In less than 24 hours the spring semester here at the Friedman School begins. This will be my third spring semester at the Friedman School and boy will it be a busy one. I will be taking a course entitled “Nutrition in the Life Cycle”, serve as a teaching assistant for Dr. Masters in his course “Economics for Food Policy Analysis”, and carry on with my research duties with Dr. Cash.
I will also be studying for my qualifying examination which I plan to take in May or June. The “Q exam” is the biggest hurdle that all doctoral students must surpass in order to begin their dissertation. My exam will cover nutrition science and policy, agriculture science and policy, and the economics of food and agriculture. There is a written component and then three hour oral examination with three faculty members.
As Liz Lemon would say…”blerg”.
Actually, I’m up for the challenge. It might be enjoyable to revisit all that old course material, master it all, and then impress my friends at parties! I am also trying to create fun ways to learn the material. One of which is to scour the internet for interesting articles on topic areas relevant to my exam and then write about those articles on my blog.
After some searching today (I actually had a hard time finding interesting material), I found a post on the Freakonomics blog about what economists call “commitment devices”. The author gives Congress some credit for giving itself a deadline that comes with consequences – a commitment device – to force itself to make decisions. I don’t agree that Congress deserves any amount of respect for the deal. But I do think that a commitment device, “a method to push your future self into some behavior”, is a promising concept with applications for nutrition and agriculture research. The Freakonomics author notes a few applications of this concept, one of which is on small-scale farmers in Kenya. Innovations for Poverty action using a commitment device to nudge farmers into purchasing fertilizer for their crops to boost yields and incomes. There are also applications to my own life.
I realized that I can devise my own commitment device to keep me motivated for the qualifying exam. I know what I’d like my behavior to be for this period of time, it just seems like a matter of finding a mix of the right incentives to make future Rebecca study diligently. I hope I find a good one. Gulp.
This also reminds me of a Seinfeld bit in which Jerry talks about “morning guy” and “night guy”, and how night guy is always ruining it for morning guy.
Agriculture, Food and Environment Program
Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy Tufts University
150 Harrison Avenue, Room 108
Boston, MA 02111