This week I interviewed Tom Merritt, a 2014 UPS economics graduate. I asked him a few questions about his experiences with economics, UPS and graduate school.
When did you graduate from UPS and where did you go for grad school?
I graduated from UPS in 2014 and then went straight into the Economics MA program at Cal State-East Bay.
Can you tell me a little bit about the PhD application process? Are you looking to stay at the same university or are you looking at others (if that’s how it works)? Do you have a focus in mind?
I’m looking at other places, mainly UCs as I’m looking to stay on the west coast and because there are a lot of top programs out here (Berkeley, Davis, Santa Barbara, etc.). Cal State-East Bay doesn’t have a PhD, along with most other Cal State Universities as they aren’t as research-oriented as UCs. Applying to any decent economics program is tough and requires a lot of math preparation. Completing Linear Algebra is seen as the bare minimum, schools really like to further math like Differential Equations, and especially Real Analysis. Other than that, it mainly comes down to grades (obviously), recommendations, and the quantitative section of the GRE. As far as a focus, I know I want to focus somewhere in microeconomics but I haven’t decided on any particular specialization within that.
How did graduate school differ from undergrad? What surprised you? What (if anything) would you do differently regarding both your undergraduate and graduate work?
The main difference between the undergrad program and a masters program is the level of math that’s used. As an undergrad, there’s very little calculus (unless you take math econ), whereas calculus is the norm for any graduate class. Be prepared for A LOT of optimization. By the end, you’ll be doing optimization problems in your sleep. The other difference I liked was in advanced econometrics where we were actually replicating the results of a variety of research papers. This is something I’ll be doing much more of in PhD-level econometrics.
What got you into economics/what do you like about it? What was your favorite economics course and why?
To be honest, I declared as an economics major before I knew a whole lot about it. I started off in the sciences but I wanted something that was still “scientific” but a bit more socially-applicable. It took me until my senior year to really grow into it and become passionate about it. I particularly enjoy how it can be used to answer a lot of important social and policy-related questions. As far as my favorite course, I would have to say the thesis course with Bruce Mann. I remember him always saying “It’s just economics, it’s common sense”, which I credit a little bit with helping me get more comfortable with my economic thinking. Other than that, I particularly enjoyed my senior seminar The Economics of Happiness with Kate Stirling.
Did you do any internships/research while at UPS?
I actually didn’t do any internships or research at UPS besides my thesis. At Cal State-East Bay, I’ve been a Research Assistant for the past 6 months, as well as a Teaching Assistant. I’m also currently doing my own research for my masters thesis right now.
What kind of student do you think would be a good fit for academia/graduate school?
As far as who would be a good fit for graduate school and academia, I’d say its someone who’s not just interested in the practical applications of economics, but who’s really interested in the underlying theory as well. Obviously it helps if you are comfortable with advanced math, but I wouldn’t say you have to be a math whiz to succeed in higher-level economics. Keep in mind, I’ve only been in graduate school for just over a year so I’ve still got a lot to learn myself!
What were some of your favorite things about UPS (extracurricular-wise, the campus, professors, etc.)?
My favorite part of UPS was the professors, and their openness to discussing a variety of different perspectives. Writing for the blog was a great experience too as it allowed me the freedom to express and clarify my economic thinking and ideas.