Here’s a neat blog post, by way of Aretae:
- How to become a faster decision-maker (Sebastian Marshall)
Aretae summarizes (you should read the whole thing):
Success comes only with failure. Everyone fails a lot… the question is how much you do. More done = more success and MORE failure.
Now, that’s useful on its own, but I told you that so I could tell you this.
Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Kenneth Anderson laments that pre-law students would be best served by technical degrees in things like STEM or economics, rather than a purely Arts-based degree, but run afoul of the filter course syndrome:
[A]n amazingly bright and ambitious former student who had gone off to Yale emailed to tell me that my advice [to take economics courses in pre-law] wasn’t working out. Why? Because at a world class institution, she could do great work in history and philosophy, but despite 800 math SATs, she couldn’t keep up past the first econ class in the major. And since law school would look only at her GPA overall, no one would care that she had struggled in a tough area because she thought she needed to know it.[…]
Much as I admire Greg Mankiw, in other words, a famous blog post of his on “Why take mathematics as an economist” gets to the heart of the problem. He candidly admits that it is a form of signaling even when not necessarily related to the actual conceptual material at hand. I don’t mean that it is not hugely important for professional economists, of course it is — but that’s the point, there’s no curriculum suited for the non–professionals-in-training. Mankiw says, with charming frankness, that basically the math is one long IQ test so you can show your fellows how smart you are.
My first instinct, of course, is to snark about how the fluffy Arts majors with top-notch SAT scores might not be as smart as they thought they were if they can’t hack intro calculus. But let’s be fair (yeah, I know): at a top-notch school, keeping up with the pace of study requires a lot of focus. I can imagine that there’s a fair bit of crossover between courses in keeping up with a math major — economy of scale, if you will — that just doesn’t happen if you’re trying to do a BA with a side order of number theory.
Dr. Anderson goes into great detail developing an argument about science departments signaling their greatness by the quality of their elite graduates and so on and so forth, but essentially the role he sees for technical courses is instrumental: you learn about economics or engineering because it’s useful, not because you want to get hired by someone who’s impressed by your B.A. in Econ or your B.Eng. So if the knowledge is about utility, not signaling… why worry about playing the signaling game if it’s going to weed you out?
Let’s tie these two posts together. If you think that learning math, or programming, or econ, or any number of other “book” disciplines (I’m excluding lab-bench stuff like the hands-on side of organic chem because it doesn’t fit the title) will help you, pick yourself up a textbook and get started. Sneak into introductory lectures. Crawl around the internet looking for beginner-level resources and devour them. If you want to learn how to write computer programs, crack open a beer and a text editor and start writing Ruby code. You probably won’t get as good as quickly as you would have if you’d pursued a degree in the area, but you’ll get a hell of a lot better than most people without those degrees.