Reflection – Fall 2012

My first semester at grad school has officially come to an end.

Taking three courses and being an RA at the same time is difficult. But luckily I have been trained by my undergrad at Hong Kong to be tough and resistant to pressure. Life is simpler yet richer. I am interacting with a smaller amount of people but feeling stronger intellectual inspiration.

Academics

I have learnt to see theories more deeply and critically. The advanced microeconomic theory course started with simple assumptions about people’s preferences and reached sophisticated conclusions. It is indeed important to realize the limitations of the assumptions and theories, which I rarely did before. I am starting to grasp how mathematics significantly expands the scope of economics. It’s cool to connect dry mathematical theorems with rich economic interpretations.

Another interesting course is microeconomics of international development. We talked about various topics in development, read papers and discussed them. The good thing of taking a seminar class is that it forces you to think deeper and ask meaningful questions. These require more than understanding the materials covered in class. Many of the papers are mind-boggling and requires one to examine closely the theory and empirical method (and sometimes other related literature). Unlike all pre-established theories, I will be doing research without a roadmap. Keeping a critical eye and broadening my horizons are indeed important abilities that I will have to develop during my time at Duke. I am so used to “absorbing knowledge” as they are, without asking valuable questions.

Bayesian statistics course is intense. It is good to learn some of the most up-to-date research topics in the Bayesian world since Duke is among the top schools for statistics. This course has spurred my interest in Bayesian econometrics. As it turned out, running MCMC algorithms with R is not so much torture for me. I also did a project using a Bayesian probit model to estimate the elderly health conditions in Gansu and Zhejiang and found interesting patterns (see my previous post).

Life

I know I am still far from the person I want to be, but I think I am on the right track.

Although coursework is intense, I am proud to say that I go to the gym three times every week. I have also tried to keep up with my yoga practice, but in the final weeks I got lazy and rarely did it. Winter vacation would be a good time to pick it up.

I am happy to notice an encouraging change in me: I am closer to my family. I no longer see chatting with mom and dad a chore (sadly I used to). I try to understand their life and offer my support, even though I am not physically with them.  Our conversations become more and more fruitful. They know more about me and my life, and I know more about them. I feel grateful for having such wonderful parents who have always supported me and never interfered with my decisions.

Next Step…

I plan to go to Uganda with Duke Microfinance Leadership Initiative next summer, and hopefully I can develop a thesis out of this. It would also be great to experience Africa given my interest in Chinese migration there. Getting excited about this!

There is no perfect planning. Perfection is itself a vague concept. Just like my friend Xin says, life is good as long as you’re doing something meaningful. I feel fortunate to be studying at Duke. I shall continue to strive for academic excellence and live a quality life.

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