12 Characteristics of Successful Economics Students
What does it take to succeed as an economics student? What qualities make a good economics student – one who thrives at university, enjoys their economics degree, and then, once it's all done and dusted, who goes and gets a good job? These are big questions – there's no doubt – and their answers may not immediately be clear.
So, to put worried minds at ease, we've compiled a list of the top 12 traits that will ensure that any good student gets the best out of their university experience. And to those now shouting 'what if I have none of them!', well, there's no need to worry, most can be acquired with a bit of determined hard work. Let's begin.
1. Intellectually curious
In order to be a successful economics student, or any kind of student for that matter, it's particularly important that you're interested in and engaged with your subject. All of the other characteristics here depend upon you caring about your studies and your specific topic. Of course, everyone finds some topics more interesting than others, but the willingness to find something worthwhile in whatever economics issues you are currently studying will help to keep you on form during your studies.
A good way to maintain your curiosity is by observing others who are good at what they do, and then asking questions about anything and everything you don't understand. Asking questions of experts is a brilliant way to learn how something works - they are experts after all! If asking questions fails, or more likely, is not possible, there are endless alternative means of finding something out - books, journals, the INOMICS study resources, and of course, the life-saving Wikipedia. Praise be!
2. Mathematical aptitude
Here's a real obvious one: numeracy is a key skill for any economist. From dealing with large datasets to interpreting visual data like graphs, you'll need to be comfortable handling numbers and working with mathematical principles. This is why many economists take preparatory classes in mathematics before beginning work or study in economics.
If you're feeling unsure, you should think about exploring this option.
There are many introductory statistics, calculus and linear algebra courses freely available online. What's there to lose?
3. Knowledge of social sciences
Economics also has a lot of common ground with other social science subjects like psychology, history, and sociology. Thus, having a working knowledge of these subjects and the methods used in them is highly beneficial. In recent years, economics and the other social sciences have become ever more interdisciplinary, meaning an understanding of these subjects is not only desirable but increasingly essential if you're to keep up to date on economic theory. Knowing a little about other, related areas will also benefit you in life in general; a bit of history knowledge gives people something else to ask you about at dinner parties, other than inflation rates or the stock market.
4. Good at understanding complex systems
The unavoidable fact is that economics is a complicated subject which looks at complex and intertwined systems. To excel, you'll need to be able to pull together information from different sources and different fields to inform your theories. You’ll need to be comfortable examining data to look for trends and possible causations of a complex problem. Learning these skills requires time, effort, and a little patience. Above all, it entails reading, a lot, in order to get yourself up to speed with the latest developments, so being able to sift through dense scientific texts is an essential skill.
Unlike in school, at university, you are expected to manage your own workload, attendance, and engagement. If you start to miss classes or assessments, you will quickly find your grades slipping, or worse, you may even fail - perish the thought! To prevent this from happening, it is essential that you can motivate yourself. Great students will push themselves to engage in class and to do the best they can in their assignments - without fail. Outstanding students will do even more than is officially required of them, to be the absolute best they can be. This should be the aspiration. It's hard we know, but why not give it a whirl?!
Commitment is a vital aspect of being self-driven. It's easy to concentrate for a short time on something you find interesting. What's more difficult is remaining determined and motivated for sustained periods, when you don't necessarily love everything you are having to do, read, or write about. And trust us, this is a situation you are bound to face... Pick the right course and this will be kept to a minimum.
6. Healthy time management
The ability to organize your time and schedule is another incredibly important ability for an budding economist. Successful students should plan their weeks and semesters well in advance to ensure they can attend all the classes that they need to, and also have enough time for researching and working on assessments. It's equally as important to give yourself time for hobbies, socializing, and general fun. Taking a break is essential to avoid burnout and to ensure you have the energy and drive to study when you need it.
And while it's important to stay on top of your classes, coursework and other assignments, taking time for yourself and seeing your friends is a must if you are to maintain a healthy balance. With mental health rates deteriorating among students, this is more important than ever: take the time to relax. If you struggle with time management, do something as simple as getting yourself a planner that you can jot down all of your commitments in. Really, it changes everything!
7. Admitting you don't understand
One quality which is often overlooked is the ability to admit when you don't understand something. Seriously, this is important, especially in a complex subject like economics. Although you may feel embarrassed to admit the gaps in your knowledge, it is the only way to learn. This way, the teachers or other students around you can help by explaining the topic more clearly, and you will benefit in the long run. Bite the bullet! This comes hand in hand with intellectual curiosity. If you aren't able to admit you don't know something due to fear or embarrassment, you won't be able to utilize your innate curiosity - and it's curiosity that leads to innovation, creativity and originality. So yeah, it is pretty important!
8. Lateral Thinking
The ability to come up with new ideas or new ways of thinking about a problem is a characteristic of an exceptional student. This could not be more true of economics where new ways of thinking are the name of the game. For that reason, don't be afraid to give your own opinion on a topic or argument, even if it's contradictory to what others have said. As long as you can justify your view, teachers and other students should welcome your input. Likewise, when presented with data or evidence, you should be able to adjust your ideas and theories to explain that evidence. This is exactly how the field of economics continues to grow and evolve!
There are lots of things you can do to improve your ability to think about theories or economic problems creatively. One of them, as we discuss later, is reading widely and learning a range of skills. The more you have in your toolbox, the more ways you'll be able to think about a problem and come up with an innovative way to solve it. There's also collaboration: working with someone who has a completely different set of strengths than you will force you to see things differently. In partnership with them, you'll both be able to contribute to an idea that would never have been formulated if you were working alone.
But there are other ways, too. Travelling widely can help you become more creative in general by exposing you to different environments and cultures. Practicing a rewarding hobby- like playing an instrument, writing, or doing something else creative- can show you new ways of thinking. And of course, connecting with people who are naturally creative is always a good idea. Surrounding yourself with people who have a skill you want to possess can push you to improve.
9. Solid reading, writing, and analysis skills
Whatever subject you study, there are some skills that you will always need. The ability to read materials and glean the relevant facts, the ability to write up your findings in a clear and engaging way, and the ability to critically analyze the material you find will be needed at every stage of your academic career.
Just as essential is reading things that aren't directly related to your course - newspapers, articles about other academic areas, even novels, can expand your knowledge outside of your chosen discipline. Of course, it's important to make sure this doesn't interfere with your university work. This is related to thinking laterally and seeing the bigger picture - you'll only be able to do that if you read a lot, and vary what you read.
10. Communication skills
A further set of skills which are important, but seldom taught are communication skills. Being able to present the information you know to both a lay audience and an expert audience is vital for demonstrating your grasp of the material.
You should get in practice at presenting orally, making slides, and engaging in debates in order to get the most from your studies.
One fun way to practice this is to try describing some economic phenomena to your friends, when they inevitably ask you for your opinion on capitalism or labor laws.
11. Performing under pressure
There are times when you need to perform under pressure, particularly in written exams. Being able to keep calm and not panic will help you perform to the best of your ability. Fortunately, this is something which tends to come with practice. The more exams you do, the more comfortable you will become with them.
Another common situation is when you must present to an audience. Remember, the more prepared you are, the less your nerves will impact you. If you know your material, and can articulate your points without reading a script, you will be more able to respond calmly even when the audience asks you an unexpected question. Also, you don’t need to respond to questions immediately. A pause for thought is often warranted and can help you organize yourself before answering.
12. Understanding other perspectives
Finally, one characteristic which you may not realize that you need is the ability to listen to and understand other people. Academic success is not only about putting forward your own views; it is also about being able to engage productively with people who have a different perspective. Learn to listen, to argue constructively, and not to be defensive about your own ideas, and you'll be a better student and encourage others as well.
When all's said and done, you don't have to agree; in fact, the point in attending university is to challenge views and be challenged yourself. What's important, though, is to be empathetic and respectful of other people, regardless of whether you respect the perspective they have taken. Being able to do this shows maturity and is an essential quality of being a successful economics student (and person).
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