It's a beautiful spring day here in NYC. I hope everyone's semester is winding down well! You are probably beginning to hole yourselves up in libraries writing final papers, studying for final exams, grading your students' papers or labs, conferencing with professors and/or students, editing chapters or trying to meet conference paper deadlines, while desperately trying to rationalize spending some time in the warm spring sunshine. I empathize completely. At least we have the kind of profession in which we may be able to haul some of our daily work materials out to a grassy knoll somewhere and read/grade/edit/think in the sun, if only for a few hours in the day. Then it's back to the lab/library/classroom/cubicle.
In the midst of all this crazy end of semester running around, when you may begin to question why you have chosen this path in the first place, I have for you a positive and graduate-life-affirming story to share!! It's the story of a once "lowly graduate student" who, in doing a simple end of semester assignment, ended up making a huge impact on his field and possibly the entire world's view of political economics. How's that for uplifting?
Here's the scoop: A few weeks ago, the New York Times Magazine featured the story of 28-year-old economics graduate student Thomas Herndon, studying at UMass Amhearst, who was spending time doing an assignment for one of his econometrics courses. His assignment was to replicate the data from an already published study. During his work, he discovered several flaws in the famous and influential economics study of austerity measures by Reinhart and Rogoff. The story reports:
Herndon was stunned. As a graduate student, he'd just found serious problems in a famous economic study — the academic equivalent of a D-league basketball player dunking on LeBron James. "They say seeing is believing, but I almost didn’t believe my eyes," he says. "I had to ask my girlfriend — who's a Ph.D. student in sociology — to double-check it. And she said, 'I don't think you're seeing things, Thomas.'"After he gained some confidence in his findings, he brought it to his advisors, who also didn't believe it at first. But then, after re-confirming the research and analysis, Herndon and his mentors published a paper with their findings, which received immediate and world-wide attention. Now, Herndon is trying to finish up his semester while basking in the glow of his newfound academic fame.
See people -- you never know what your studies will lead to! My take-away from this story is: keep your nose to the grindstone, but don't be afraid to challenge established theories or data-sets or conclusions. This story encourages graduate students to have confidence in themselves and their work, even in the midst of all the critiques and push-backs from professors, committees, panels, journals, etc -- keep your eyes, heart, and mind open, and follow your instincts, and above all believe in yourself.
Read the full story here. And then go make a difference in the world!!
-- Until next time! -- Liza