Professors without "Real World" Experience

Hey everyone,

So as a junior in college I've had a pretty diverse set of professors up to this point. What I've found is that the professors with "real world" experience - former bond trader, sports laywer, Big 4 Accountant, etc - always seem to be more memorable than the professors who have remained in academia their whole lives. (related to professors in the business program)

For example, my investments professor spent roughly twenty years as a bond trader and would have the class talk for 30 minutes everyday about articles from the WSJ and other current events. He said on the first day that the goal of the class was for everyone to get a job. He'd always tell stories of what life was like on the trading floor and give us practical tips on everything from recruiting to how to behave at the firm christmas party. All great stuff.

My corporate finance professor on the other hand, who has remained in academia her whole life, treats finance as if it's nothing but statistics - without breathing any life into the subject or considering the human element within the industry. Half the class is on Facebook and the other half is on their cell phone as she writes formula after formula on the blackboard.

Unfortunately, I'm becoming a bit biased towards professors without this real world experience. Is it wrong to question why I'm learning Principles of Management from a professor who has never managed anyone before?? These professors are all highly intelligent people (much smarter than I am) with a lot to offer. However, I would rather take a class taught by Hank Paulson than Ben Bernanke (to take it to the extreme). What do you guys think?? Which professors are making the insane price of tuition worthwhile and who is teaching us formulas that we'll never see again??

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Comments (34)

Mar 1, 2011 - 10:46am

CiroCorp, I think that this is an interesting point and there is a lot to be said about professors with real-world experience. That being said, I go to a liberal arts college where I major in applied math and economics and I am quite confident that nothing I have learned (especially in the applied math department) will ever be utilized in my career. I, however, still think it is important that I took these classes for my own personal education so that I can be a better thinker and analyzer. My best professors were ones that did not just give me formulas but actually showed me how to think.

I honestly believe college is meant to develop one's intangible skills and not meant to be a vocational school that teaches one "the formulas necessary to be an i-banker." After college I will most certainly never have to write a paper on greek plays or prove a math theorem, but being able to think logically and coherently enough to do these tasks is something that will be of value to anything I do in the future.

Mar 1, 2011 - 11:34am
rollo89:
CiroCorp, I think that this is an interesting point and there is a lot to be said about professors with real-world experience. That being said, I go to a liberal arts college where I major in applied math and economics and I am quite confident that nothing I have learned (especially in the applied math department) will ever be utilized in my career. I, however, still think it is important that I took these classes for my own personal education so that I can be a better thinker and analyzer. My best professors were ones that did not just give me formulas but actually showed me how to think.

I honestly believe college is meant to develop one's intangible skills and not meant to be a vocational school that teaches one "the formulas necessary to be an i-banker." After college I will most certainly never have to write a paper on greek plays or prove a math theorem, but being able to think logically and coherently enough to do these tasks is something that will be of value to anything I do in the future.

Rollo89, I go to a liberal arts school also and I definitely agree that the exposure to a wide range of subjects is beneficial for becoming a well-rounded individual with the ability to examine issues critically and logically.

Some of my favorite classes I've taken were English courses that were required as part of our core.

My issue is that having seen how an excellent finance professor can captivate a room, it's almost sad to see the life sucked out of the subject because a professor has never ventured outside of a textbook.

Mar 1, 2011 - 10:55am
technoviking:
one brilliant quant who blows my mind with matrixes of sorts. For me, college was about networking, growing up, and being a man.

Matrices. Should have stayed in college a bit longer. lol

-MBP
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Mar 1, 2011 - 10:53am

Most professors in business schools don't have real world experience (just go on their websites and look at their CVs).

Mar 1, 2011 - 10:55am

I didn't read all of your post but I've noticed more and more that those with no "real world" experience can tend to just read powerpoint slides off the board and not relate it to the real world (i.e. you don't ever "learn" you end up memorizing till the end)

Mar 1, 2011 - 11:27am

I studied in Latam and the best teacher I ever had was my econ teacher (He taught at Cornell and Dartmouth btw, he bragged about how he made some A-students fail his course).
He was 100% into academia and research. The only job he got was a prestigious position he got when he graduated. It took less him than one month to get fired. He has taught me more about real life than any other person I've met.
On the other side, my Financial Engineering teacher was a (very young) PM for a large bond fund, and it was the most theoric teacher I've ever had (and I went to a Math/Physics school). Not a single tip to be applied in real life.

Mar 1, 2011 - 11:27am

I studied in Latam and the best teacher I ever had was my econ teacher (He taught at Cornell and Dartmouth btw, he bragged about how he made some A-students fail his course).
He was 100% into academia and research. The only job he got was a prestigious position he got when he graduated. It took less him than one month to get fired. He has taught me more about real life than any other person I've met.
On the other side, my Financial Engineering teacher was a (very young) PM for a large bond fund, and it was the most theoric teacher I've ever had (and I went to a Math/Physics school). Not a single tip to be applied in real life.

Mar 1, 2011 - 11:28am
kraken:
He was 100% into academia and research. The only job he got was a prestigious position he got when he graduated. It took less him than one month to get fired. He has taught me more about real life than any other person I've met.

What did he teach you? I'm honestly curious.

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Mar 1, 2011 - 11:40am
econ:
kraken:
He was 100% into academia and research. The only job he got was a prestigious position he got when he graduated. It took less him than one month to get fired. He has taught me more about real life than any other person I've met.

What did he teach you? I'm honestly curious.

pretty much he taught me how to make decisions ...
I didn't know i didn't know how to make decisions.
He made me realize I had been making wrong decisions all my life.

Mar 1, 2011 - 8:45pm

True

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Mar 1, 2011 - 9:00pm

I think the difference is that teachers with real world experience don't get as caught up in the academia bullshit and are more looking to do the job to entertain themselves and give something back. They often spend a good amount of the class time telling stories and going off on tangents. I would honestly love to do this part-time when I'm older and have scaled back my hours at work. But for these reasons, they are often easier graders and not as focused on the curriculum, so it is natural that people would like them more.

Mar 1, 2011 - 11:37pm

While profs with real world experience might be more engaging and can give good advice about working in finance, profs who are focused on theory also have a lot to offer. I feel like a lot of times students don't understand how theoretical concepts apply to the real world, and that's why they get turned off by theoretical curriculum. Good professors will usually talk about why the things they are teaching are important to learn. For example, after seeing that none of the students were paying attention, my Analysis professor told us why Analysis is important and why we should know it. Before Analysis, the field of probability was a sham and there were contradictions all over the place. It was only after Analysis that people started rigorously proving probability and probability actually became reliable. Probability in turn then began to play a large role in modern finance and all of these other fields. So without these theoretical profs, we would not have any of the tools we have today. I remember another math prof complaining how "social scientists" and finance people use math equations without truly understanding them. And using those equations without understanding them could lead to really bad consequences. That's why I think it's important to take these classes. And a prof not in academia can't give you that.

Also, the research profs are what build up a universities reputation, not the profs with real world experience. So if anything, they are worth your tuition because they are making your degree more valuable. :D You need both types of profs to get a good education.

Mar 2, 2011 - 8:48am
pig:
profs who are focused on theory also have a lot to offer

I agree, but probably for different reasons. Even when theory doesn't apply much to the real-world, it's still interesting. In other words, theory can (sometimes) be interesting, just in it's own right.

pig:
Also, the research profs are what build up a universities reputation, not the profs with real world experience. So if anything, they are worth your tuition because they are making your degree more valuable. :D You need both types of profs to get a good education.

Well, the reason profs get paid at research universities is based on the quality and quantity of their research. The schools don't care how well they teach, nor do they care how practical and useful their research is.

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Mar 1, 2011 - 11:52pm

I think it should be quality real world experience. I had a professor that used to be the assistant to the comptroller of the currency or some shit and that dude could get hit by a fucking bus and I wouldnt care. Conversely, I had a professor that went straight from UG to a top 10 PhD program and was the coolest dude ever but that only happened because he started to do some economic consulting on the side and realized that the real world was as much about interpersonal skills as it was about models and theorems.

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses - Henry Ford
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Mar 2, 2011 - 1:24am

For business classes, profs with real world experience are better because they have experience.

For liberal arts classes, I'd prefer to have an academic, as academia is their "real world" experience.

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Mar 2, 2011 - 8:50am
<span><a href=/finance-dictionary/what-is-london-interbank-offer-rate-libor>LIBOR</a></span>:
For business classes, profs with real world experience are better because they have experience.

For liberal arts classes, I'd prefer to have an academic, as academia is their "real world" experience.

FinancePun:
OP and LIBOR, I agree. For any application-oriented class, I'd prefer a practitioner.

To steal a point from Ultimi Barbarorum and extend it, few academic disciplines could ever be quite as pernicious as academic finance. When the theories aren't a mixed bag, they're downright disastrous, e.g. LTCM.

Both good points.

Although, was LTCM really using anything academic/research-oriented? I've heard mixed opinions on this.

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Mar 2, 2011 - 1:34am

OP and LIBOR, I agree. For any application-oriented class, I'd prefer a practitioner.

To steal a point from Ultimi Barbarorum and extend it, few academic disciplines could ever be quite as pernicious as academic finance. When the theories aren't a mixed bag, they're downright disastrous, e.g. LTCM.

"Dude, not trying to be a dick here, but your shop looks like a frontrunner for the cover of Better Boilerrooms & Chophouses or Bucketshop Quarterly." -Uncle Eddie
  • 1
Mar 2, 2011 - 2:22am

CiroCorp, I have found this to be true in some cases. However sometimes the professor's experience is from 15-20 years ago.. this is usually when the prof is really old and left the industry in his 30's or 40's.. when they would discuss their experiences and give advice I found most of it to be really useless since it didnt apply today.

Mar 2, 2011 - 6:42am

Coming from a pure math background, I find that while more theoretical/academic professors tend to be a bit dry and stuffy, you will learn to appreciate your firm foundation of rigor and fundamentals when you take the more practical/applied/fun classes.

Mar 2, 2011 - 3:15pm

Eh its a mixed bag. My best professor thus far is basically a super-nerd, not too much practical experience. He tried to show everything he taught us in its real world application though, so it was an incredibly informative experience. A couple of Profs from trading bb backgrounds haven't exactly cared to much about teaching, so you never know.

Mar 2, 2011 - 11:21pm

I feel that practitioners like ourselves too hastily discard theoretical knowledge as being impractical or useless. I thoroughly believe that all theories in finance and economics can tell us a lot about the "real world", even if they don't hold true in the real world. You see, all of the theories we read about in our textbooks would be true given that their underlying assumptions hold (which we all know is not the case). The trick is to understand why they fall apart.

That said, professors with real world experience are generally better equipped to make these theories relatable to practitioners from my experience.

Money Never Sleeps? More like Money Never SUCKS amirite?!?!?!?
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Mar 3, 2011 - 9:09am

Building on sayandarula's point, you could think of economics (and finance) as a philosophy for thinking about the world. Most models in economics are much more like thought experiments and, in my opinion, should be treated as such. Just use them as ways of organizing your thinking and analyzing the world.

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Mar 3, 2011 - 11:03am
econ:
Building on sayandarula's point, you could think of economics (and finance) as a philosophy for thinking about the world. Most models in economics are much more like thought experiments and, in my opinion, should be treated as such. Just use them as ways of organizing your thinking and analyzing the world.

Perhaps your experience is different because you have had graduate level economics courses, but as an undergraduate, I feel like the economics I learn in school is completely useless. Most of the models are too theoretical (ie they have way too many underlying assumptions) to have any practical use. Yet, they are not theoretical enough to consider the most efficient distribution of resources (ie I've never had a class where we talked about economic theory, such as Smith, which I've read on my own).

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Mar 3, 2011 - 11:54am
<span><a href=/finance-dictionary/what-is-london-interbank-offer-rate-libor>LIBOR</a></span>:
Perhaps your experience is different because you have had graduate level economics courses, but as an undergraduate, I feel like the economics I learn in school is completely useless. Most of the models are too theoretical (ie they have way too many underlying assumptions) to have any practical use. Yet, they are not theoretical enough to consider the most efficient distribution of resources (ie I've never had a class where we talked about economic theory, such as Smith, which I've read on my own).

Unfortunately, in grad school, it gets much more theoretical and useless. My point is that it helps you think about the real-world by being slightly more analytical and also because models can be thought experiments that clarify the complicated world. Would you agree with that last part?

By the way, love the "Winning" signature, lol.

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Mar 3, 2011 - 3:56pm
econ:
<span><a href=/finance-dictionary/what-is-london-interbank-offer-rate-libor>LIBOR</a></span>:
Perhaps your experience is different because you have had graduate level economics courses, but as an undergraduate, I feel like the economics I learn in school is completely useless. Most of the models are too theoretical (ie they have way too many underlying assumptions) to have any practical use. Yet, they are not theoretical enough to consider the most efficient distribution of resources (ie I've never had a class where we talked about economic theory, such as Smith, which I've read on my own).

Unfortunately, in grad school, it gets much more theoretical and useless. My point is that it helps you think about the real-world by being slightly more analytical and also because models can be thought experiments that clarify the complicated world. Would you agree with that last part?

I mean, in that way, I can see how the models can be useful. For example, Solow growth model is a great way to conceptualize growth.

As you and monkeysama went into last week, even basic supply and demand models cannot be tested in the real world, since one would have to test every point on the demand curve, etc. Of course, the same is true of other disciplines as well. Take a look at physics. If you want to measure light as a wave, then its a wave. If you want to measure it as a particle, its a particle. The method of observations determines the properties it is likely to have.
By the way, love the "Winning" signature, lol.

looking for that pick-me-up to power through an all-nighter?
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Best Response
Mar 3, 2011 - 5:11pm
<span><a href=/finance-dictionary/what-is-london-interbank-offer-rate-libor>LIBOR</a></span>:
As you and monkeysama went into last week, even basic supply and demand models cannot be tested in the real world, since one would have to test every point on the demand curve, etc. Of course, the same is true of other disciplines as well. Take a look at physics. If you want to measure light as a wave, then its a wave. If you want to measure it as a particle, its a particle. The method of observations determines the properties it is likely to have.

In my opinion, there are two things that separate physics and econ:

1) I presume a lot more "important" things in physics are observable. It seems to me that pretty much nothing in economics that's important is observable (despite that economists try to measure everything anyway).

2) There are probably no constants in economics. In physics, you can run certain experiments and get the same quantitative value time and time again. In economics, there's zero reason to suspect that the price elasticity for x is y at every point in time. One year it might be y, the next z, and so on and so forth.

And maybe even a third:

3) The epistemology and methodology that's been developed for physics and other sciences is basically just applied in economics, without the realization that maybe you need a completely new branch of epistemology to study economics (or any other social science for that matter).

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Mar 3, 2011 - 12:32pm

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