It begins

Tomorrow is my first day of math camp. I am starting a PhD in economics at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall, and the math camp is a “highly-recommended” program to prepare first-year PhD students for the rigors of the upcoming school year. Just a year ago, I was moving from Oslo, Norway to London. I had lived in Oslo for almost five years. I had been a freelance musician, playing with the Oslo Philharmonic, the Norwegian Radio Orchestra, the National Opera Orchestra, and other symphony orchestras in Norway. I had also played in a trio that gave performances and was active in commissioning new music. It is not easy to provide a satisfying answer to the question of why I left the world of music to pursue economics. I certainly never lost my love of classical music. Although it was easy to find some aspects of the classical music “industry” that I didn’t like, I didn’t alter my life trajectory over such quibbles. I think the main reason that I switched is that I wanted to apply my mind to a different set of problems than the ones I encountered in music.

So, one year ago, I made an abrupt change and moved to London to begin the one-year MSc program in economics at the London School of Economics. I had no idea that LSE would force me to spend nearly every waking hour of every day studying, and that I wouldstill feel clueless most of the time. Yet, I found myself mostly enjoying the program which had been memorably described as “not for the faint of heart.” I did not want my study of economics to finish after the one-year masters was over, so a PhD seemed to the logical next step.

Since the time I switched from music to economics, I’ve always been anxious about my mathematical background. I have a good foundation in linear algebra and a decent one in multivariate calculus from high school, but I took little math in college, and I’ve never taken any course such as real analysis that focused on proof-writing. I spent the months before I began LSE studying Simon and Blume’s Mathematics for Economists. This helped me to rebuild the mathematical skills that had atrophied after five years of playing music in Norway. After the one-year masters at LSE ended on May 30th, I had a month of free time before UPenn began. I decided I would read How to Prove It by Daniel J. Velleman. It develops the principles of mathematical logic and explains in very readable prose the techniques that mathematicians use to prove theorems. There are tons of practice proofs involving set theory. I felt I learned a huge amount from reading this book, but I will have to wait and see if it helps me survive math camp!

My goal is to update this blog every two weeks. I intend to write about my experiences as a PhD student at UPenn. As I learn more, I may write a few advice columns for prospective applicants about what it seems that admissions offices are after. Eventually, I may even take economics questions and try to answer them. My main goal for the next year, however, is to pass my prelims. Wish me luck!