Talking with UIC Economics Professors
The Economics Department has distinguished faculty members, many of whom have international reputations in their fields. The department is especially well known for its strength in health economics, the economics of education, urban/ public economics, and international economics.
The department has also developed a reputation for having faculty who are very friendly and supportive of students. We asked a few professors in the department to share with students their thoughts on various issues, such as: how they became interested in economics; which professors they found inspiring when they were students; which courses they enjoy teaching; why economics is such a useful discipline; and any words of advice they might want to give to students beginning their studies at UIC. Here is what they had to say:
Professor Mo-Yin Tam
Among the various undergraduate courses, I especially enjoy teaching microeconomics, statistics and econometrics. My advice to you is that the best way to study economics is to try to understand the concepts rather than memorizing them. Memorization leads to confusion and frustration because there are quite a few concepts to master. Instead, start by asking yourself, for example, why a demand curve should shift, and what would be the next logical step in the process. You will discover that once you start to understand the ideas, economics is common sense. It is a ¡°learned¡± common sense. This logical way of thinking is extremely powerful, not just in economics but for whatever discipline you may choose to major in, and whatever career you may choose to pursue.
Professor Houston Stokes
With many choices on what major to pursue, the task of selecting a major is often daunting. My advice is to keep in mind that many alternative career paths can provide you a rewarding life, i.e., there isn¡¯t just one choice that is the right one. After being in a certain field for many years, one changes. So as part of your decision process, rather than talking to someone who has just entered the field, try to talk with someone who has been in that career for many years. You may end up being like that person if you choose that avenue. You might also be inspired by someone¡¯s path. When I was an undergraduate student at Cornell University in 1958-1962, I had a teacher, Professor Royal Montgomery, who was very interested in labor law/economics, clearly enjoyed the subject greatly, and transmitted his enthusiasm to his students. My choice to attend graduate school in economics at the University of Chicago was influenced by a desire to "follow in his footsteps." I have never looked back and it turned out to be a good choice. Over the years I have found myself becoming like Professor Montgomery.
I was also fortunate to have Professor Robert Mundell (Nobel laureate, 1999) as mentor and thesis advisor. In the preface of his book Man and Economics (1968), Professor Mundell writes beautifully of the allure of Economics:
" Economics is the science of choice: It keeps cropping up all over the place. There is an economics of money and trade, of production and consumption, of distribution, and development. There is also an economics of welfare, manners, language, industry, music and art. There is an economics of war and an economics of power. There is even an economics of love. Economics seems to apply to every nook and cranny of human experience. It is an aspect of all conscious action. Whenever decisions are made, the law of economy is called into play. Whenever alternatives exist, life takes on an economic aspect. It has always been so. But how can it be? It can be because economics is more than just the most developed of the sciences of control. It is a way of looking at things, an ordering principle, a complete part of everything. It is a system of thought, a life game, an element of pure knowledge."
Professor Robert Kaestner
My undergraduate majors were Political Science and History, and I especially enjoyed Labor History, which was taught by the best lecturer I ever had, Professor Melvin Dubofsky. His lectures had a great structure, were lively, and most importantly, informative. By the end of the lecture you learned one or two interesting concepts or facts. Today, I try to do the same? in each lecture, to leave the student with a real understanding of one or two concepts or ideas.
After I graduated in 1980, I took the best job I could find, as an administrative assistant in the office of a health services provider. The pay was low and the work uninteresting. So I thought about returning to school to further my education and decided on economics, even though I had only taken two economics classes as an undergraduate and had not done particularly well in either. When I began graduate school, I fell in love with economics. I loved the discipline of the logic that is used in economic reasoning, and uncovering unintended and often surprising consequences of public policy. From there I just kept going, obtaining my PhD and then getting a job in a university after a brief period as an economist for AT&T, forecasting telephone use for the United States.
As to words of advice, I recommend that you take economics classes as a major, a minor, or even just a couple of classes. In these classes you will learn an interesting way to look at the world that will improve your understanding of it. An economics major will also prepare you for further study in economics, as well as other fields that require high-level analytical reasoning, such as law. Economics is also a degree that is highly valued by firms seeking employees who are creative problem solvers.
Professor Evelyn Lehrer
Over the past several years, I have enjoyed teaching the introductory courses in microeconomics and acroeconomics. Students often begin the semester thinking of economics as a boring, dry subject. It is wonderful to see how by the end of the term, many of them have discovered that they have begun to understand what is going on in the economy, and that they like the powerful way of thinking that economics offers. I also enjoy teaching Econ 353, a course in Economic Demography, my main area of research. This course deals with issues that most people think have little to do with economics, such as marriage and divorce, and how parents combine careers with raising children. This course helps students see how the tools of economics can be applied to a range of subjects that extends much beyond purely financial matters.
My advice to you is that in addition to doing your best in each of your classes, you should try to do three things. First, do all you can to strengthen your oral and written communication skills, as they will be essential in whatever path you pursue after graduation. For example, take the Econ 395 course, Research and Writing in Economics, more than once. In this course, you will get practice in communicating economic analyses clearly and in a well-organized manner. Second, make sure that by the end of your studies at UIC, at least two professors have gotten to know you well. You can do this by actively participating in class discussions and by talking to your professors outside of the classroom. And third, make the time to participate in meaningful extra-curricular activities that are related to your major. In my many years as faculty advisor to the Economics Club, I have seen numerous students joining our Club and being very shy and quiet at first. But then, through persistence and dedication, they get elected as Club officers, and go on from there to discover leadership skills they never knew they had. Through their participation in the Club, students also learn a great deal about economics outside of the classroom.
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