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Motohiro Yogo ’00

Monetary Adviser, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis

I would guess that the most common careers for economics majors are banking and consulting. This was certainly the case for my classmates, who entered the job market at the peak of a business cycle in 2000. I took a less common path that led to a career as an economist. It is a great job that to me feels more like play than work. I wanted to share my experience with you to make you aware of this alternative possibility.

After graduating from Princeton, I went to Harvard University to pursue further study in economics. I graduated with a Ph.D. in 2004 and became an assistant professor of finance at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2007–08, I spent a year as a visiting assistant professor of economics at Princeton. I taught two master’s-level courses, advised a handful of juniors on their independent work, and advised a senior thesis. I enjoyed my time at Princeton and was most impressed by the creativity and energy that my advisees demonstrated through their independent work. Since July 2010, I have been in my current role as an economist in the research department at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Whether you work at a university or the Fed, the job of an academic economist is to produce research that gets published in academic journals. We are a different breed than professional economists, whose job is to produce practical research that is profitable to their employer. We are driven by intellectual curiosity rather than profit, so we must find employment in nonprofit organizations that see the intangible merits of our work.

Perks of academic research

One of the perks of my job is substantial freedom over my time. My colleagues or grad students sometimes drop by to ask for help on their work. We have a research seminar once or twice a week. Otherwise, I am left alone to do my research. In one project, I am trying to understand how the cost of health care in old age affects household saving and portfolio decisions. In another project with a collaborator at Princeton, we are trying to understand what drives fluctuations in commodity prices and exchange rates. There are always too many interesting questions and not enough time.

There are other things that are great about my job. I get invited to present my work in seminars and conferences all over the world. I get to work with the world’s leading scholars, from whom I learn new ideas and methods. Over years, these collaborations turn into friendships. Finally, I find tremendous satisfaction in bumping into my former students at conferences, who are now doing great research on their own.

As you think about your decision, my best advice is the one that my father gave me. Choose a field of study that feels more like play than work.