Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Academics: The importance of economics

One of SAIS's distinguishing features is the integration of economics into its curriculum. From its inception, SAIS has held that policymakers and leaders need a solid background in economics to understand global policy challenges. Below Prof. Michael Plummer explains why economics is important for SAIS students -- and graduates.

Q: Why has economics been an integral part of the SAIS curriculum from the start?
Plummer: A strong background in economics is essential to understanding key aspects of international relations and globalization, as well as grasping the many challenging policy issues of the 21st century, from regulation of financial markets to global warming.

Q: What kind of economics do SAIS students take?
Plummer: Students are required to demonstrate proficiency in microeconomics, macroeconomics, international trade theory and international monetary theory, either by taking the associated course at SAIS or, if students have already taken these courses as undergraduates, by passing a waiver exam. While students have to take at least four economics courses at SAIS,  most choose to take more, given the importance of the subject and the rich variety of courses. Not to mention, of course, the quality of the professors!

Prof. Michael Plummer
Q: How much economics do applicants need to have? Incoming students?
Plummer: Prospective students must pass university-level principles of microeconomics and macroeconomics courses with a B- or better before they can start their course work at SAIS. A candidate who has not yet passed one or both of these can apply to SAIS and can be accepted, although the candidate needs to pass introductory micro and introductory macro with a B- or better before starting SAIS. We offer an online course in the summer for those admitted candidates who need to take micro or macro, or both, before starting SAIS.

Q: We understand that economics at SAIS is “relevant” to the non-economics course work. Can you give an example?
Plummer: Nowadays, most policy issues have economic and non-economy dimensions to them, which suggests the need for interdisciplinary studies, a key strength of SAIS. For example, the current negotiations for a region-wide trade agreement between the United States and 11 partners in the Asia-Pacific is clearly an economics topic, but it has extremely important implications for diplomatic relations in the region, defense strategies, international law and even the study of health policy, labor and the environment.

Q: Do you have to be very strong at mathematics to take economics at SAIS? What if you’re not good at quantitative courses? What would you recommend?
Plummer: Of course it helps to be strong in mathematics for the study of economics, but while economics courses at SAIS do employ some differential calculus, it is mostly algebra-intensive. For students who feel a bit weaker in math -- or rusty, if they haven’t used that side of their brain for a while -- we have pre-calculus and calculus reviews on-line for students, and additional math resources are provided to students during “pre-term”.

Q: What kinds of careers require an understanding of the kind of economics that is taught at SAIS?
Plummer: The study of economics at SAIS develops tools that students can use in just about any job they end up at, be it economics- or non-economics-focused. I frequently have former students who have been out in the workforce for a while tell me how important the economics they learned at SAIS was. Even -- perhaps especially! -- those who were challenged at first by the formal analysis used in our basic economics courses.

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