Thursday, August 29, 2013

Academics: Why mathematics?

Erika Meucci is adjunct professor of International Economics at SAIS Europe. During pre-term she is running both the math review course and the microeconomics review sessions. Prof. Meucci, who received her Ph.D from the University of Utah, will be teaching statistics in the fall semester. Below she discusses why mathematics is an important building block for SAIS students, many of whom leverage their mastery of economics to land rewarding jobs. (For a previous post on math and economics, click here.)

Q: Why is mathematics important for SAIS students?
Meucci: Mathematics is the language that economists use to communicate and develop theories from a quantitative point of view. For this reason, it is crucial that SAIS students have a solid foundation in mathematics when they take economics courses. What is more, mathematics helps students sharpen their thinking and make connections between ideas.
Prof. Meucci (L) meeting with a student

Q: How much math are students expected to know before they come to SAIS?
Meucci: To pursue economics at SAIS, students are expected to have a working knowledge of algebra and differential calculus. Multivariable calculus, especially partial differentiation, is also a prerequisite for economics courses.

Q: What kind of math test do incoming students take?
Meucci: The math diagnostic test has questions at pre-calculus/calculus level, such as sketching graphs or taking derivatives of functions. The test checks whether the student has the minimum requirements for our economics courses.

Q: If a student is not particularly strong at math, what kind of support does SAIS provide?
Meucci: SAIS provides math reviews that cover pre-calculus and calculus topics needed in economics courses. I am available during office hours outside of class, and there are TA sessions where students can bring up specific questions they might have.

Q: What would you recommend to a potential applicant who has not taken university-level math?
Meucci: If and applicant has not taken any math course recently, a good idea would be to start reviewing high school-level material. The applicant might also read books covering the math needed in economics courses. Students are encouraged to take courses in algebra and pre-calculus before starting the program.

Q: Can you give an example of how math and economics intersect in a SAIS course?
Meucci: In intermediate microeconomics, math helps solve economic problems. For example, optimization problems, such as the maximization of profits, can be analyzed with calculus.

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