Sunday, 14 May 2017

Humility and Pretty Awful University Courses

Exam periods make people grumpy. I'm no exception. The motivation to study, learn, write, work-out  all the things that brought me on to this path in the first place  or basically anything but mindlessly snoozing, is completely gone. Soul-wreckingly awful things, exams. Whereas writing essays and researching amazing topics is pretty much pure bliss, at least in comparison. And I'm gonna take out this anger on the unsuspecting and probably innocent lecturers of this semester's courses. 

It's no secret that I'm pondering an academic career, which means that from time to time I imagine myself in the lecturer's place: how would I describe this, how better to get those points and arguments and evidence across, what literature to include in the reading list? More than once have I realised that I can do that part of the job much better than he/she was currently doing it

This entire semester, culminating in this exam period, has been one massive case in point. Some pretty great courses on some pretty great topics, run by lecturers who have a remarkable capacity of making it So. Freaking. Boring. And this while there's so much interesting and actually fascinating things to read and learn, even on the topics these courses attempt cover. 

Take Econometrics, for instance. I don't think I've learned a single thing from the dull and painfully slow lectures we've had. I've learned a great amount from the tutorials, where much more motivated PhD students show us how do perform certain econometric tricks. And I've learned tons from Angrist & Pischke's Mastering Metrics, which is not only a great complement to, but even a great substitute for, the classes we've had this semester. Unsurprisingly, I find myself reading their book and pretend it's exam revision, when I should be reviewing lecture notes or things likely to come up in the exam. Obviously, then, there's nothing wrong with the topic, only the format (and maybe the messenger). 

I wish someone would make a course with seriously interesting content, where students are dying to read every single item on the reading list, taking pleasure in every single page of that. I have many such books on my bedside table, halfway-finished tomes of knowledge scattered throughout my apartment: McCloskey's Bourgeois Equality, King's End of Alchemy, Eichengreen's Hall of Mirrors, Borjas' We Wanted Workers. Not to mention the newest edition to my Adore List: Tyler Goodspeed, and his two (now three, I realised from absent-mindedly scrolling through Amazon...) examples of grand writings and mind-blowing content, Rethinking the Keynesian Revolution and Legislating Instability

Or Erwin Dekker's epic story from last year, about those we affectionately call 'Austrian Economists', but rather should refer to as Viennese Students of CivilizationI picked it up from the library after my exam on Friday, and figured I should cozy up in the sofa, and treat myself to reading the introduction; almost halfway through the entire book I still can't put it down, and I find mesmerising things on basically every page.

Somewhere in the midst of those wonderful pages I felt inspiration creeping up. Ideas. Things to read, projects to research, articles and blog posts to write. The very inspiration and curiosity I came to University to cultivate and build on. It was a strange, almost unfamiliar feeling, which exam revision-reading hardly produces, and that has been surprisingly absent this semester. There are scholars in the world that can inspire us to become better students and from whom we actually learn, but unfortunately we're stuck with something not quite as magnificent. 

Maybe this is simply the classic 2-down-2-to-go rant that I tend to produce time and time again. Or maybe I'm on to something here, and really fascinating material would conquer even the soul-wrecking activity that is exam-revision. Who knows?

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