The 2015 Australian Conference of Economists (ACE2015) has commenced in Brisbane at QUT’s Gardens Point campus. Yesterday I participated as a panelist in a session at the PhD Colloquium on a day in the life of a professional economist, along with Fabrizio Carmignani from Griffith, Ben Mitra-Kahn from IP Australia and Peter Tulip from the RBA.
The session was designed to provide economics students some careers guidance. I gave much the same advice as I’ve given previously in a couple of speeches, particularly that you should do something you’re passionate about and that the best places to start an economics career are at national institutions such as the Treasury, the RBA, Productivity Commission or ACCC. Even if you eventually want an international job in the UN, World Bank or IMF, it’s probably better to start in a national institution because the experience and international linkages are a great help in moving on to an international body.
While there was some friendly disagreement among panelists – particularly between Fabrizio and I about whether purely theoretical work is valuable – one thing we could all agree on is that depth of knowledge and specialisation in at least one particular subject area was a key to success. I gave the example of former Treasury Secretary Ken Henry, whose deep understanding of Australia’s tax system and how it affected economic decisions and impacted different groups in the community, made him invaluable to the Government. Of course, breadth of knowledge is also important, as basically there is no substitute for being the smartest person in the room, as Ken Henry nearly always would be, but it is undeniable that deep knowledge of one particular area pays high dividends.
Other points I made included:
- in today’s hyper-competitive world, CVs are for ordinary people, and what you really need are tangible examples of how remarkable you are (e.g. a brilliant paper, video, or reference from an influential person), a point made by Seth Godin; and
- your biggest problem is no one knows who you are, so you should do as much as you can to get noticed by networking and getting involved in the public debate, a point made by Grant Cardone.
A big thank you to Cameron Murray for facilitating what I thought was an enjoyable and informative panel discussion.
Previous relevant posts of mine include: