Come for the signalling, stay for the human capital 1

This afternoon we are welcoming the honours class of 2015. It is a select group about to start a tough fourth year specialising in Economics, Risk Management or International Trade. Now there is a lot of good advice out there for students and this blog hopes to add to that stock throughout the year. To start:

  • Prof Jonathan Jansen recently had some strong words for the first years of 2015.
  • Johan Fourie makes some great points: don’t follow the crowd, ask questions, build your network etc.
  • Chris Blatmann’s advice to post-grad students are always popular.

I draw some inspiration from a Noah Smith post. He argues that “college” is not about signalling, it is about building human capital.

The job market signalling model holds that employers have difficulty determining the ability of prospective employees – you can get to the job interview and tell them you are smart and dedicated, but they unlikely to believe you. Consequently, potential employees signal their ability by obtaining certain qualifications – going to the interview with the certified copy of your honours degree will signal that you are smart and dedicated!

It is not, however, about that piece of paper. Us lecturers of course believe that you are in the class of 2015 because you really want to get to grips with advanced Macro, Econometrics, Trade theory or Derivatives. (This is why you will find disappointment and anger when you skip class and submit cut & paste assignments – you’re not an undergrad anymore!) But we also know that it is not all about solving equations – you are should be building human capital. For Noah, this is about motivation, perspective and human networks.

  • Honours is not only about working hard, it is about figuring out why you want to work hard – “skills mean nothing if you don’t have a reason to put them to work”.
  • This links to gaining career and life perspective. Where else are you going to meet so many diverse and interesting people (don’t fall into the Econ vs Risk vs Trade silo’s).
  • And they will become your human network – people that you are going to share a tough year with and in a few years your should be able to call up for a beer, or for a job. Noah writes: There is a reason why college is called “college”, meaning “gathering”.

So yes, start early, work every day, get your team together, meet at the library and meet at the Draak. Attend class, ask questions, learn some skills: writing, estimating, presenting. Engage with the group and your future.

I have quite a few blogs planned for the post-grads: resources on how to write better, to teach yourself some programming econometrics, to make better data visualisations and presentations, to build your digital brand, to find a job, or continue your studies. So keep an eye on the blog.

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