College of Social Sciences

Joe Connors (10-11)

Wake Forest University


I am an electrical engineer turned economist. I’m currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at Duke University in the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics program in the Political Science Department. I completed my Ph.D. at Florida State University in 2011 after four years of study. The ability to complete the program in four years and the opportunities currently before me are a testament to the quality of the faculty and the graduate economics program at FSU. I couldn’t have asked for a better environment to study economics.

I would categorize the time spent in graduate school as comprising three phases. The first is your first year of school. The focus during this time is the core classes and eventually passing your preliminary exams. The professors were instrumental in making this first year rewarding and very successful for me. They were always willing to help with questions and to discuss ideas. Office doors were always open and the answer to the question, “Could you help me with this?” was always, “Yes, come on in.” They very much encouraged me to be successful during my first phase of graduate school and move on to the second phase.

The second phase of graduate school is after completion of the preliminary exams, but before one starts serious work on their dissertation. This is the second year and the early part of the third year of graduate school. During this time I was finishing up my courses and thinking about dissertation topics. Again, the professors at FSU were extremely helpful during this phase. They encouraged me to approach topics in my classes as potential dissertation topics. They challenged me to write about these ideas so that I thought them through and to give me practice as a researcher. During this phase the professors encourage students to co-author papers and attend conferences. By the time I finished my Ph.D. I had attended five conferences and had presented my research at three. The professors had prepared me to move on to the third and final phase of graduate school.

The final phase of graduate school is writing and successfully defending a dissertation. Jim Gwartney, my adviser, and the rest of my dissertation committee were extremely helpful during this stage. There are two things that are important for this phase: concisely forming a research agenda and then executing that agenda day after day for a year and a half. Jim and the rest of my committee provided useful feedback during this process, but at the same time provided independence so that I could learn to do research on my own.

Success in Florida State’s economics program ultimately depends upon the student. This is how it should be. Success as an academic economist will come to those who take advantage of the opportunities around them. The faculty at FSU make sure those opportunities exist and encourages students to pursue them.

Before starting graduate school I was advised to choose a department where the professors had my best interest at heart, a department that would “be in my corner” at the beginning of my academic career. This was good advice. It also describes my experience at FSU. Toward the end of my second year of graduate school I attended an academic conference where a former graduate of the FSU economics department received an award. His acceptance speech upon receiving the award was simple. He thanked his FSU adviser “for everything.” I look back and realize he was exactly right.

I am an electrical engineer turned FSU economist and I couldn’t be happier.