Friday, December 5, 2014

End of Semester Reflection

When I first registered for this course at the end of the Spring 2014 semester, I really was not sure what to expect. The title, Economics of Organizations, gave me a general sense, but the topic that came to mind was still very abstract. I thought to myself, "How exactly would an economist look at organizations anyway? Maybe this class is about management skills? Are there even any models out there to describe how an organization works?"

A few months later I found myself sitting in Professor Arvan's class with a small group of fellow students. Although eager to satisfy my curiosity regarding the course, I was still uncertain of the material itself and how the class would run after the first class. As the course progressed, however, I started realize that our efforts were aimed at using the lens of microeconomic analysis to understand how organizations behave. After the first few weeks I found myself falling into a strangely natural rhythm: A blog post to introduce an idea before the weekend, a class discussion, a math-based Excel homework, and then another discussion. This format was new to me, and it was by far the most intimate economics class I have taken here at the U of I. However, I found that over time the structure of the course did very well to present me with a challenging idea and then allow me to gradually refine my understanding through both mathematical and conceptual channels. The blog post would get me thinking. Sometimes the ambiguity in the response requirements pushed me to frustration over what exactly the professor was looking for... But that was ok. Even if I struggled with the core idea initially, I knew I could count on the upcoming class session to clarify the subject with a tactfully guided discussion. Once an idea was introduced and we had taken some to time to familiarize ourselves with it conceptually, the real analysis could begin in the Excel homework. I certainly struggled with some of these, but I found that the Excel homeworks were just like the blog posts. Working through the guided problems would progressively construct the model in my mind using familiar microeconomic tools, but present just enough of a challenge to make me reach to understand the mechanisms involved. Even if I wasn't able to figure every question out, I knew that the next day Professor Arvan would not only clarify the math involved, but also provide enriching connections and applications to real-life situations.

Now, as we approach the end of the semester, I find myself with a very different perspective of organizational behavior. Before I had never really thought about why a team or company behaved a certain way or made a particular decision. If I did, I would simply dismiss it as a result of bureaucratic action only understood by the individuals involved. This course took the knowledge of economics I have built up to this point and equipped me with the mentality and tools to apply them not only to organizations, but also to myself. Hopefully, as I continue into my future and try to navigate through organizations big and small, what I have internalized throughout the duration of this course will allow me to not only adapt, but to thrive.


  1. I liked what you wrote here for the most part. You describe quite well the process of first confronting a new idea, having fuzzy thoughts about it, and then having the understanding deepen and the picture of the idea sharpen. And you tied that nicely to the out of class work and the in class discussion. The one part I didn't like is where you wrote about what I'm looking for in the blog posts, with the implication that if you knew that you'd write to it. I really wish students would take more responsibility that way and stake out their own views. On factual or purely theoretical matters, of course, one can't deny the facts nor contradict the theory qua theory. But in its application one can give examples where the theory doesn't seem consistent with the facts, and if that example is prominent for you then you shouldn't accept the theory as truth just because I like it. Your experience may differ from mine and so your world view will be different as a consequence. I hope that part of the course also took hold with you, at least a little bit.

  2. To begin my response, I just want to say that overall I very much enjoyed your class Professor Arvan. I sincerely think that the level of intellectual challenge and multiple new perspectives I encountered this semester have helped me develop a stronger analytical and critical mindset regarding organizations, and in fact human interaction in general.

    That being said, I want to clarify what I meant by "the frustration" in regards to the blog posts. I was simply unfamiliar with entering writing-based assignments with such a broad scope, especially regarding my own observations and experiences. Knowledge of specific expectations regarding a given topic may have resulted in a bias regarding a certain experience or story, but in general I think you wanted the course, and especially the blog posts, to force us to challenge our own perceptions and stimulate genuine curiosity. I found that the frustration of having to scan through the whole of my own life and experience to form intellectual connections was a necessary progression towards being able to think in unfamiliar ways.

    All throughout the course you have alluded to how you want us to be free thinkers. From the distaste you expressed for student memorization culture to your recent anecdote about the rebellious intellectual climate in the 70's, it is clear that what you want most of all from your students is for them to think for themselves. Not because they may need to for a grade, but out of an inspired desire to satisfy genuine curiosity. You want us to question accepted beliefs and be willing to develop our own answers.

    I often worry that perhaps this generation, myself included, is doomed to be one of sheep. Our culture has conditioned us to value GPA's, money, and other metrics of success more than anything else. Thus we commit our energy to learning the system so that we can one day become the system, which might be part of why I felt so uncomfortable with such personal and free-form writing. People my age tend to accept the status quo as fact and seek truth with our thumbs, assuming somebody out there has already answered every question that needs answering. Maybe this is our fate, maybe it isn't. The way I like to see it, and I hope I'm not assuming too much, you wisely designed this course not only to equip us with analytical tools, but also to issue a challenge to each and every one of us. A challenge to take off our blinders as we enter the professional world. To truly think for ourselves and pursue great innovation. Hopefully, I will be able to rise to this challenge after college. All I can say now, is that you have reminded me that I shouldn't take things at face value simply because it is coming from someone older, more experienced, or more powerful than myself. In order to truly understand the world, I need to be more willing to pursue an answer because I want to answer it and less ready to blindly chase a reward.

  3. I liked this response. Awareness is not the same as having an answer, but you can't have an answer without being aware of the issue.