After 4 years of economics, now what?

So after four years at the university of Melbourne, studying economics and a bit of politics along the way, it’s suddenly all come to an end. Which feels odd because for the greater part of this year, my Honours year, the focus hasn’t been on finishing the degree, or my time at university for that matter, but instead it’s been on the arduous/dreaded/painful thesis and making sure it got completed by last week’s Monday deadline. You may have noticed a collective sigh go up across the Economics department on Monday afternoon as everyone submitted their papers.

However the time has come for me to reflect on my time at the University of Melbourne and my now years-long experience learning all there is (or as much as is possible) about our favourite area of study, even if it is disparaged by some as the dismal science. Whilst I was always keen on learning economics from my latter years of high school, particularly as the GFC struck in late 2008, it has only been in the last couple of years that it has become something I’m truly passionate about.

For that, much regard must be given to this organisation, ESSA, for its rapid success at bringing people together around a mutual interest and passion for economics and using what we’ve learnt in lectures and tutorials and finding a way to apply it into positive social change. Personally, being able to write for ESSA over the last two years has been an important experience for me in my academic development. It’s given me the opportunity to be regularly exposed to new ideas about economics and innovative applications of standard theory to parts of our lives where economics seemingly had no role amongst other things. But most importantly, it’s allowed me to further my skills as a communicator of economics, politics and public policy issues.

I don’t specify which kind of communication though for an important reason. Whilst the vast majority of my engagement with ESSA is through this medium (regular written online contributions) I’ve been lucky enough to have talked aplenty about the field. This includes the regular wide-ranging discussions that occur in our Publications Team meetings, and arguably the pinnacle of my time as a member of ESSA – when I was given the chance to represent the Melbourne branch alongside the great Jeff Borland and others as we defeated our Monash counterparts in the very first inter-university economic debate. In totality, writing for ESSA has aided my greatly in my communication both written and orally; skills that is be foolish to not utilise in my career ahead.

Looking back on my studies, certain subjects and individuals stand out and will continue to do so in the years ahead. Of note would have to be one of Melbourne’s economic icons, Jeff Borland, in Introductory Microeconomics, everyone’s foundational unit in the Bachelor of Commerce. If you didn’t get the chance to run tennis balls back and forth with progressively more people to demonstrate diminishing marginal returns then your university degree experience is, and will remain, incomplete. Furthermore, electives such as Globalisation and the World Economy in 2nd year, as taken by ESSA’s illustrious monthly contributor, Dr Mike Pottenger, gave me a genuinely global perspective to the key economic issues that have defined our world and continue to do so to this day.

As I now prepare to leave university and head out into professional life, I’m struck by how I’ve been fortunate to learn so much about economics over four years, but at the same time, how much more there is to learn. For ultimately, one’s journey in studying economics is forever incomplete. And whilst economics may continue to be mocked by critics as nothing more than a speculative endeavour – to wit, George Bernard Shaw once suggested that “If all the economists were laid end to end, they’d never reach a conclusion” – what we have learnt in our studies of economics must continue to be applied in public life; positively influencing political debate and informing the community about the wellbeing of those around us.

If there’s an abiding statement about economics and our duty as economists that will ring true with me for years to come, it’s this one, an aspiration expressed by the first ever economist, Adam Smith.

“To feel much for others and little for ourselves; to restrain our selfishness and exercise our benevolent affections, constitute the perfection of human nature.”

It is our responsibility as the economists of the future to continue to seek out new ways to apply our discipline and our education to help others. Be it in the public or private or social sectors, inside or outside classrooms, we must continue to hold economics in high regard and elevate its standing in the community.

 

I’m looking forward to continuing writing for ESSA as an alumnus in 2014 and beyond. In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter @CRJWeinberg.