August 2014

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Nice post, Pete.

During the first day of my fall classes I ask my intermediate students a simple question: "So, tell me, what have you read over the summer."

I hear this and that. Might as well be vampire novels.

"Yes, but any economics???"

They laugh. Every time.

It shows you those students who are largely not serious about nor have a passion for economics. It doesn't, however, show you who is serious. The serious and passionate often remain quiet, not wanting to expose themselves as economics nerds to the rest of the class.

Pete,

Wonderful and nostalgic post, with some very good advice. As an aside, my 16 year old son had a high school economics class that he described as dreadfully awful. As an experiment, I gave him The Economic Way of Thinking and asked him to read a little. After the first few pages of reading about freeway traffic, he was hooked and couldn't put it down. It has generated wonderful discussion and additional reading. He is now seeing spontaneous order everywhere. It is always exciting to see the lights come on.

Peter,

Great post! I am just about to finish my master an the University of Economics in Prague. During my studies I have found your work very inspiring and helpful and I intend to continue studying at the PhD level here in Prague. What tempts me, however, is to participate in a research programme overseas in which case GMU is one of the most challenging options.

I am now putting together my application documents. Would you mind if I sent you my project for doctorate studies in order to see whether there is a possible match?

Yes, Pavel, please send your proposal to me and to Virgil Storr at vstorr@gmu.edu.

University of Economics in Prague is one of my favorite places for economic education --- so you got good training I bet.

Pete

What has amazed me is how graduate education can change people. Someone in my Department said that students often enter a Ph.D. program with the idea that they can learn economics and then help make the world a better place. They quickly give that up at many "good" schools. Then they just seek to make their careers better by courting the top brass. It takes steely determination to resist this. Some do.

Outstanding post.

I took my introductory classes at a community college and although found economics fascinating and transferred to GMU as an undergraduate because of the classes, I did not begin reading more books on economics until I arrived at GMU beginning with the intermediate classes. Most of the professors are so excited by the subject that it was hard not to write a book down that they spoke about and go read it later(until the lists grew so long couldn't read them all).

That said, my undergraduates was spent not caring for my grades and reading what books I considered important to read. It is hard not to be excited by economics, especially since once your bitten by the economics bug everything you see involves economic thought.

Unless given the right book to read as K Sralla points out, the students need the passionate teacher to really help enlighten their way. I was fortunate to get that from all the professors and graduate students from Mason, but if they can't get a professor, hopefully students will find that good book to inspire them such as Caplan's inspiration from Atlas Shrugged. Of course, we now have blogs which have been a great help, at least for me.

Thanks Pete. Your posts on grad school are always excellent.

It was books that got me hooked - and blogs and online resources after that - and my first few undergraduate economics courses if anything disinspired me somewhat (at a state university out west), especially the intermediate macro course in which we read Mankiw and learned all these absurd models that I could not help but pick apart in class, to the great chagrin of my professor.

A quick reminder: one can still get a PhD even if uninterested in teaching -- it can be used in the think-tank world, the academic seminar world and its cousins (IHS, FEE, Independent Institute, Mises Institute, etc), the policy world (e.g., transitioning former communist countries, development work, etc, if not government itself), to add credibility as an author, and even in private business ventures.

If you love theory and want to write a dissertation out of pure lust for it, but do not want to go into academia, it still might be worth the 5 years. Like a law degree, a PhD can be a great thing to have on your resume.

True enough. That's why I have my Ph.D. in the humanities when I could have gotten a degree in something far more practical (I have an undergrad degree in recombinant gene technology and dropped out of a grad program in molecular biology due to boredom) and have a job by now, but I'm too obsessed with humanities scholarship (like working on spontaneous orders theory) and creative literary production.

Thanks!

An excellent post. For those with whom this resonated, I strongly recommend this piece of advice from Tyler:

http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2006/07/tylers_advice_t/comments/page/2/

Speaking, I hope, as a member of the #3 club, it's important that would be students coldly appraise their prospects and what graduate education likely has in store for them.

Great post.

I definitely think the comparison between 50K teaching and 75K processing mortgages is a good one. Far too many people enter grad school having no clue what it actually means.

Allow me to add a note of concurrence from a different discipline. I teach philosophy, and the choice set is a little different (Wall St. banks seem less interested in philosophy PhDs for some reason!). Still the same essential contrast is there. Lots of kids like playing with the ideas in philosophy (for obvious reasons), but lack the sense for the opportunity costs and the competition for the few jobs there are. I tell them that grad school (at least PhD programs) are probably not for them unless they cannot imagine living their lives any other way than doing philosophy. For me, that discovery took me a few years doing something else. But that's the level of commitment it requires.

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