Economics Ph.D. Student Austin L. MacDonald Is Awarded a Prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship

Graduate Center Ph.D. student Austin L. MacDonald

Graduate Center Ph.D. student Austin L. MacDonald (Economics) was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP) to support his doctoral studies and research into pricing financial assets by using machine learning. MacDonald is one of 45 economics students nationwide and the first Graduate Center economics student to win the prestigious fellowship.

As part of the fellowship, MacDonald will receive an annual stipend of $34,000 for three years. An additional $12,000 will go directly to The Graduate Center in each of the three years, for a total of $138,000.

MacDonald points out that a deeper understanding of the pricing of assets, such as stocks, and how financial variables interact results in credible research that can make real-world impacts in industry, policy, and public welfare. “While financial economics can be perceived as a complex field, it never loses its seminal simplicity: Finance improves the welfare of society,” MacDonald said, adding, “this is the guiding principle for NSF.”

MacDonald explained that traditional methods for estimating asset, or equity, prices face limitations when using large data sets. He is exploring ways to apply machine learning, a facet of artificial intelligence, to create more accurate predictive models that incorporate vast amounts of information. 

Before coming to The Graduate Center, MacDonald served as a deputy director at Mexico’s Treasury in the Debt Management Office, where he worked in sovereign financing strategies and debt sustainability. He was also a research assistant at the Espinosa Yglesias Research Center. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM) in Mexico City. He is now a teaching assistant for two first-year Ph.D. courses in econometrics and microeconomics.

Asked why he thinks his application stood out, MacDonald said, “I think my application reflected my genuine interest in research and teaching, and it also matched with the evaluation criteria and core mission of the NSF.” He added that he received extensive support and advice from Graduate Center Professors Lilia Maliar, Christos Giannikos, Wim Vijverberg, and Matthew Baker.

MacDonald advises fellow students to invest aggressively — both in time and effort — and to take risks when applying for grants. “Applications have a random component, and it is important to try and take the chance of getting rejected,” he said. “I think that submitting applications as graduate students is a process of self-discovery, and an opportunity to find that special spark within you, and turn that into a solid, coherent application that fits specific evaluation criteria.”

Published by the Office of Communications and Marketing

Submitted on: APR 13, 2021

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