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Tales from graduate school June 17, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in CMU, economics.

I love to hear and/or read people’s tales from graduate school – no, not about the parties people had or exams people nearly flunked but tales that involve famous scientists and er..economists, given my ongoing love affair with economics and economists.

Here is one from MIT ( the one on the River Charles, not the one on River Swarna ! ) – this is sourced out of this paper linked to from here. What would it be like to have Summers, Sachs and Krugman as students in the same class ! MIT Rocks ! ( Okay, CMU kicks MIT’s ass in robotics 😉 )

I sat in on Rudi’s course in the spring of 1977. (“Spring,” anyway, is the euphemism that MIT uses for the semester that starts in February.) Dornbusch’s classes during the three years 1976-78 included many MIT students who went on to become luminaries in the field. A short list would include Paul Krugman, Jeffrey Frankel and Maurice Obstfeld, but there are literally scores of others who went on to distinguished academic careers. There were several future finance ministers and heads of central banks as well. My 1977 class happened to include the brilliant and charming Eliana Cardoso, whom Dornbusch later married. Sitting beside the MIT students, there were also many Ph.D.students from Harvard, who braved the Cambridge winter to study at the master’s knee.

These included Larry Summers and Jeffrey Sachs. Rudi has what can only be described as a confrontational style of teaching, challenging his class with a mix of incredibly difficult questions. To make things even more challenging, his class typically meets very early in the morning, far earlier than the typical graduate student is accustomed to rising. To put himself at further advantage, as if he needed, it, Dornbusch has a habit of writing down graphs without labeling the axes, a technique he learned from his own teacher, Robert Mundell. I guess if I had really understood what was going on back then, it would have been easy to follow which way the curves were supposed to shift. More often than not, however, I had to go back after class and recheck the article he was supposed to be teaching—if it had been
written yet. At least I was not alone in being unable to answer so many of the questions.

Having witnessed Rudi engage the likes of young Larry Summers, Paul Krugman and Jeffrey Sachs, I would venture that Dornbusch’s international finance course at MIT is the answer to the trivia question “When was the last time these guys were completely humiliated in public?”



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