Prelim #1: Micro

This blog has turned into a diary of the first year of an econ PhD, instead about understanding the world using economics. That makes some sense, since I spend my days doing an econ PhD, not understanding the world.

Tomorrow is my first prelim, micro. I will blog after all the exams about my retrospective thoughts, but I wanted to get down my thoughts right before too.

I'm excited to finish one. It will feel like a huge hurdle. Two will feel even better. May 27th. That's what I'm looking toward. The beer after that macro prelim will taste SO good.

For the last few days, I have reached stage 5 of prelim prep, acceptance. At this point, I know what I know. Now I am just reviewing a few things and trying to relax. I don't see any value in going into the exam stressed. I never have seen that as a good strategy. Tonight I'll go for a run and have a nice dinner. Maybe I'll read some Austrian economics for fun. And I'll listen to B.B. King and have a scotch. Macallan. 12 years. Neat.

Now, whether I pass or not will depends on the specific exam questions. "Duh" say both readers.

Let me elaborate. Looking over past exams, there are many I believe I could pass today and many I would fail. I say "believe" since we are never given a real understanding of what it takes to pass. I'm relying on hearsay and gut feeling. It's the best we have. The exam has 4 questions and everyone says 2.5/4 is passing. What is a 2.5 vs a 2.0? Not sure. But that's my imaginary goal I've been shooting for over the last 9 months.

The nice part about Minnesota's prelims is that they don't matter a ton. I have around 5 attempts to pass. Given the only options are in May and August, that gives me another two years. So I don't have any fear of being kicked out if I don't pass. That doesn't mean they aren't stressful or important. It still will be nice to pass this time. (I shot myself in the foot when I idiotically scheduled a trip over the August prelims. That's made these exams more important for me than they should have been. Whoops.)

Passing on the first try would allow me to spend the summer doing things I actually want to do, things that would be a productive input into my research. That sounds better than studying more for an exam.

Studying for these prelims has been zero fun, sir.  I added the extra stress of putting together a paper to present over the summer. My advice to any future PhD students: don't agree to submit a paper the week before exams. You might see a pattern of my smart life decisions... If you want to read a draft of that paper and leave some comments, I'd appreciate it.

Studying for prelims is still better than milking cows (a job I did for a summer), but not as fun as actual economics. Compared to everything else I've done in economics, it's awful.  Granted, that's not saying a lot since I love studying economics.

But this studying is at a point where it is pure memorization of definitions and mathematical results. Applying the fact that demand curves slope downward or using opportunity cost reasoning? Understanding how an economy functions? Ha. Yeah right. That's not something you get in first year. Memorizing Topkis' Theorem or the proof of the First Welfare Theorem? Yep. Proof after proof? Oh yeah baby.

Luckily, because I studied I'll be ready for those times where someone comes up to me with a gun and asks me to recite the Maximum Theorem and I don't have a reference or computer around. When I do have a reference, I'll check the reference like an actual scholar would. There is some method to the madness, or so I'm told. At the moment, it seems irrelevant.

But that's one of the aspects of being a student. I have acknowledge that certain people, called professors, know more than me. In particular, I chose these professors at Minnesota to show me what I don't know. There are other schools I could have went to and not worried about the exams. Yet, I chose Minnesota knowing prelims awaited. Can I really be upset about something I willingly and knowingly chose?

That doesn't mean they have convinced me on every issue. I'm pretty sure they're wrong about prelims being a valuable part of econ PhDs. But in general, I'm taking their advice.

I'm sorry if this is an incoherent rambling. Forgive me. It's prelim time.

I'd be interested in what other economists felt around their prelims. Please let me know in the comments.



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