For Students Or Researchers Changing Disciplines: How To Survive The Shift From Economics To Business
Less theory, more practical information
The biggest difference between economics and business, whether you're studying or researching, is in terms of the applicability of your subject. Both fields involve the study of companies, markets, and money, but economics focuses on the high-level, abstract concepts involved. Business is much more practically focused. Some people have even gone as far as to describe business as an art, and economics as a science.
For an economist starting work in the field of business, this means that you'll have to adapt to new methods and new ways to discuss topics. The focus will be less on “What is this thing, conceptually speaking, and how can we understand it?” and more on “How can we use this thing in a business setting?” As a business student or researcher, you will be expected to produce work which is of immediate practical value. Of course, your arguments still need to be sound and well thought through, but the test of the value of a proposition in business will always be: does it work? This is quite a shift in thinking, especially if you have been in an academic setting for most or all of your career, and you are used to working to more abstract goals.
Less big picture, more specific detail
Another big difference between the two fields is the scope of what they cover. Economics focuses on large-scale information about international, global markets. Business will focus more on the needs and details of one specific business, and on what knowledge and skills a person would need to start their own business.
For an economist embarking on a journey into business studies, this will mean that you will spend much more time on specifics than you have previously. You might be looking at a particular business as a case study, or assessing several local businesses to see what they have in common. You will have to adjust to less overview or 'big picture' thinking, and more on the small changes which can have a big impact on a business.
Different personality styles
Business and economics tend to be marketed to, and therefore attract, rather different personality types. Economists are often like many academics – the stereotypes of bookish, thoughtful, and a little bit 'head in the clouds' might be applicable here. Businesses teaching, however, seeks out people who are outgoing, confident, and quick at thinking on their feet.
If you're moving from economics to business, you don't need to change your whole personality, but you may need to work at making yourself more outgoing. You'll have to get used to meeting people and building networks, to selling your concepts or products confidently, and to selling yourself too! You can practice 'elevator pitches' about yourself and your work, and try out some tips on improving your networking skills.
Different career prospects
The skills you'll acquire in both business and economics degrees can be applied to many different jobs, but there are some advantages to each for particular positions. While economists are most likely to find employment in roles such as financial analyst, budget analyst, or statistician, those who have studied business will make the most of their skills by working on the day-to-day operations of a business, especially during the start-up phase.
You should consider which career path is most appealing to you when deciding while field you should focus on. It's important to remember that having a business degree is not a prerequisite for working in business, and there are few jobs where a degree in economics is essential. On the other hand, economics can be seen by some as more academically rigorous as a university course, and may be preferred by employers who seek out academic credentials.
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