Archive for the ‘After college’ Category

What is Real (Analysis) is Real (Analysis) in its Consequences

December 10, 2008

It has been seven months since my last post, and much has changed but I will only update readers on these matters in the context of this blog’s stated purpose.  Some details are in the recently updated biographical post on the right hand side of this page.

As of last night, I have completed my first graduate level course in any topic.  On the advice of many an economics PhD or PhD candidate, both at my job and on the various and sundry related internet forums, I enrolled in a course in real analysis at American University.  For those who don’t know, real analysis is essentially one long, rigorous proof of everything you ever learned in Calculus I and II. 

It was also, by far, the most humbling academic experience I’ve ever had.  Ultimately, my grade will be more or less acceptable (I’m expecting a B+ or better), but this was only after putting in an unbelievable amount of hard work and long study sessions.  I can not describe to the uninitiated what a real analysis course is like, but I would like to point out three things I’ve learned as byproduct of this experience.

1) Working full time and going to school is exceptionally difficult.  This is all the more true when the class is graduate level, but I have a new and more visceral respect for adults who pursue degrees in any field while working to support themselves and their family.

2) I’m not as smart as I thought, but I can still hold my own.  I’ve done proofs before in other upper level math courses at Mary Washington, and these I could usually complete in a sitting.  Not so in real analysis.  After working two hours on a single problem, I would often have to go for long walks and wait for inspiration to come to me.  Nonetheless, the answer did eventually come, and consequently I often did very well on homework assignments and take home tests.  However, I did very poorly on timed assignments such as exams.  Lesson:  I can figure just about anything out if given the time to do so.  This is a personal trait ripe for a careful optimization analysis at a later time.

3) Economics is “real.” There was a bright if awkward senior in my class who often opined that “economics isn’t real”.  I found this to be a frustrating and pseudo-intellectual comment, but I also found it difficult to immediately respond when he said it.  Eventually, I settled upon a good retort that I planned to unleash the next time it came up:  “Economics purports to be the study of human choice under the conditions of scarcity and uncertainty.  By all accounts, it succeeds in being  just that, regardless of whether one agrees with its methods or conclusions.” 

I never actually had the chance to say this, but last night after I finished my final exam, I was walking to my car when a different thought occurred to me: 

Economics is real, because it is real in its consequences.  (A slightly modified take on the Thomas Theorem).   Economics may or may not make undue assumptions about humanity; its conclusions may or may not be patently, objectively false.  Nonetheless, those conclusions inform policy that has real effects on the quality of life for billions of people.  The point is not to preach some particular and unchanging view of the human condition, but to constantly tweak and present new and innovative means to understand and, yes, manipulate that condition.  Even if it isn’t objectively ‘real,’ it tells a very compelling story, of which I would like to be a co-author.

Job Searching

April 28, 2008

Despite previous protestations, I am feeling an unnerving twinge of regret for not attending college one final semester.  My reason?  I’ve accomplished nothing in the past four months. 

I entered the labor force on January 8th, 2008 with the belief that I would soon find employment in one of two quasi-federal agencies: the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors or the Congressional Budget Office.  I had particularly convinced myself of my chances in the latter, and believed at least I would get an interview at the former.  I was wrong.  I heard from no one.

It took me three months to realize I was wrong.  I then applied to the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  I worked for many hours to produce and proofread a five-page, rambling document (per the instructions for government resumes), and submitted them on March 28th.  I’ve yet to hear a word from them.  Government is slow, and I know this, but confidence that I will be contacted by either any time soon is withering. 

Two weeks ago, I visited Steve’s seminar on advanced macroeconomcs, in which I have been more or less participating this semester, only to hear of the job-finding successes of my fellow students, soon to graduate and thereafter do precisely the work I want to do.  My guess is that they were diligent, careful to submit their resumes to many different companies back in January, and unwilling to put their fate in the hands of but a couple potential employers.  They deserve their jobs, and I’m glad for them, but the news of their success was very unsettling for me.  Admittedly I was mistaken to apply for so few jobs and rest on what I (apparently foolishly) believed were my laurels, but maybe I wrote my resume wrong, or my cover letter was banal, or perhaps I was too arrogant in either document (of this latter possibility I am now quite assured). 

In any event, see me now searching for jobs in economics research, data analysis, anything entry-level, all of which were posted a month or more ago.  I nonetheless must apply to these positions, customizing cover letters for each, hoping that there is one interesting job left out there.  This is unsettling, certainly humbling, perhaps a little humiliating, and made worse by the fact that it is entirely my fault for being so self-assured.  But, of course, knowing that doesn’t make the process any easier from here.      


First job out of college: Tutor?

March 3, 2008

A couple weeks ago, the need for money began to outweigh the desire to do nothing but either be lazy or work on my resume.  After a lot of thought, however, I was quite positive I did not want some run-of-the-mill clerk or retail position at the local big box store or Starbucks.  What’s a poor graduate to do?

Craig’s List offered an answer: Tutoring.  The pay level was quite enticing (base of $30/hr), which meant I could work 4 or 5 hours a week and make the equivalent of a part time position with, say, Best Buy.  I submitted my information and received a call back a week later from a woman who runs a local service.  Would I be interested in tutoring mathematics? Sure! 

I show up to my first session with a junior at a local high school who has had trouble in her Algebra II/Trig class.  “Algebra II/Trig?” I thought, “No problem!”  When she pulls out the book and shows me her old tests, my stomach hit the floor.  “I don’t remember any of this,” I thought to myself.  I managed to make it through the first session without letting on that she probably knew what she was doing better than I did, and I have since spent approximately 10 hours over the past two weeks teaching myself Algebra II/Trig out of a textbook I got at the local public library.  Divide $45, the amount I make over a week’s time with her, by the number of hours I’ve spent studying for our sessions (about five a week).  Now I’m down to $9/hr.  Not as impressive.

Now I’ve been asked to start working with a middle aged, Hispanic man who wants to get his GED.  He’s a pretty successful, experienced mechanic but he wants to get out of the industry, and the first step on that road is to get his GED.  But while he speaks English fluently (he’s been in the country for at least 25 years), and while he can read technical manuals with little trouble, any other sort of expository writing or reading flusters him.  And of course, he must also learn basic history, science, and social studies.  How do you teach someone all that they were supposed to learn in high school?

I really want to do well; I want my students to do well.  But this is different than the tutoring I did in the basement of Monroe the night before the big macro or development exam.  I was willing to spend as long as my friends and acquaitances needed in clarifying material, but if they didn’t do well I never felt like there was any skin off my back.  Now I find myself anxiously waiting to hear from my Algebra student how she performed on her various quizzes  and tests on logarithms and exponential functions.  Not just for my sake (for clearly I must produce results to keep my job), but also for her sake (because I want her to do well, regardless). 

Lacking the training and the organization that I would think qualifies someone as a tutor, I’m beginning to wonder if this is such a good idea.  These people are counting on me to help them in some way.  What if I can’t? What if I don’t know how?  And even if I was willing to put in the 15 or 20 hours a week that would be required to find new methods of teaching these people that meets their style, doesn’t it cease to be worth it at some point?  I mean, that’s like $6/hr, at most. 

I have to decide soon.  If I stay in this, I’ve got to commit to the middle of June and, just like in college, I’ll have to go balls to the wall and do everything I can to perform well in the capacity for which I’ve been hired.  I don’t know how to half ass something like this, and I wouldn’t want to even if I did. 

If anyone has any advice or bits of wisdom, I’d love to hear it.