Book Review: Economics: What You Should Have Learned in High School, But Not by Marc F. Bellemare

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In Saving Money: What You Should Have Learned in College, But Didn’t, Marc F. Bellemare offers a new guide to research economists to help them equip themselves with practical tools for “saving money”. This book will be an excellent starting point for young economics students who plan to pursue an academic career, writes Ritwika Patgiri.

Saving Money: What You Should Have Learned in College, But Didn’tt. Marc F. Bellemare. MIT Press. 2022.

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In a world hit by COVID-19, precariousness has become the labor market norm. More and more people in academia have started talking about the precariousness within the sector. With the continued pressure to present and publish research papers, obtain research grants and awards, and contribute to academic public goods like peer review, the minimum qualifications required for non-graduating employment permanence have become milestones in themselves. However, no one really tells a graduate student what working in academia really entails. As I approach the final year of my own PhD, the importance of being able to write well as a researcher has never been more felt.

At Marc F. Bellemare Saving Money: What You Should Have Learned in College, But Didn’t is a great starting point for anyone looking to pursue further research, anyone who has started research but feels lost, or anyone who has been researching for a few years but needs some motivation. The book is especially important for young economics students who plan to pursue an academic career but have no one to tell them about the harsh realities of the profession.

While economics and many adjacent social science disciplines have become more empirical in nature, there are very few guides to tell researchers how to tell their findings in words. Bellemare writes that it is almost as if there is a “substantial hidden curriculum” when it comes to doing economics (2). This can be extended to the whole of academia. Research has found that in addition to your publication record and the prestige of your graduate program, academic networks have a major influence on the selection of faculty members (Val Burris 2004; Michael Hadani et al 2012) .

Image credit: Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Like most other professions, academia has its own set of rules: it almost seems like everyone knows them, but no one really says them. With the presence of extensive networks and imperfect information, the work process in academia becomes stratified and unequal, and this is especially the case for marginalized people of caste, class, gender, ethnicity, region and religion. How to write a good article? What does it take to get your research published in a good journal? What should a peer review response letter look like? How do you present your research? How do you approach funders or get grants? And, finally, how do you ensure that your article is read by the audience you want?

Save money is divided into eight chapters, each of which walks researchers and economists through the various stages of success in academia, which researchers are otherwise “expected to learn on their own” (39).

The second chapter, “Writing Papers”, makes it clear to the reader that every opportunity to write is an opportunity to practice writing well. Bellemare introduces the concept of “inspection reading”. Most of the time, graduate students apply this idea to get a summary of the documents needed to complete the required program. The inspection reading consists of reading the introduction, the methodology, the results and the conclusion. Bellemare warns that while inspection reading is a good way to develop one’s knowledge of literature, it is not a way to write good articles (6).

Bellemare adds in a footnote that the greatest sin an academic writer can commit is the sin of omission, followed by the sin of commission. Leaving important information out of an article and forcing the reader to skim through the article looking for specific information are two dangerous writing habits. This chapter presents the standard structure of a good economics article, describing what works and what does not.

The third chapter, “Giving Lectures,” gives the reader an idea of ​​the different types of lectures a university department may invite you to give. Bellemare emphasizes the importance of precisely understanding the standards of the department in which you are presenting your work, including the time allotted and ground rules for questions posed by the audience. My colleagues from other departments have always talked about keeping the audience focused with good slides that have less text, just including pointers to what you’re going to discuss. This “less is more” strategy does not always hold in economics, and Bellemare repeats what I often say to my colleagues in response: that “economists tend to be more comfortable with more text on slides as well as with fewer images” (40). This helps in making the audience understand what is going on in the article and the author spends less time memorizing the content! Bellemare insists that a speech should be structured like an article and that it is important to keep in mind who the audience will be.

The fourth chapter, “Navigating Peer Review”, is my favorite chapter of the book. As an early career researcher, publishing is the real quest – the pathway to all other aspirations. Bellemare makes this clear by pointing out that in economics, articles in peer-reviewed journals are the “currency of the kingdom” rather than books or chapters in edited volumes (61). The peer review process may not be a perfect system as it can take a long time – reviewers may not have read their work properly and editors may not read reviews carefully either. But Bellemare argues that it is the best system available compared to the alternatives and that it leads to better scholarship. Peer review as a form of ‘access control’ is indeed a necessity (62).

Chapter four then tries to help the reader understand when you are ready to submit your work. Bellemare gives a solution to this – “Your article is ready to be submitted for publication when you keep hearing the same comments about it during the presentation or during conversations with colleagues about it, and these comments relate to things on which you can do nothing but recognize in the journal” (63). The chapter also gives readers an idea of ​​the seasons in which scholars should apply and how to decide where to apply. Bellemare includes good journal submission strategies: for example, when submitting to a field journal, it advises citing articles from that journal and its competitors published within the past five years.This suggests to editors that your article belongs to that journal and further helps them to find reviews.

The fifth chapter “Raising funds”, the sixth chapter “Doing service” and the seventh chapter “Counselling students” all give another vision of what university life entails, if one is not already familiar with that. It is true that success in academia means different things to different people. There are many paths to success in academia and the book gives readers an understanding of what those different paths might be and how to navigate them.

Save money was heralded by many on social media as the book that should have been published when they were in graduate school. Life in academia is inherently difficult; the imperfect information given to young people and aspirants entering the profession further complicates matters. Save money is a gateway to a highly closed and uncertain world.

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