I am a first year economics PhD student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. We are currently studying all the classical theoretical models in microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics.
The most rewarding thing about being a PhD student is the constant intellectual stimulation. We learn new material at a very rapid pace, and we are also expected to explore the topics further on our own. Also, graduate programs generally attract brilliant students from all over the world. So being in an academic environment with a (very diverse) group of top students has been a great opportunity for me to have great discussions and to learn, not only about economics, but also about many different cultures.
So far, we’ve only been studying theoretical models. I believe the courses that helped prepare me the most were some of my math courses. The most helpful courses were MATH 290 and MATH 315 (intro to advanced math, and advanced calculus [real analysis], respectively). Having an extensive calculus and linear algebra background has also been very helpful. But I found that the key is not just to be able to reproduce a proof or perform a calculation, but rather to learn how to think in an analytical and logical way. Finally, I believe taking a lot of economics electives also helped me by narrowing down my interests to a specific field. If I hadn’t taken certain electives, I probably would not have chosen to continue studying economics!
It is really important to have a driving passion for whatever it is you choose to do. If you choose to pursue graduate studies in economics, it is absolutely essential to know the exact reasons behind your choice. I personally wrote them down and posted them where I can see them everyday. You will often feel tired, frustrated, and/or overwhelmed, in which case you need to remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing. Otherwise, it will be very hard to continue, let alone succeed.