It’s not often undergraduate students get to meet a Nobel Laureate in person, let alone take a class with one. For seven weeks during the fall semester, a small group of students at NYU Abu Dhabi were lucky enough to learn about qualitative economics from Nobel Laureate Thomas Sargent in an intimate class setting.
"I Speak Math"
From the beginning, Sargent made it clear that his class would be math intensive, with plenty of modeling and working out formulas. Despite the difficulty, there would be no questions too silly or abstract, he told students.
In fact, a typical class begins with a presentation, before a slew of questions and counter questions are raised between students and the professor.
The small class size of around six students allows for deep dialogues and exploration of questions. “Students pose sharp questions to me,” Sargent said. “This wonderful process has shaped my lectures so far.”
Stanislaw Wilemborek, a senior specializing in finance, had already picked out all his classes for fall when he realized Sargent would be teaching a course in Abu Dhabi.
Despite feeling uneasy with moving around all of his class timings, Wilemborek was glad he did: it was “an utterly rewarding class,” he said.
Nicolaj Thor, Class of 2019, also an economics major, said the “class allows me to think of economic problems, how to adapt models and go beyond the standard literature."
Thor intends to continue with economic research after graduation and do a PhD in the future. Sargent’s teaching, he said, provides wider context to current world issues.
Sargent’s Class Helped Me Decide on a Double Major
Diana Zhu, Class of 2020, is a political science major who has been toying with the idea of doing another major in economics. She wasn’t able to register for Sargent’s class because she maxed out her number of courses for the semester. But that didn’t stop her.
Undaunted and curious to learn from a Nobel Prize winner, Zhu voluntarily sat in on all of Sargent’s classes. Despite not being graded or credited, Zhu completed all his homework because the work helped her better grasp what she had learned from class.
Zhu also approached Sargent with questions from her political science classes. “Through my questions with (Sargent), I see how economics is applicable in other areas,” she said.
“This class exposed me to what classes beyond an undergraduate class can look like.” Zhu is now set on declaring economics as her second major and pursuing graduate school.
It’s because of (Sargent) that I really want to go to grad school now.
The Sargent Appeal
Such is the attraction of Sargent’s classes, that fellow NYU Abu Dhabi economics professors also made efforts to sit in during their free periods.
Etienne Wasmer, professor of economics, has been a long-time reader of Sargent’s textbooks. While Wasmer is already familiar with many of the topics chosen by Sargent during class, it was well worth the effort to sit in.
NYUAD Dean of Social Science Hervé Crès concluded, “It is a source of inspiration for students and faculty to see such an eminent scholar renewing his research agenda to embrace the evolution of social science, and produce relevant knowledge for the new world that unfolds under our eyes.”