Returning from any holiday to a “normal” schedule, whether it is work or classes, always feels like wearing new shoes: until they are broken in properly, they are uncomfortable if worn too long. As the first day of my second semester at Loughborough University arrived in January, I found myself both eager to get back into my research as a PhD student in economics as well sluggishly wishing the holiday were longer (yay, cognitive dissonance!).
My research is a fascinating mix of behavioral economics and industrial organization (I am American so I use a “z” not an “s” among other differences) focused on developing the theory of how people will respond to a policy before the policy is enacted; this research is an interdisciplinary effort that marries mathematics to psychology and political science (a rather volatile combination at times).
That first week back was spent juggling the effort to resolve a particularly tricky mathematical integration problem, attending meetings as a Postgraduate Student Representative and giving a campus tour as a Student Ambassador. Most of the rest of January was taken up with exams, though I was on the other side of the fence than most Loughborough students as I was responsible for marking a series of exams for undergraduate students.
While it’s very difficult for students to study and write up “good” answers for their courses, the instructor faces an equally challenging proposition as s/he will be reading and marking roughly 200 exams by the cohort and that is only for one module. I concluded that it is perhaps good to approach exam-taking like a job application—competition is fierce to stand out from the crowd and be one of the few that is selected for an interview. Rarely can a new job, or a high mark, be achieved without a significant degree of effort and know-how.
While I do not have exams per se as a doctoral researcher, I was busy the last week of January preparing for the equivalent for PhD students. I have a report due and a formal review coming up soon to evaluate my progress to date and ensure I am on track to graduate within three years. In this report, I will have to use skills—that many undergraduate students are learning to develop now—to persuade and convince my audience both verbally and in writing that I should “pass”.
From my experience working in industry, these skills were no less important outside of academia and perhaps even more so as once you graduate, there is no instructor providing relatively simple questions you have to answer to receive a mark: if you want to “succeed” (however you measure or “mark” success), you have to ask yourself questions that will help shape and improve how you understand and respond to the world around you. In this sense, university is an investment in myself to gain skills that help transform my life into one that brings myself (and hopefully society at large) the optimal amount of success.
By attending Loughborough University, I believe the probability of achieving my vision of success is significantly higher than it would be otherwise.