• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: Human Capital Investment

Career paths.


February 23, 2017

In economics, education and training that will help someone obtain a job is called “human capital investment.” For example, going to college is seen as being very similar to what happens when a firm invests in new machinery, as both investments can lead to increased output in the future. I found myself thinking of this recently when I read about a little girl who decided she wanted to work for Google someday, and sent them a letter telling them so. She actually got a reply from them, perhaps pointing her in the direction of a future career.

When my daughter’s school recently had a “career day,” I found myself unable to participate because I could not easily explain what it was that I called my “career.” After all, I am actually an Economist, even though I teach in a Math department. And that is without bringing up the fact that I write a blog for Inside Higher Ed. As my husband pointed out, “the first step in talking about your career is figuring out what your career is.”

When I was the same age as the little girl in the article, I thought that I wanted to be a scientist. I had no idea what kind of scientist I wanted to be; just “scientist” seemed to be an adequate answer for the grown-ups in my life, and so I didn’t pursue the issue further. As I got older, I discovered the social sciences, and decided that I should be an Archeologist, as they got to combine History and Science. Or maybe a Paleontologist, I thought…

By the time I got to college, I had not made up my mind any further. I entered as a Physics major, with plans to go to law school when I graduated. It took an Economics professor who thought I had come to his office complaining about the Math in his course, but soon learned that I was asking how Calculus could be applied to what we were learning, to suggest that I could make a career out of studying Economics. Even then, I spent only eight years as an Economics professor before landing in this position teaching Math. I just learned that I will soon be teaching more Economics next year, in response, in part, to a need in the Business department. And so, I can finally do what an Economist suggested I do almost twenty years ago; “get back to teaching Economics as soon as you can.”

And so, readers, I have to ask; how did you decide on your chosen field, and has your career been very linear, or, like mine, has it taken many twists and turns? And what would you tell a little girl if she was to write to you saying that someday, she wants the job that you have?


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