Short Reflection before my PhD

(Note: this is also posted at the Barcelona GSE blog)

Determining whether to apply for a Ph.D. program or not, going through each application, and then finally making a decision is exhausting. It forces, rightfully so, the young economist to look on his experiences and his goals. I asked myself over and over about where I had been, where I am, and where I want to go. Here are some of my reflections.

How the heck did I end up here?

Some people find their vocation early in life and take the exact right steps. Other people find their vocation while reading Exchange and Production after a long workday. I took this indirect route. Until I discovered economics, academics were the means and not the ends for me. During my undergraduate, I did well in difficult physics and political science programs and on the football field. This ultimately led to an enjoyable well-paying job. That was my goal for college and I surpassed it.

However, when I started studying economics, my goals drastically changed. Economics turned my life anew. Suddenly, the good job was inadequate. I could not stop researching economics. My free time turned into economics time. Through blogs, ¨pop¨economics, and academic work, I had found my passion. It just kept building. I woke up to read Hayek on information before work and fell asleep to Kirzner on competition and price theory. Throughout my day, I listened to lectures, followed blogs, and economics audiobooks. Economics became my life and it spread from how I made decisions to how I spoke.

The above links hint at the economists and ideas that interest me. I have been strongly influenced by Austrian economists (as my banner hints), but that has not been my only source. My introduction to economics was actually Thomas Sowell´s Basic Economics. This quickly led me to economists like Milton Friedman, George Stigler, and Armen Alchian, who all continue to influence my thinking. Clear writing and clear thinking has been more important to me than a specific ideology or methodology.

I will never be able to part from my earlier influences, with their focus on accessible language and outreach to the public. I would be foolish to believe that all the free material at Mises.org was not a major reason for my Austrian sympathies. This blog is a direct result of discovering economics through blogs.

Where is my comparative advantage?

Just because I enjoy something does not mean I can make a career out of it. Although my background in not traditional, I decided that I had skills that will be beneficial in my education and research. My undergraduate preparation was thorough. In physics, I developed some quantitative tools necessary to get through a Ph.D. In political science, I developed more qualitative skills, which supplement the quantitative. In my work experience, I was also able to work on some programming. This has been valuable while learning other languages, like Stata.

This year I have tried to keep expanding my tool set with a master's at the Barcelona GSE. Here I am using those skills for economic questions, although the types of questions are not those I find interesting, but that´s classwork.

My math and physics training makes micro easier and my programming experience makes econometrics easier. I can focus on applying these tools, not learning them. In addition to the core of micro, macro, and econometrics, at the BGSE I can explore my main research interests through courses on information economics, political economy and political institutions.

This year has turned out perfect for my academic goals. A year ago, I was not ready for the formalism of an economics Ph.D. As much as I believed in my economic understanding, I lacked some specific training. This program fit my needs and filled in some of those gaps. Obviously, I would like to be better prepared, but I believe I can survive and then thrive, so why not jump in now?

What keeps me going?

Through my personal research and coursework, I became interested in how information and political institutions affect firms' decisions. Hayek, Mises, and Stigler attracted me to information economics. Alchian, Demsetz, and Coase attracted me to institutions and industrial organization. Right now, my research goal is to merge comparative institutional analysis with standard economic models. It's an old, but important questions- How do institutions affect the costs and benefits of certain actions? To me, that is an important question that only economics (broadly understood) can answer. This is what I read and think about all day.

To answer this question, I need to know what economics is. Economics means many things to different people and our approach to the science is fundamental to our conclusions. My hope to find room for synthesis among multiple dimensions. Since reading Peter Boettke´s Living Economics, methodology has interested me (see here, here, and here). In fact, this blog´s title is a reference to Kirzner´s doctoral dissertation on the changing meaning of economic science. Austrian, Public Choice, or New Institutionalist economics all have insights to draw upon that can work with more Samuelsonian economics. Purists will stand their ground, but life is too short to not find room for mutual growth.

This room is important for a young scholar looking for his place in the profession. The marginal returns to studying a field in isolation are declining. The increasing boredom of certain journals is evidence enough. Samuelsonians who have never read Hayek or Austrians who have not read on asymmetric information are boring. There is too much information in this world to completely shut oneself off from others.

If I was a betting man, I´d guess the next great advances will come when economists work across fields within economics and beyond into philosophy, psychology, sociology, and history. I hope to never dismiss a viewpoint, simply because it is not "proper" economics.

Where do I want to go?

While I know my interests can change, I want to spend my days and nights researching and teaching about similar economic questions. The most obvious way to do this (and pay the bills) is through a Ph.D. Luckily, several universities accepted me and I am lucky enough to attend the University of Minnesota this fall. While it is a more Samuelsonian program than I would have planned on attending a year ago, it is a challenging program that will push me hard in this area. It will be up to me to tailor my education to additional forms of analysis.

Looking beyond my student years, my primary goal is to teach at the college level and conduct cutting-edge research. Each new discovery I have made through economics develops more enthusiasm within me and I want to bring that feeling to others. I wish to further my knowledge inside and outside the classroom and eventually add to the academic world. When looking for a preparation that will allow me to become the type of economist I dream of becoming, a high-quality school like Minnesota was perfect.

Through my academic and blog writing, I hope to keep discovering insights about the world and spreading it to others. I hope my blog readers will keep supporting me on it.

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