Lessons for a Young Economist

Economy students interviewed top economist Sylvester Eijffinger in the Black Box on campus yesterday. What did they learn?

Professor Sylvester Eijffinger (Tilburg University) was the interview candidate in the latest edition of the Food for thought-program of ASSET, the study association of the Tilburg School of Economics and Management. Eijffinger gave away his lessons for a career in economy and business, but also for life. When the students asked him why he never accepted a position of professor at Harvard University in the United States, although he was asked to do so, he answered: “The reason is plain and simple. My wife did not want to go there, and a happy wife is a happy life.”

Prepare yourself…

Nonetheless, Eijffinger had a very successful career as an econometrist and economist at Tilburg University, and several times he was a visiting professor at Harvard. Therefore the students appreciated his advice for a career in economy and business. The pivotal lesson he wanted to share, is to be ‘adaptable’ in these times of rapid and accelerating changes: “Artificial Intelligence, robotics and data science will change the market completely”, he says. “Martin Ford wrote about this in his book The Rise of the Robots. I asked him personally: when will this happen? He said: in five to ten years, but rather five than ten. So the message is: prepare yourself!”

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The big difference with automatization in the 20th century, according to Eijffinger, is that the revolution in data science will not only affect the lower, ‘blue collar’ jobs, but also the higher ‘white collar’ positions in banking and the financial sector, which are now occupied by people with a university degree: algorithms are already being developed with the ability to replace people responsible for auditing, finance and legal tasks in banks. “All the clergy positions can be thought of as dangerous jobs”, says Eijffinger. This means that we have to adapt, before turning ‘completely outdated’: “You shall renew yourself, or you shall starve.”

… and combine!

The students asked Eijffinger what they had to do to stay ahead of the curve. Should they quit studying Economics and Finance and start off with Data Science immediately? Eijffinger advised them not to give up their current studies, because substantial knowledge of Economics, Finance and Management will always be a necessity: “But why don’t you try to combine it? You can learn to use algorithms, you can do a minor or elective in Data Science, or you can combine two studies. Then you will have the best position you can imagine.”

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