Journal of Economic Perspectives: Vol. 1 No. 2 (Fall 1987)


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The Making of an Economist

Article Citation

Colander, David, and Arjo Klamer. 1987. "The Making of an Economist." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 1(2): 95-111.

DOI: 10.1257/jep.1.2.95


As economists, we have an interest in and individual knowledge of the initiation process that turns students into professional economists. However, other than anecdotal evidence, very little in the way of data exists. This paper is a step toward providing insight into that process. We obtained our data from questionnaires distributed to graduate students at six top-ranking graduate economic programs -- University of Chicago, Columbia University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and Yale University -- exploring who current graduate students are and what they think about economics, the economy, and graduate school. The 212 respondents were relatively equally divided by year of study. We followed up our survey with a series of interviews. Certain results seem unambiguous and worth repeating. Specifically, there is a significant variety of opinions among graduate economics students and among the schools in the survey, and there definitely seems to be a Chicago school of economics. There are also tensions between the emphasis on techniques and the desire to do policy-oriented work. Students believe that what leads to success in graduate school is techniques; that success has little to do with understanding the economy, nor does it have much to do with economic literature. We hope that this information leads to discussion within the profession of whether this focus is good or bad.

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Colander, David (Unlisted)
Klamer, Arjo (Unlisted)

JEL Classifications

011: General Economics
011: Role of Economics; Role of Economists


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