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Prerequisites February 9, 2007

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Academically Speaking.

As a political economy major, I didn’t exactly get into economics “blindly”, but certainly at enough of a disadvantage to make graduate-level studies in the field challenging, to say the least. If I could have better prepared myself for this undertaking, it would have been in the following areas:

  • Linear algebra. And if you’re an economist, you know this means matrix algebra, which is ever so slightly more than the (y = mx +b) variety. If memory serves, the most matrix algebra I’d been exposed to was in high school, which was very limited. In theory there’s very little difference between plain vanilla algebra and the matrix sort, as the latter is really just a different way of representing the former. But I’ve increasingly been finding it difficult to think in terms of matrices. I’m just not wired that way.
  • Integral calculus. Differential calculus makes sense to me; integral calculus, however, is another story. I think this has more to do with the fact that my high school and college math teachers never got this far where calculus was concerned. When I dig in deep, I can take a derivative with relative ease: mess around with a formula, see how it behaves as a limit approaches zero, and end up with the slope of a function at a point. Yet despite having taken the requisite math course last semester, working with integrals is a struggle, even if it’s just the reverse procedure and is arguably more useful in that it computes for the area under a curve. Lack of practice, is all.
  • Statistics. Econometrics is practically statistics on steroids, so a solid grounding in the latter can only help in the former. I don’t think I ever had as solid a grounding in statistics as I ought. Either that or I should’ve paid more attention in college. That must be it: reject the null hypothesis!
  • The Greek Alphabet. Well, why not? It would certainly help while taking notes or reading a textbook. Besides, it’s hard enough that economists are completely disingenious in their use of the Greek alphabet, using the same letters to mean different things. Life used to be simpler when π was just that constant you needed to compute for a circle’s circumference. Where the economist is concerned, π can also refer to probability, or inflation, or profit – depending entirely on context. Go figure.
  • Of course, necessity is the master of invention; as such, I’m sure I’ll get over these sooner rather than later. I just don’t have a choice in the matter!



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