Who knew that brand-new Nobel Prize Winner in Economics Robert Engle was Williams class of 1964? Not me, certainly. Someone at the College did (I wonder who? Might even be our economist President . . .) and so the web page trumpets the award just a few hours after its public announcement.

Here is Engle’s home page. Note how he was highest honors in physics at Williams. “Highest honors,” as opposed to just “honors”, means you were one of, if not the, best in the department, although grade inflation may have made this less true over the last 40 years. The fact that Engle studied physics at Williams and Cornell before switching into economics should serve as a lesson to any current Williams student considering graduate school in economics (or political science, public policy, sociology or any social science). You should take every statistics course that Williams offers along with as much math as you can stand. In fact, the smart undergraduate will double major in math along with her chosen field. Doing so will more than double your chances of getting into a top graduate program. But that’s a topic for another day.

The New York Times summarizes Engle’s key contribution as:

Professor Engle’s primary work improved the understanding of volatility, particularly in the stock market, and enabled economists to make more accurate forecasts. Previously, researchers were often forced to assume that volatility did not change over time.

It was obvious to most of us in graduate school that Engle would be in the running for a Nobel. His work is among the most cited in economics. Conveniently enough, Engle’s 40th reunion is coming up next spring. I hope that he attends.

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