Posts Tagged ‘student life’
Readers responding to Economic Woman often describe their first experience with economics – an introductory course in university, generally – with a mixture of disdain and repressed trauma. If only their professor had taught some of this stuff, they suggest,they might have stuck around in the discipline long enough to learn something.
I’ve always been struck at the difference in teaching methods between economics and my other major, international relations. The political science courses associate with international relations present several perspectives on each topic, citing particular theorists throughout, while introductory econ courses cover a subset of our knowledge as a supposedly coherent whole, usually with no references at all. There’s a particular sort of student, who has taken first year economics and accepted all of it as gospel, but hasn’t gone on to later courses, where everything gets more complicated. He or she spends a lot of time proselytizing for the internalizing of externalities, I find.
The realist/liberal/constructivist division in political science courses irritates me sometimes, because it avoids the work figuring out which lens is most useful or correct. But the disconnect between scholarly discourse in economics – where almost everything is up for debate, and many of the models taught in first year are decades out of date – and the single model built in first year courses is just as unrealistic.
All this is a very long lead-up for a link to a new journal that seeks to change all this: the International Journal of Pluralism and Economics Education. It’s probably too far outside the mainstream to affect my own dusty department, but I’m glad someone is thinking and writing about this stuff. The description quotes a petition by French university students:
Of all the approaches to economic questions that exist, generally only one is presented to us. This approach is supposed to explain everything by means of a purely axiomatic process, as if this were the economic truth. We do not accept this dogmatism. We want a pluralism of approaches, adapted to the complexity of the objects and to the uncertainty surrounding most of the big questions in economics.
I’m taking an economic history course focused on Karl Polanyi, especially The Great Transformation. Last class, my professor implied that it was a dense, tough text, so I had myself steeled for an evening of endurance reading. It turns out that Polanyi is a joy – this man has a sense of rhythm. This is from the first chapter:
While in the first part of the century constitutionalism was banned and the Holy Alliance suppressed freedom in the name of peace, during the other half – and again in the name of peace – constitutions were foisted upon turbulent despots by business-minded bankers. Thus under varying forms and ever-shifting ideologies – sometimes in the name of progress and liberty, sometimes by the authority of the throne and the altar, sometimes by grace of the stock exchange and the checkbook, sometimes by corruption and bribery, sometimes by moral argument and enlightened appeal, sometimes by the broadside and the bayonet – one and the same result was attained: peace was preserved.
At times, I wish we still wrote this way, with semicolons and a sense of importance.
Economics bloggers have posted a lot of advice for graduate students and young faculty, but not much for undergraduate students interested in economics. I’m something of an undergraduate expert – now heading into year five, I’ve studied at two different universities on two different continents: the University of Toronto and the University of Edinburgh.
This advice is written with a younger me in mind. I’m thinking of students who are motivated and looking for a challenge, but perhaps not quite sure where they want to end up.
1. Take more math
In high school, I enjoyed and excelled in math. But when I decided to pursue social science in university, I figured a bit of statistics was all I could make time for. In first year, I wanted to take Linear Algebra as an elective, but I held off. Now I know that a few tough quantitative courses look great on your transcript, even if you’re a history major. I should have had more confidence in my unusual interests – as it happens, a late switch to economics means that I do need that linear algebra course, so four years later, I’m picking it up over the summer.
2. Be interdisciplinary
If you go on to graduate school, studying outside your discipline will be nearly impossible. That’s too bad, because the best academics often draw on more than one area. This is your chance. Pick up some intro classes in political science, sociology, biology, or psychology; you’ll experience a different world view, and one day that background might make you a more innovative economist.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask
Don’t be afraid to ask professors to waive prerequisites or make room for you in a full course. At some universities and in some departments, profs are happy to make exceptions for bright, motivated students interested in their work. In later years, don’t be afraid to ask a favourite professor to do a reading course or independent study project with you. Don’t be afraid to ask counselling or psych services for help if you’re overwhelmed. Unless you’re rude, you won’t end up any worse off.
4. Talk to your professors
One day, you will need references from these people. Make sure they remember you. Approach them at the end of class or during office hours with an insightful question or a relevant magazine article. Ask for further reading on something that interests you. Good professors wish they could spend less time answering stupid questions (“Will this be on the test?”) and more time chatting about ideas with their students.
5. Switch majors (if you want to)
An extra year might feel like a long time right now, but over your lifetime, it’s nothing. Program switching can be taken too far – eventually you do want to pack up and graduate – but in moderation, it’s a small price to pay for a degree you can actually use. Don’t assume that scholarships and bursaries can’t be extended – it doesn’t hurt to ask.
6. Make time for other things
If you go to graduate school, you won’t have time for most extracurriculars. Again, this is your chance. University is about more than linear algebra. Take some time to build social networks and explore your interests.
Now it’s your turn. What have I missed?