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Open Letter of Intent

By Billy | March 19, 2012

So this is me asking my friends and family to proofread something. I’m publishing this blog post with literally NO readthough, having finished the last sentence. I will go through periodically and read, change, edit, etc., and then eventually submit it. Your comments are not only appreciated, but begged for.

Don’t let my philosophy and religion degree mislead you. If you were to look at my resume, you’ll probably find that I’m also an outstanding roboticist. If you really search for me on the internet, you’ll probably find that I’m a vocal social activist. If you try to put all the facts you can scrounge up about me together, you’ll probably find that none of the pieces really seem to fit together. It used to bother me: this tension. Now I think it’s a marvelous strength.

I started college with a headfirst dive into my university’s mathematics program. It only took 3 semesters before I started to feel disconnected with the goings on of the rest of the world. In an attempt to make sense of the various wars and struggles happening within myself and across the planet, I started taking politics, philosophy, anthropology, and religious history courses. By the time I graduated, I had a Religious Studies degree, an undeniable sense of helplessness with regards to the state of the world’s politics, and an inexplicable sense of inner peace when standing in the face of the incomprehensible.

The latter of these two feelings has been the stronger force. Since graduating, I have felt more empowered and energized than I could have imagined. I have kept my youthful idealism and complemented it with realistic plans. That intersection is what brings me to George Mason’s Economics program. Although when I started thinking that I might need to go get a graduate degree, my first thought was to study computer science, I realized later that an economics degree could provide the “real world” involvement that is not inherent in the life of a programmer.

I stopped studying math because I felt out of touch with the imbalances of the world. I don’t want to hide from the harsher realities of living on this planet, but I want even less to simply acknowledge they exist and do nothing about them. Computer science holds a lot of potential for me to do either of those things; I knew there was a better way to use my computer skill and passion productively and effectively.

Until early last February, I had been living in a small village in Austria. Staying in Europe for almost a year gave me some time to actually assess the foreign culture and reflect on my own. During this time, I kept a journal to keep track of all my feelings about simple conveniences the Austrian people had never considered — things that Americans take for granted. I wrote about public transportation and our dependence on cars, I wrote a lot about the agricultural economics in Austria, and also the general attitude of the people around me. It was during this year long cultural immersion that I realized how profoundly integral economics is to the balance of our civilization.

I don’t think I can help that I’m such an idealist. Nor can I help that I have such a strong sense of duty in me. These two things together mean that I have to put my efforts into the common good, and that I’m going to keep finding reasons to believe it’s important for me to do so, and that I might make a noticeable contribution. Having an expertise on our current economic system is reaching at the taproot of our society. The good and bad aspects of modern life can all be traced back to the way we collectively distribute the tangible and intangible goods like money, wealth, and power.

Since I arrived home, I’ve started working at the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason. I’m already involved in experiments to study decision making scenarios for the Neuroeconomics department, and sitting in on an experimental economics class to get up to speed and make up for my relatively low number of economics class credits. I’m just scratching the surface and am already filled with countless ideas of how to use our modern computing power to learn more about our current economy as well as the directions it’s heading.

Is a degree in philosophy a suitable foundation for a graduate degree in economics? I think so. Philosophy equates to thinking logically, finding innovative ways to deal with complex problems, spotting holes in reasoning, and thinking of new ways to challenge old paradigms. These skills are necessary for successfully anticipating and staying current with economic development. I plan on refining these skills within the context of economics, especially experimental economics, and use the virtually infinite computing power available to better understand our society.

Ultimately, economics drives everything that happens in the world. Studying it in depth is the next logical step in my life.

//This paragraph below is being left out because it’s too self deprecating.
Yes, I have a philosophy degree, and yes, I have only taken 6 credits of economics courses, but no, that doesn’t make me a less valuable applicant. I bring to the table a perspective and array of strengths that aren’t to be found in the perfect economics major applicant, and I rest confidently in that fact. I am going to study economics and I am going to continue experiments with the Krasnow Institute one way or the other. The only question is whether I will start with GMU this fall or not.

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