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Monthly Archives: March 2012

How Studying Economics Ruins My Life

University applications should come with a warning: “Ministry of Education: This degree may transform your thinking.” However, it is a truth universally acknowledged that most freshmen come unprepared, not expecting to be turned into a new “dear-20-year-old-me“.

Today I would like to share one important insight with you: If you study Economics, your logic may prove not only useless at times, but once in a while outright fatal. The Problem here are not complicated graphs or models that do not work (hello, macroeconomics) – it´s merely the assumptions you make.

It probably comes as no surprise that rigorous economic models need some underlying assumptions (e.g. “this works only if all people are rational”), but the thing that nobody tells you is that making assumptions is contagious! Example: I was washing a window. It didn´t quite work out, so I just shrugged and said “yeah, let´s assume* that the window is clean…”

Funnily enough, sometimes you do get away even with the most ridiculous assumptions. Example: I went to a pub with some friends of mine and we did not know when the pub opened. We all assumed that it won´t be a problem – and surprise, surprise, the bartender actually opened the pub for us quite a bit earlier than he was supposed to.

Unfortunately, the life of an assumption-making student is not always so easy. Your wi-fi won´t (always) miraculously start working after you turn it off and on again, your library card may have its moods and the university cafeteria always runs out of muffins five minutes before you enter. Your non-economist friends no longer understand your jokes and your stomach cannot stand your cost-benefit analyses of extra junk food consumption anymore. In a nutshell, if you are not careful it it easy to become detached from the real world (something like a theoretical physicist, as anyone who knows Sheldon can testify).

On the other hand, as long as your assumptions do not make you contribute to the list of the Darwin Award Winners (e.g. “let´s assume that the electricity is turned off”), you are doing fine. As a rule of thumb, I would suggest sticking to making assumptions about maths or other – relatively – harmless concepts, while being back the “6-year-old you” when it comes to dogs, snakes, high buildings or holes in the ground. Chances are that little kids have better survival instincts than your fellow economics classmates – but hey, nobody is perfect…

* Reminds me: Do you know the joke about an engineer, physicist and an economist? As an experiment, an engineer, a physicist and a economist are placed in separate rooms and left with a can of food but no can-opener. A day later, the rooms are opened one by one. In the first room, the engineer is snoring, with a battered, opened and emptied can. When asked, he explains that when he got hungry, he beat the can to its failure point. In the second room, the physicist is seen mouthing equations, with a can popped open beside him. When asked, he explains that when he got hungry, he examined the stress points of the can, applied pressure, and ‘pop’! In the third room, the economist is found sweating, and mumbling to himself, ‘Assume the can is open, assume the can is open…’
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Posted by on 25 March, 2012 in Education

 

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From a Student´s Diary: Furnishing a Flat

“Furnishing a flat is like playing The Sims. Except that you do not have any cheat-codes for simoleons.”

No, dear Readers. Furnishing a flat comes nowhere close to playing a computer game: Putting costs aside, reality is much more complicated and dangerous – I would say, outright hazardous. So, in case you are thinking of moving somewhere new, have a look at my list of DOs and DON´Ts. If nothing else, it should save you some bruises (and euros).

1. DO plan. Make a list of things you need to do – and think twice if you really need them. Painting the walls? Buying a new carpet? Installing a wi-fi?…

2. DO shop around and DO be creative. a) You can do a whole bunch of things yourself (IKEA “paper” furniture, anyone?), b) don´t buy fancy decorations – paint your own pictures or use some of your favourite photos!, c) look up second-hand stuff (I bought a brand-new fridge for 100 euro), d) ask your friends for help (i.e. never try to build a huge wardrobe on your own – the blood stains on mine could testify…).

3. DO make it quick. The longer you live more or less at two places at the same time, the more time-consuming, exasperating and frustrating moving becomes. Once you have your new home “ready”, go ahead and move. There is no point in prolonging the pain.

4. DO go shopping with someone else (your significant other, ideally). Trust me, having someone who can think clearly even after the whole day of running around beds, wardrobes and stoves is priceless. (True story.)

5. DO expect that the costs are going to be higher than you thought. While your first guesstimate might be around 1000 euro, reality knocks on the door when you realize that “this is still not the end”: After all, you do not just need (?) painted walls, new fluffy carpets, furniture and some kitchen appliances: Make sure to include even “the little things” – pots, plates, mugs, bed linen, curtains (especially if you live on the first floor), etc.

6. DON´T be a perfectionist…for once. You don´t need to have everything ready before you move – many things can be done “on the way”, so to speak. Besides, it is easier to finish all cleaning and furnishing once you actually live somewhere instead of coming there from far away once per day.

7. And finally… DO throw a party once you are done! You deserve a rest, your friends probably too – and your new flat desperately needs some spilled red wine to get the right “living” atmosphere.

 
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Posted by on 12 March, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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The Tragedy of TeamWork

Continually do our professors lecture us on the importance of teamwork. The whole theory that “if you learn how to get on with others while doing a project, you will have it easier at work” however, hinges on the assumption that teamwork is actually carried out by the whole team. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case.

Do not get me wrong. I am not against the idea of teamwork. I actually think that – in theory – teamwork is much more efficient than the same number of individuals working on their own (preparation sessions of the Czech National Debate Team before debate tournaments come to my mind with a touch of nostalgia…), but needs one specific prerequisite: These individuals have to be (at least roughly) motivated to the same extent and equally skilled.

Why? Consider a situation when one ambitious control freak who is used to doing everything perfectly is forced to work with five other people who a) do not have the slightest idea what to do, b) do not care about the issue at all or – worst of all – c) are both clueless and careless. The result is that instead of sharing the burden, the control freak does this assignment more or less on his or her own (or redoes parts done by others because they are of inferior quality), resulting in frustration on one side and plain free-riding on the other. And now imagine that the result of this assignment is directly tied to grades or pay, i.e. when feckless people get benefits for simply being lucky in having someone to do the project for them…

Real-life example: For one particular course we were supposed to submit papers in pairs. My “teammate” sent me a “draft” of our “paper” (quotation marks intentional) that horrified me. I was nowhere close to an argumentative essay: He just randomly mentioned some points (who cares about structure, obviously), wrote a feeble conclusion and failed to mention his sources of information. Needless to say, I was furious and had to rewrite the whole thing. So after we get our grade, he will get the same one as me, although his contribution will be close to zero – and the professor will never know who actually wrote the essay. If this is not unfair, I wonder what is.

A daring question: Shouldn´t a university degree be awarded to individuals who managed to not only pass the exams, but also demonstrated some academic skills? A logical follow-up suggestion: Drop the team assignments at the university (especially in the first year) to force people to prove that they “deserve” that shiny Diploma.

 
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Posted by on 5 March, 2012 in Education, Entrepreneurship

 

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