In Econ We Trust: Three Reasons You Shouldn’t Hate Econ As Much As You Do


Name: Helen Fessenden Year: SAIS DC '96, '97 Current Position: Economics Writer at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, VA.
Name: Helen Fessenden
Year: SAIS DC ’96, ’97
Current Position: Economics Writer at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, VA.

Do you ever find yourself staring blankly at your Micro notes, wondering why you chose to pursue graduate-level economics? Has anyone ever caught themselves questioning their decision to pay exorbitant amounts of money in order to suffer through economic boot camp? Well, if you’re like me and at times question whether spending each Monday morning with Professor Alvisi in the penthouse is worth your time, this story is for you.

Helen Fessenden is not your average economist. Before coming to SAIS, Fessenden was set on becoming a journalist. However, after taking the required economics classes at SAIS (and having her eyes opened to the glory that is microeconomics), she slowly began to combine her two passions to create an interesting hybrid profession: economic journalism.

While at SAIS Bologna, Fessenden was commissioned by the Economist to write a piece on the conflict plaguing the small town of Tuzla in Bosnia. Armed with a background in economics, Fessenden traveled to the region to conduct field research and later produced an article that framed the conflict within a socioeconomic context. Fessenden recalls that this trip solidified her desire to go into economic journalism, a field she may not have been able to enter without her economics training at SAIS.

Today, Fessenden works as an Economics Writer at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Virginia. One of her main duties is to write and publish the Fed’s quarterly magazine, Econ Focus, which highlights the most pressing economic issues facing our nation, from cyber-banking to the Euro crisis. This job requires Fessenden to combine her understanding of both micro and macroeconomic theory with her excellent reporting and journalism skills.

Photo Courtesy: Helen Fessenden
Photo Courtesy: Helen Fessenden

Here are three reasons why you should care about the economics curriculum at SAIS, according to Fessenden:

  1.     “The economics coursework [was] key.”

Fessenden emphasized that having a background in economics opened up career options and enabled her to apply for jobs for which she otherwise may not have been qualified. Oh you’re a writer? Great, take a number. Wait, you have a background in monetary policy and are well-versed in the economic development of Central Asia? *Moves resume to top of the stack*.

  1.     It’s hard to say where you’ll actually end up.

The job you want now may change when you actually begin working in that field and realize what the job really entails. While you might want to be a human rights advocate today, who is to say that you won’t change your mind in a decade? In a few years? Next semester? After taking a class with Professor Cesa, it is quite possible that you will abandon the notion of human rights altogether and decide to work for the DOD. I cannot tell you what I want to eat for lunch today, let alone what I want to be doing when I’m forty. Fessenden’s message is clear: economics opens doors.

  1.     It can help you get other, non-economics-related jobs.

Fessenden spent over four years as an Editor for Foreign Affairs Magazine in Washington DC. As you can imagine, landing a job writing for one of the top journals in international politics was no easy task. Fessenden notes that while this job found her drawing more on her knowledge of international relations more generally, her SAIS economics coursework “turned out to save me time and again on the job hunt,” and gave her a competitive edge.

To sum up, if you’re someone who lights up with excitement each time you take the derivative of a utility curve, inspiration is the last thing you need right now. But if the phrase “optimal consumption bundle” sends you into fits of hysteria, then take comfort in knowing that your economic trials and tribulations are not wasted. Rather, these courses are a valuable use of your time and a wise investment in your future.

In case you’re not convinced by any of these reasons, Fessenden met her husband here at SAIS Bologna, and you can bet that they studied for a few econ exams together.  

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