Advice for economics grad students

Because, for whatever reason, I'm nervous about entering a world that plays according to different rules than the corporate one I'm used to, I've taken to reading and bookmarking a lot of "how to succeed in academia" articles. So as I come across good advice (or at least good advice for me), I'll post it here.

In 2005, Matthew Pearson wrote a letter for the new graduate economics students at UC Davis. The letter (PDF) has some advice specific to that program, but there's other good general advice buried in there too.

  • In the first year, it's "about learning that survival is not all about intelligence, nor passion, but commitment." Learning the fundamentals can be grueling, you'll feel like an imposter, but keep going. Pearson says: "Some research in behavioral economics suggests that people are happier with decisions they know are irreversible. Simply putting that decision [to quit] out of the realm of possibility will relieve you of a lot of burden."
  • Although he talks about preliminary exams at one point, the advice can be generalized: "...[I]t is very important to believe that you have it in you to pass." Learn from your mistakes, take your grades as indicators of where you may need to adjust and improve. "Freaking out is a waste of your time and energy."
  • "Begin to develop your strategy to pass early on." He's talking about the prelims here, but I'm thinking in terms of my master's paper I'll have to write. Ideally, my projects over the next few years will feed into the paper, so that the effort to compile, research, and write will be minimal. (My adviser suggested looking for a subject at my workplace; maximize what I already know well.)
  • I really like this bit of advice. He's talking about getting the fundamentals of economics in your bones, but again, I'm expanding its purview:

Develop your intuition. I cannot stress this enough. As I mentioned above about studying for understanding and not merely memorizing, you must believe that the intuition is there and that the material will seem much, much easier once you have grasped it...When you aim for this kind of understanding, however, things become so much clearer.

Often the barrier to true understanding is the nagging sense that you have SO MUCH to study, so you really must move on to the next topic. However, grazing over lots of material gathering cursory familiarity can be, at best, far less productive than studying one thing until you really understand it and do not need to depend on memorized content...[Me: Hmmmm.] Repetition [can be] sufficient for understanding less challenging material, but this is no longer the case.

[Me: In my spring information course, I felt bombarded by so many new concepts--RDF, metadata, ontologies, thesauri--that it wasn't until I was studying for the final that I grokked how they all fit together. Until that time, they were only vocabulary words. Given the pace of the course, and the fact that I was working full-time and taking a second course, there really was no time to do more than keep my head above water. Also, where I'm at now, everything is basic and fundamental. Intuition will only develop for me after I've worked with these things some more.]

  • "Develop your student capital." Learn to ask your classmates, professors, and TAs questions, no matter how silly you might feel. "There is no place for pride when you do not understand."
  • Develop an effective method for dealing with note-taking and note-studying. "Choose something that addresses your weaknesses effectively." (Spoken like a true lifehacker.) Pearson takes notes on looseleaf paper, transfers them to a binder, and then makes his own notes on the other side of the page as he goes through them. A nice system. I'm still working out mine. What I did in the spring worked OK, but didn't encourage revisiting the material and refreshing itself in my mind.
  • Rest effectively--this means time with friends and family, exercising, getting enough sleep. And yes, that means there can be "unproductive rest," as he calls it, like zoning out in front of the teevee.

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Did Jesus complain? Did Jesus complain?
Overheard at the bagel store, when the sassy counter gal was teasing her male co-worker

Surviving 100,000 instant Visitors on a Budget

“Last Sunday I casually wrote a post about the most common pitfalls in photography. I had written the post a long time ago, but I never put it on this site. The story ended up on the front page of Digg, stayed there for nearly 12 hours and was picked up by a bunch of secondary sources, resulting in 100,000 Visitors within a day (most of them within the first 12 hours). Trying to keep my server up and alive, I learned a lot about what it takes to keep the server alive, hence I decided to slide a non photography related post in, hopefully giving everyone who finds themselves in a similar situation some points to consider.”


Surviving 100,000 instant Visitors on a Budget

Defeat the modernity

Sadly the Dutch are turning back:

In cities across the Netherlands, mayors and town councils are closing down shops where marijuana is sold, rolled and smoked.  Municipalities are shuttering the brothels where prostitutes have been allowed to ply their trade legally.  Parliament is considering a ban on the sale of hallucinogenic “magic mushrooms."  Orthodox Christian members of parliament have introduced a bill that would allow civil officials with moral objections to refuse to perform gay marriages.  And Dutch authorities are trying to curtail the activities of an abortion rights group that assists women in neighboring countries where abortions are illegal.

The very interesting article ascribes these tendencies to growing unease about globalization and immigration.  Here is another shift of opinion:

"In the past, we looked at legal prostitution as a women’s liberation issue; now it’s looked at as exploitation of women and should be stopped,” said de Wolf, sitting in the offices of the medical complex where he works as an HIV-AIDS researcher.

This article can be read as illustrating many different points of view.  I’ll start with two points.  First, people [voters] need to feel they are in control, even if they indulge this preference irrationally.  Second, Europe will sooner become like the United States than vice versa.


Defeat the modernity

Credit card games

I usually forget to sign the back of my credit cards.  Or with one of my cards – the one I use most frequently – the signature rubs off quickly.  Every now and then the card will be rejected because it doesn’t have my signature on it.  Or they will require ID.

I then offer to sign the card, but they never accept this possibility.  Hrrmph.

Could not a thief have signed a previously unsigned card before using it?  In fact I would expect precisely that behavior from a thief.  Wouldn’t a thief take more care to sign than would a lazy, careless card holder?  Upon seeing the unsigned credit card, their estimate of my honesty should go up not down.

I have wondered why it ever makes sense for cards to be signed.  If you sign a card and it is stolen, can they not forge your signature more rather than less easily?  (Imagine signing into one of those signature-reading machines.)  And if merchants were more rational, maybe the signature would carry no positive value in the first place.


Credit card games

Everything is Miscellaneous

everything_is_misc-sm.jpg

This is a book about authority, order, information and knowledge – the evolution of the latter and the limitations imposed by the former. This hyper-intelligent journey through the history of classification (ex; library card catalogues) and the current climate (ex; tagging) makes an engaging case for the virtues of seemingly counterintuitive “messiness.” The anecdotes are lively, and the range of subjects is satisfying and entertaining: Dewey’s Decimals, our silverware drawers, Hamlet, the Federal Highway Administration, Wikipedia, intertwingularity, our family photo albums, and Darwin. Reading this reminded me how wonderful it is to be witnessing the development of new ways of collaborating and why we should all stay tuned in to see where all of this is headed. Whether you’re a skeptic or a steadfast believer in the great promise and possibility of the digital, these are ideas worth visiting. The “Social Knowing” chapter alone should be mandatory reading for all teachers.

– Steven Leckart

Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder
David Weinberger
2007, 288 pages
$17
Available from Amazon


Sample excerpts:

Imagine two people editing and reediting a Wikipedia article, articulating their differences on the article’s discussion page. They edge toward an article acceptable to both of them through a public negotiation of knowledge and come to a resolution. Yet the page they’ve negotiated may not represent either person’s point of view precisely. The knowing happened not in either one’s brain but in their conversation. The knowledge exists between the contributors. It is knowledge that has no knower. Social knowing changes who does the knowing and how, more than it changes the what of knowledge…As people communicate online, that conversation becomes part of a lively, significant, public digital knowledge - rather than chatting for one moment with a small group of friends and colleagues, every person potentially has access to a global audience. Taken together, that conversation also creates a mode of knowing we’ve never had before. Like subjectivity, it is rooted in individual standpoints and passions, which endows the bits with authenticity. But at the same time, these diverse viewpoints help us get past the biases of individuals, just as Wikipedia’s negotiations move articles toward NPOV [neutral point of view]. There has always been a plentitude of personal points of view in our world. Now, though, those POVs are talking with one another, and we can not only listen, we can participate. For 2,500 years, we’ve been told that knowing is our species’ destiny and its calling. Now we can see for ourselves that knowledge isn’t in our heads: It is between us. It emerges from public and social thought and it stays there, because social knowing, like the global conversations that give rise to it, is never finished.

The Greeks assumed that the cosmos is perfectly ordered and arranged; the word cosmos itself means both “all that is” and “beauty.” Pythagoras therefore figured that the distance between the planets must reflect the order and harmony of the universe. But harmony is based on mathematics: Divide a string into the ratios 2:1, 3:2, 4:3, or 5:4, pluck it, and you hear something beautiful. So, Pythagoras reasoned, the heavenly spheres must fall into those ratios. Since they move, they must also make sound as they whir, a sound that must therefore be harmonious and beautiful. We’re not aware of the second because we’ve been hearing it since birth. It’s become background “noise.” Thus did the Greeks deduce that we must all live within an unheard beauty.

Now that everything in the connected world can serve as metadata, knowledge is empowered beyond fathoming. We not only find what we need based on whatever slight traces we have in our hand, we can see connections that would have escaped notice in the first two orders. The power of the miscellaneous comes directly from the fact that in the third order, everything is connected and therefore everything is metadata.


Everything is Miscellaneous