Continued Reflection – The Graduate Question

So I reflected a little on Blapril yesterday, and today I’m reflecting on my educational goals a bit. It’s been about a year since I started taking classes and my upcoming semester is my “transition semester.” That is, the point at which I transition from the first half of the undergrad course schedule to the second half. I feel that its “Upper Division” title is maybe slightly more pomp than it deserves, as though it is somehow superior to the “lower division.” More advanced, yes, but it rests upon the foundation of the latter.

I have said many times that when I set out, I had but the vague goal of “research economist.” I am, at the moment, reminded of Breath of the Wild where you receive a quest early on with the goal “Defeat Gannon.” It’s not wrong, but much work typically lies between the setting of the goal and its completion.

I assumed at the outset that a Ph. D. was a basic requirement of this goal. A sort of gate-keeper to the world of academic research. I’m still not entirely certain that I was wrong, but I feel it’s a little more flexible than I assumed. I somewhat internally identify as an “undergraduate researcher” already.

Yet I cannot yet tell how attainable a Ph. D. would be for me. I have plenty of determination, sure, or at least enough to have gotten this far. Based on what I’ve read so far it seems likely that I would have to relocate to pursue a graduate degree. I am uncertain how feasible that is, or if I would be willing to put my family through that. My other alternative would be to pursue a different Ph.D. that’s… slightly closer to home. UTC, for example, is only 30ish miles from the house. They do not have a graduate-level economics program though.

As part of pulling on this thread, I’ve been acquiring and reading resources here and there, like the advice on Greg Mankiw’s blog. I quite like his writing style and his advice is relatable and leads to some interesting moments. One of the bits in his Advice for New Junior Faculty says “Avoid activities that will distract you from research. Whatever you do, do not start a blog.” Too late. Not that I am in any way faculty, but the comment in the context of my life was quite amusing. Fair point, though.

I also liked his Rules of Thumb. Number 3, “Have Broad Interests,” was especially relatable. I have said many times that my life has been a long parade of various interests phasing in and out of hyper-focus. It has… improved… as I’ve gotten older. At a minimum, I’ve learned to direct and control certain groups of activity over longer periods of time, though my coworker has several times pointed out my 2-4 week window of interest in a specific game, while gaming itself is something of a fixture. It is merely the finer details that rotate in and out, not the larger activity itself.

In the long run, I’ve attributed this to a desire to learn new things. Novel information is far easier to find and obtain than hammering out the nuts and bolts. Learning a new skill rotation, a new class, an interesting new hobby, these things progress quickly. Level 1 to level 10 is always faster and easier than 50-60.

Do I still intend to pursue a Ph.D? Absolutely. I cannot live a life where I have not at least put forth the effort required to be certain. That is, I would rather have tried and failed to find a path forward than to have never tried and wonder if I could. Much like this blog, it is The Grand Experiment. The only way to prove or disprove the possibility is to try. Repeatedly.

Above all other things I’ve read recently though, lies this quote.

A person can dig a perfectly fine ditch without enjoying his job for a minute. By contrast, research requires a certain passion about the topic being studied. Passion goes hand in hand with creativity. No one can manufacture this passion for strategic reasons of career advancement. – Greg Mankiw

The number one question I get from people when I talk about my plan is “what kind of job can you get with that?” I mean, honestly, I hadn’t thought of that way until people started asking me. I started to learn. Ideas about employment and making more money were side-effects or excuses used to achieve my real goal. I would love to be more financially secure, but at no point did I stop and ask questions like “how much money do professors make?” I just assumed that pursuit of the larger goal would eventually leave me with that job and the things that come with it and I was okay with that.

Yeah, okay, I started the blog for “strategic reasons of career advancement,” I guess. But that’s not what keeps me here. I love the Blaugust community and I love the process of writing and the places it leads me. I enjoy all my classes and appreciate the additional understanding of the world they grant me. Yeah, they serve a larger goal too, but I may as well enjoy the ride.

Okay, I’ll be quiet now. Y’all take care.


blapril-2020-200Hey, it’s Blapril time! The goal is to simply promote and stimulate the blogging community by encouraging people of all skill levels and backgrounds to post. The official post can be found here and it’s never too late to start.

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