Neill, whose research is in the economics of post-secondary education, explains: “There’s research showing that young people who graduate in a recession start off behind compared with those who graduate into a better labour market. That’s partly why the Canada Emergency Student Benefit was introduced early in the pandemic. Yu’s research looks at whether we can use data that comes out quickly– to see those effects in close to real time. That might put governments in a better position to adapt policies more quickly in response to a recession. And it’s early days, but Yu’s work suggests the COVID recession might not have led to as big an income loss as other recessions. That’s something economists will be keeping a close eye on as more data comes in.”
Upon her expected graduation from the Lazaridis Economics program this spring, Yu is hoping to attend law school and work on rights-based and policy reform.
“Yu is the sort of person we’d love to keep in the economics profession. She’s interested in policy issues, has a great set of skills in communication in particular, and spends a lot of her time reaching out to people to build a better community” said Neill. “But I have no doubt, she’ll make an outstanding lawyer, and any law school would be lucky to count her among their students.”
"My interest in economics was really to learn the skills that the discipline offered – analytical thinking, how to conduct research, improving my writing skills, being able to read academic texts, and so forth. When I came to the Lazaridis School for a campus tour, I found I really enjoyed the culture here."
We sat down with Mao to talk about her research, findings, and experience presenting at the conference.
My paper looked at whether there is evidence for a COVID-cohort specific shock using the Labour Force Survey data. Did graduates during 2020 and 2021 have lower earnings and employment as anticipated in the first 18 months post-COVID?
This project started as part of my undergraduate paper requirement as an Economics student at Laurier (ie EC481), but I was initially unsure what topic I wanted to work on. I was always particularly interested in economic policy and the economics of education, so I emailed one of my Professors, Dr. Christine Neill, with whom I took multiple courses with previously, including economics of education, with areas of economics I was interested in, and asked for suggestions.
Dr. Neill forwarded this paper by Messacar, Handler, and Frenette (2021) that predicted the earnings losses COVID graduates could face, and suggested I do a similar analysis with more current data. I was really excited about this idea because it combined aspects of economics that I am passionate about.
Previous studies tell us that graduating in a recession can lead to lower incomes for years afterwards, and more recent studies also tell us that income is strongly correlated with other factors of wellbeing. If it was true that graduating into the COVID recession meant one would face earning losses, and if using quicker but similar data like the Labour Force Survey – which is published monthly – instead of the Census – published every 5 years – could give us a good idea of the magnitude of this effect, this type of analysis could help with quicker policy development, and better policy design.
I found some fairly interesting results – I did not find a negative effect on wages and employment probabilities of COVID graduates. My results suggested that those graduating in the COVID recession earned more than expected based on the employment and earnings paths of those graduating just before. The big idea was that this suggested there were reasons to think the COVID recession operated very differently from previous recessions, and I think we’ve seen a lot of that. Women were hit harder than men, it was much shorter and sharper than previous recessions, and we’ve seen post-secondary enrolment fall. With more data coming out –including the Census – I’m looking to refine my analysis and continue my research on this topic.
Dr. Neill advised me on the competition. She was always happy to help if I was stuck on a line of STATA code, and to answer any questions I had throughout the process of writing and polishing the paper.
For the competition , I created a draft of what my poster and content would look like and she sent back notes with her suggestions and told me to enjoy the experience! I was nervous at the thought of presenting my research in front of industry professionals, so for me, that was probably the most helpful advice. Dr. Neill wasn’t able to make it to the event in person, unfortunately, but her guidance is what got me so far.
The first part of the competition was a paper submission, and the top 10 research papers were chosen to present their thesis at the Canadian Economics Association. This year it was held in Ottawa at Carlton University. The competition is run by the Bank of Canada and is open to all undergraduate students across Canada. The top 10 this year included students from Simon Fraser University, University of British Columbia, University of Montreal, and the University of Winnipeg.
I travelled to Ottawa. It was an amazing experience – we had admission to the entire event, so I was able to sit in and listen to the different topics, new research, and keynotes that were being presented by industry leaders on economic policy and world events. It was definitely a very unique experience, getting a front-row seat to understanding how policy decisions are really made.
I also made new friends with my fellow competitors. Everyone was so kind, and we even got to explore parts of Ottawa together! We were all from very different universities, so I learned a lot about the different Economics programs across Canada.
Dr. Neill actually emailed me about the competition. I wasn’t confident enough in my research, but she really encouraged me to submit my paper. I’m glad I did – it was such an unforgettable experience.
I created a draft of the poster and Dr. Neill emailed me her thoughts and notes on the content. I also practiced my pitch a lot, and had my friends ask me questions about the research to better prepare myself in front of the judges. I was beyond nervous, but someone told me no one knew this paper better than myself, and that’s when I knew I was ready.
I actually never took Economics in high school, though it was an option at my school. My interest in economics was really to learn the skills that the discipline offered – analytical thinking, how to conduct research, improving my writing skills, being able to read academic texts, and so forth. When I came to the Lazaridis School for a campus tour, I found I really enjoyed the culture here and the curriculum was engaging, so I ended up choosing Economics at Laurier!
Depending on your background, Economics can be challenging. But it is definitely rewarding, and it teaches you so much more than supply and demand. There are a lot of skills that you build over the four years you’re here, and you meet some of the best people in Economics!
I’m hoping to get into law school and work on rights-based policy reform. This competition gave me an insight into how Economics can truly shape and change our daily lives. The analysis we conduct and the data we collect matter. Both my experience at Laurier and this competition have taught me the skills I’d need to succeed.
After the last day of the conference, a couple of us from the paper competition went out together for dinner and drinks. After sightseeing around Ottawa for a few hours, we decided we were hungry again. One of us looked up the “best burger place in Ottawa” and said they would lead us there without telling us where, so we walked for two hours to the “best burger place in Ottawa”, which was South St. Burger. We were never the same after that. Navigation tasks were forever forfeited by them.