It’s a wonderful time to explore and be scientists!
We live in an era of either having so much or so little, but one thing is certain: we live in a world in which it feels we are dealing with a lot of things all at the same time so much that we barely have time to ponder on where we are in life, where we are headed and its contrast to where we actually want to go.
We have a love-hate relationship with being busy (or we use ‘being busy’ as another excuse that has been socially made legitimate because everyone says it – and anyone who says he or she is too busy must be an important person). We have thus created this new reality in which being busy is an indication of being important regardless of whether one is genuinely busy or simply busy just because.
We also all too often ‘busy’ to reflect on how exciting life is even in the most uncertain of times. We just keep doing what we ought to do, rinse and repeat, without an ounce of reflection in our daily routine.
Having been on this journey for just barely half a year of being a full-time PhD student from a so-called glamorous life of corporate work, I realised that, indeed, we have an alarming scarcity of time everywhere.
There is never enough time to do everything we want or need to do: write, read, write, read, repeat. I barely have any, in fact. In contrast to a ‘9 to 5’ job that pays over 10x what one could earn out of a potential teaching career, graduate students work way longer hours than what agency folks complain about (anything beyond 10 hours on the job is cause for shared misery amongst those who find it rather ‘unfair’ not to have work-life balance or integration as is now popularised by HR practitioners).
Oh boy, we do complain, too; and, by that, I mean, a lot! The endless hours lead to some sort of depression that causes spontaneous tears to emerge whilst writing a paper or staring blankly into a practice test.
But what are all these for? To each his own, I guess, when it comes to the answer to that question.
Everything else held constant; that is, not counting other factors like lost time with loved ones (and too often these days, lost time for CrossFit in my case), what I find thoroughly exciting is the very uncertainty economics wants to know more about, predict, manage and (wishfully) solve.
As a newbie in economics, clearly, I am not yet jaded (as some already are); and how I wish that this bright-eyed self would not diminish over the course of painful PhD work that often yields minimal or no results at all. Combine that with the nagging feeling of feeling like an imposter, then there is sufficient reason to be jaded, if not permanently at least temporarily; thus, it would be easy to find yourself in a rut.
But what excites me is the idea that the entire world is undergoing so much change, so much transformation all at the same time that it is sometimes impossible to see or feel the difference. It has become the new norm, so we go through our days without truly knowing where things stand and where things would fall.
Look around: the new norm has defined instability, inequality, poverty, inefficiency, and even ineptitude as the new norm. We’ve become callous about it over time that we *sometimes* fail to see it anymore.
Here’s more: traditional structures, institutions, processes, approaches are all slowly – if not entirely quickly – falling apart. There is talk that these things are happening because we are entering a new industrial revolution of which we know almost nothing about, not at least in our ‘simple minds’ as we like saying in the corporate world (when rationalising an opinion often not based on anything but biased, personal preferences).
Look at world affairs: the transformative shifts happening in the West. The US becoming more domestic-oriented (with its unforgivable flaws), the slow but painful breakdown of European institutions; the impact of digitalisation, machine learning, automation putting millions of jobs at risk (900k PH BPO jobs at risk of losing to automation according to our friends at the Hungry Workhorse consulting); the silence of China and Russia at the moment; crime and inflation rates leading to more social and economic injustice.
We are living in nothing but in a world that needs a fresh, uplifting, and unifying outlook.
As a (budding and trying-hard) economist, that excites me. I feel as though we are literally standing on the frontier of change. Specifically, w.r.t. economics and its role as holding some (but never all) pieces of solutions in the grand patchwork of answers to an even grander tapestry of interrelated problems, I feel that we are indeed entering a new era of living (economic life or whatever) where our humanity is needed more than ever (yes, sometimes elegantly reproducible in hopefully tractable mathematical expressions that would never be sufficient to represent the absolute reality of our lives lived largely irrationally) to answer some – if not all – of the problems that confound us today (and will, too, in the foreseeable future).
This newness excites me. Each time a generation enters a new era, there is a lot of things to discover — the unknowns — as much as there is infinitely a lot of things to create or recreate anew. In the corporate world, we discover new things that are often limited by a company culture that is weighed down by bureaucratic, inefficient processes orchestrated by a boss who is either incompetent or just another victim of the same bureaucracy s/he serves, repetitively to no avail.
But where I am now, given the many unknowns and ambiguities of a new era, so to speak, gives me that raw excitement for discovery and creation. I realised, we would be scientists again discovering and creating innovations that can change the course of history in the long run. We could be explorers once again and find new places where opportunities abound, and where growth is inclusive; put together, to build a new world order all over again.
And if we think long enough about it, each of us has that opportunity now to reimagine each of our roles in the context of the communities in which we are a part of. And in my field and, I am certain, in other fields as well, this new era gives us every reason to celebrate because, finally, it is a great time to be a scientist once again. Specifically, for those in economics, won’t you agree that it is a great time to be an economist!
That said, I could boldly claim, it is a wonderful time to be an economist because even economics itself is undergoing its much needed, albeit quite slower than required (whether unfounded or otherwise), transformation.
And to my non-economist friends, this era, too, is also the best time to be the greatest explorer in your field. Create, destroy, recreate and contribute for good. It’s all up to us now, after all.
Cheers and much Pareto-efficient love.