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[选校定位] Why I failed in the PhD program (Econ) [复制链接]

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US Advisor 寄托之心勋章 律政先锋 分享之阳 寄托与我

发表于 2013-1-4 03:27:03 |显示全部楼层
本帖最后由 xuanie 于 2013-3-8 14:13 编辑

在这个论坛上的大都还处在申请,等offer这样意气风发的阶段,四年前我也经历过了这些。可以参见我四年前在这里发的贴

可是申请只是一个开端,我的PhD生涯并不顺利,最后在第四年的时候转行JD。希望我的惨痛经历可以给即将步入PhD的大家一点参考

原文在我的博客上,转贴在这里,祝大家申请顺利!

When I passed my microeconomics prelims on the second try, an economist that I respected very much replied with the following comments:

Hooray! That is wonderful. It is such a testament to your incredible dedication and hard work. (And your smarts!) … It feels great to “succeed” when one has worked that hard and has cared that much for the subject itself and for the accomplishment of getting over that hurdle [the prelims]. But … this kind of “success” is not the end. The question you should have now is what it is the beginning of!

It takes great pains to type the topic line “why I failed in the PhD program”. When I was thrilled for passing the prelims, I did not foresee it as the beginning of three years of effort in vain. No matter how excited I am about the upcoming challenges in law school, I can’t shy away from the fact that I failed in the PhD program.

In the past 10 months, I have reflected thousands of times why I have failed, and blamed my lack of interest as the only reason. But when the application to law schools is coming to an end, I have more time to think and read—worrying too much but thinking and reading too little has been the cause of many of my struggles. I realized I still have the curiosity necessary for research-so the question is why I still failed. I figure the best way to collect my thoughts is to write them down, and if I want law school to be an alternative path to a life as an academic, I’d better get ready to tackle all the barriers that I tripped over in the past four years.

Back in 2006, the default path for economics major was to pair it up with actuarial mathematics, or transfer to the BBA program after freshman year; find an internship in any of the investment banks; work for a few years, save the money and build the resume for an elite MBA program. The boys would then go on to become successful businessmen and marry the girls. Somehow I was just not intrigued by the prospect. I was having too much fun being a student. My mind was occupied with all kind of ideas derived from the classes that I took. I read extra materials to sort out the ideas, and every bit of progress brought great joy.

Courses in economics and statistics were like taking a walk through a maze, the theories were streets and the professor was the guide. Whenever the professor made a subtle point, it led to a side-street off the main street and I never left it unexplored. I enjoyed exploring fully 100% of every corner and turn of the materials presented in classes. Thanks to my acute eye for detail, I could literally work through every possible branch of the complex tree of knowledge. By the end of each semester, I would make a course outline in preparation for the final exam, and it was like sketching the atlases of the maze. I could see the path that the professor had led us through, and how the side streets connected to make the picture complete. Because I had spotted the nuance, pondered it, and worked out an answer to it, I was such a great exam taker. The success in most of the classes I took gave me motivation to work even harder with this system. By taking more classes, I was piecing together a grand map of the existing economics literature.

I was (still am) charmed by the beauty and elegance of economic theories, and wanted to immerse in it for the rest of my life. That was when I started seriously considering a PhD degree in economics.

This system of learning may be the root of my failure in PhD, but I refuse to consider it a “bad” one. First of all, it has made the learning process incredibly enjoyable. Nothing has ever given me more sense of fulfillment than the exclamations of “ooh” and “ahh” when I was able to label another side street on my atlases. I still remember walking home alone from the library or the office in the unforgiving winter nights, exhausted yet excited. It was one of the happiest moments in my life and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Also, this system has made me a good teacher. I could easily target the audience. To the students who just want to do well in exams, I just show them how to navigate the main streets; to the more curious ones, I could show them one or two side street and teach them how to explore them—sometimes I would highlight how a side street connected two main streets and wait for the excitement of discovery on their faces.

Most importantly, I believe my system is just different means to the same end. When I listen to economists talk, I often noticed that some topics keywords would automatically lead the discussion to a certain direction; also, fundamentals and intuitions were brought up as often as technicalities. It was like everyone had their own version of the atlases with similar main streets and the debate usually focused on how different side streets connecting them. If the purpose of economic research is to reveal the set up and organization of the maze, then what economists do is discovering unknown side streets (or main streets) and adjusting the location of existing streets on the atlases.

The consensus in the PhD program assumes everyone is already equipped with a very brief atlases, we then pick an area that we want to work on, study the side streets (by reading recent literature) and discover new ones with our names on it. That is exactly what my professors have been telling me: don’t spend too much time on the courses we take at graduate level; instead, focus on reading papers and fishing ideas.

The large number of papers we had to read made it impossible for me to explore all possible side streets. I had to abandon my system of learning, without constructing my own road-map through the maze, I lost the main picture and soon all the effort seemed pointless. I spent more time reading papers and hoped that the quantity would make the difference.

Apparently, this did not make me a good researcher. The ideas I had were random pieces that did not seem to fit anywhere in my atlases. In fact, my atlases of economic theories did not get more elaborated in the past four years, it just had a lot more “side streets” scattered all over. Some people were able to reverse engineer and recover the atlases from the side streets, but this is not how things work for me. I need to construct the atlases before setting out for an expedition. Unfortunately I did not have the atlases ready when I entered the PhD program, and the design of the program did not allow me the time to slowly work through it.

On a (less depressing) side note, I am quite optimistic about law school. From what I heard read, the skill set that I am going to acquire in law school is not about discovering unknown side streets; rather, it was more about studying the atlases, knowing the nuance in every corner and turn and eventually navigating through the same map, leading the attention down to the right main street/side street.

============

第二部分,关于我的性格和读PhD的反思

Snow (in an engineering PhD program) had some quite interesting add-ons to my previous post. Contrary to my situation, Snow is doing pretty well in the PhD program; yet she shared my concerns about our different cognitive styles.

Snow described her maneuver in the PhD program as a process of collecting problem-solvers. As her research proceeds, she spots “problems” and then she would search for methods that specifically solves each “problem” and get used to apply it if the same problem shows up again in the future. Her main concern was that in this way, she only acquired the techniques to operate those methods without an understanding of why. Her “tool kit” for solving problems is extremely random and might not come handy when she faces “original” problems that cannot be reduced to problems already solved.

I admire her way of approaching research, and Snow feels the same about mine (despite I did not make it to the end–”it’s the choice of what’s easy and what’s right” she claimed.) I guess the greener-grass-mindset plays a huge role in our admiration to each other’s cognitive style. But considering her success (and my failure) in the PhD program, I think it confirms my theory about why I failed.



Our discussion did not quite end there. Snow pointed out an interesting point that I have always overlooked–personality. In fact, I think I have been trying to avoid the thought of personality as a cause of my failure. It seems to me that personality is something I was born with and I should have been aware of. If personality was the reason that I did not do well in PhD program, it feels like I have failed myself for not making a well-informed decision years ago.

Anyway, Snow was able to articulate some rather vague intuitions I had, and I finally came face to face with my enemy–or rather, the little girl within.

Snow and I both have some sense of insecurity, but we deal with different mechanisms. She is able to detach her feelings from other’s opinions (I admire her for this takes a big heart and clearly I don’t have that). For me, there is always this childish longing for evaluation and my sense of securities came only with the sense of relative standing. I was never afraid of being placed behind my peers–if it means anything at all, it was just my way of figuring out a direction to go. I need relative standing to determine if my studying habits need to be modified, and I need relative standing to gauge my progress.

In PhD program, relative standing was the one thing that I could never get. The nature of PhD implies it involves the exploration of unknown territories, there are no predecessors to establish a relative scale of standing–at least there is not supposed to be a huge population of predecessors for it would mean your research topic has already been well exploited. My peers were working on different fields and topics and we were not even placed on the same scale to be evaluated.

As a result, I turned to more superficial “relative standings” like someone already had a paper of 42 pages, someone’s paper is not yet complete but the model is developed, someone already established a series of testable hypothesis from their model and etc. My childish competitiveness brought about a lot of stress which eventually confused me and hindered my progress in the program.

On another hand, this somehow justifies my decision of going to law school–rankings, GPAs and etc, relative standing is how students are measured. It will be a different type of pressure–the pressure to outperform your peers and move up the scale; but I have been much better handling this kind of pressure rather than the uncertainty of not being evaluated in PhD program.



Snow also noted that many academics were from relatively well-off background. A case that she described as “wealthy intellectuals drawn to research by the romance and noble sufferings associated with it.” I think there is quite some truth in it.

============

第三部分(也是最后一部分)我当初真的是想读PhD么?对经济学的兴趣是不是只有通过PhD来实现?

I decided that I should stop posting under the line that says “why I failed in the PhD program” because no matter what, “failure” is quite a depressing word keeps showing up.

I once observed that most of my friends are very into the life as an academic in different social sciences. Some of them even turned this into a “family business”. Ems has two cousins who are doing PhDs and she felt almost like an outcast when she decided not to pursue the same path; YaYa took a gap year before applying to grad school but eventually opted for the more “pragmatic” path as an engineer. When I talked to both of them about their decisions, they both mentioned a point that I overlooked before applying.

While having an immense interest in social sciences, both Ems and YaYa claimed that their interest was merely recreational. We were all interested in social sciences for the same reason–we were both intrigued by the connection between a highly rational scientific field and its focus on people. I was drawn to economics because it is the way that “a cool mind can be at the service of a warm heart”.

We enjoyed reading academic papers for the intellectual challenge and the humanitarian concerns that can be addressed by the beautifully crafted theories. We loved to read blogs by famous economists like Gary Becker and Richard Posner, Paul Krugman, Kenneth Rogoff and etc. They have made economic theory not only a sophisticated tool, but an art craft as well.

Ems challenged me with her doubt–there is no doubt that we both love economics, but is it necessary to pursue the path as an academic so that we can appreciate it? With the training in economics at college level, we have what it takes to understand economics at the recreational level. YaYa pointed out that the discovery work should be left to the truly talented and obsessed masters.

Now I recall, my favorite memory about PhD program was to write blog entries in a recreational way. I enjoyed teaching and showing my students how the economics theories can be relevant. In fact, it has been my motivation of studying economics all along. Now I am going to law school and my friends already started calling me “defecting economist” (Thanks to Mr Harvard); but it isn’t necessary for me to abandon what made me appreciative of economics.

So here I am, about to conclude my last entry on the topic “Why I failed in the PhD program.” I have also re-named the category as “recreational economics” and hopefully I will continue writing about something that has touched me before and enjoy every moment of it.

Thanks to dear Ems, she made me feel less bad when “failure” was the topic.
已有 12 人评分寄托币 声望 收起 理由
changing414 + 1 + 1 实在
ivysemicircle + 1 非常有启发,感谢!
lilacmemory + 1 满篇肺腑之言的确发人深省,非常感谢楼主的.
Belial_dqgQ + 1 弓虽!
走在路上的青春 + 1 感谢分享
canie.du + 1 赞一个
dula55 + 10 + 5 全部看完了,写得非常好。尽管和楼主专业不.
MaxFeburarybird + 5 需要仔细想想

总评分: 寄托币 + 71  声望 + 31   查看全部评分

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US Advisor 寄托之心勋章 律政先锋 分享之阳 寄托与我

发表于 2013-1-5 11:42:22 |显示全部楼层
沁雪 发表于 2013-1-4 09:44
一字不拉的看完了,很有感触
看来成为一个好学生,不代表一定能够成为一名好学者
很佩服lz善于构建知识体 ...

我觉得最幸运的事情是意识到有一个学科可以让我最有效地利用我的优势做我最感兴趣的事情。这四年收获还是很大的

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US Advisor 寄托之心勋章 律政先锋 分享之阳 寄托与我

发表于 2013-1-5 11:42:38 |显示全部楼层
zerostuck 发表于 2013-1-4 09:56
“...这种似曾相识的感觉可以追溯到本科学习课程的时候。当时真心出于对于这些学术东西的热爱,想到一点奇怪 ...

总结得好精辟!

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US Advisor 寄托之心勋章 律政先锋 分享之阳 寄托与我

发表于 2013-1-5 11:44:14 |显示全部楼层
12年冬 发表于 2013-1-4 10:27
我现在正在写thesis,非常理解楼主说的那种看不到big picture的感觉。

不知道楼主在挣扎的过程中,导师 ...

在挣扎的过程中就是导师建议我考虑法学院的呀,因为他觉得我的学习方法和兴趣更适合法学院 (他是Econ/Law school join appointment)

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US Advisor 寄托之心勋章 律政先锋 分享之阳 寄托与我

发表于 2013-1-5 11:45:49 |显示全部楼层
espouse 发表于 2013-1-4 13:06
个人觉得人生就是在不断的找寻自己想要的东西,哪怕一开始就是错误的,或者是看起来似乎是正确的东西,只有 ...

确实是这样,而且我本身做的方向就和法律有很多重合的部分,也是兴趣所在啦

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US Advisor 寄托之心勋章 律政先锋 分享之阳 寄托与我

发表于 2013-1-5 11:48:24 |显示全部楼层
饭炒蛋 发表于 2013-1-5 11:22
有可能到某个sub area后,要积累一定paper阅读量然后才能逐渐摸索出框架,建立起知识结构,这个时间可能是3 ...

我的导师曾经跟我说,有的孩子可能很快就能适应PhD的科研方式,在一两年之内就完成学生到学者的转变。但是我的学习方法需要长时间的积累,可惜在大部分的PhD项目无法给学生足够的时间去尝试

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US Advisor 寄托之心勋章 律政先锋 分享之阳 寄托与我

发表于 2013-11-15 22:42:18 |显示全部楼层
C7oud 发表于 2013-11-15 13:39
第一次看了题目没有点进来,第二次认真读完了两遍。
recreation和uncertainty exploration究竟哪一个引发了 ...
今天做TA监考小盆友们期中


我看成了
今天做TA临盆


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发表于 2019-2-15 16:29:05 |显示全部楼层
dd

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发表于 2019-2-15 16:29:19 |显示全部楼层
怎么回帖都看不到了

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加拿大offer勋章 经济offer勋章 欧洲offer勋章

发表于 2020-3-3 03:07:47 |显示全部楼层
捞一个,好长,等拿到offer再静心拜读

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