A Q & A with Diego Silva ’20, who served as founding president of the Undergraduate Economics Club at FIU and is now senior research assistant at the Federal Reserve Board.
Can you tell us a little bit about what led you to study Economics?
I was majoring in architecture in my first year of college when realized that I felt no passion for the subject. Even when I felt I was doing great as an architecture student, I could not feel attached to what I was doing, let alone see myself as an architect over the years. I decided to take one semester filled with electives and tried multiple courses on social sciences. The professor in my sociology course recommended the book “Basic Economics," by Thomas Sowell after noticing that my contributions to his lectures focused on economic inequality issues. After reading this book I realized how interesting the world can be through the eyes of an economist and how much impact economists have in the world. I was so fascinated by the material presented by Dr. Sowell that I knew I wanted to become an economist. I must admit that I was scared to change majors! It took a lot of courage and a leap of faith to look around for ways to connect my major with the things that I really felt passionate about, like finding ways to help others. However, once I started to learn about economics, I knew I needed to change majors. Soon after my first semester as an economics major, I felt confident I had made the right decision and never looked back after that.
How would you describe your experience at FIU? Do you have any fond memories from your time here that you could share?
Being a Panther was an inspiring and empowering experience. I hold my FIU years close to my heart for so many reasons. The connections and support I had at FIU enabled me with confidence and determination to hold myself to higher standards and work toward achieving big goals as a future economist. I really enjoyed conducting research with Dr. Sheng Guo at the economics department on soccer penalty kicks and Nash equilibria. One of my fondest memories at FIU was presenting this soccer-based economics research project at the 2019 Florida Undergraduate Research Conference. This event took place in Fort Meyers, so I travelled with a group of other FIU students on a two-day trip that was fully covered by the Honors College. I got to present my research to a bigger audience, and along the way I made friends and connections from all parts of Florida. It was also an incredibly fun experience!
What is a typical day working at the Federal Reserve like?
A typical day at the Fed is rather busy. We are often presented with new challenges, and we always find ways to rise to the occasion and learn from these challenges. Nonetheless, research assistants (RA) at the Fed have very different working experiences depending on the section to which they are assigned. There are three major components of the job as a research assistant. First, we help develop economic and finance research. Second, we assist in creating charts that help inform policymakers. Third, we are responsible for maintaining the production of public and classified economic and financial data.
As part of the Macro-Financial Analysis section within the division of Monetary Affairs, my typical days are filled with a lot of tasks to help develop cutting-edge research. This involves a lot of coding in statistical software such as STATA and R. Besides this, I also spend parts of my day looking at research papers, expanding my knowledge on the economic literature relevant to the research I am conducting. Given the latest developments in the economy and the financial markets, I send high-frequency updates on the production of economic and financial series that help inform policymakers about their decisions. Sometimes this also means debugging productions when they stop updating appropriately, which can become time consuming depending on the complexity of the code. Regardless of all these challenges, I find that my typical day as an RA is filled with a lot of learning moments, interacting with interesting people, and have some occasional fun while getting together with other RAs!
In what ways would you say FIU prepared you for life at the Fed?
FIU provided me with a lot of tools and resources that prepared me to become a successful research assistant the Fed. I learned the principles of rigorous methodical economic research through my experiences with Dr. Guo as his assistant and co-author. Furthermore, at FIU I learned how to seek hidden opportunities and become a problem solver by recognizing areas of improvement. Through its leadership and personal development programs, FIU prepared me to become a self-starter and provide initiatives toward improving the status of things around me, by either trying to increase productivity or seeking creative solutions to problems. Lastly, I had the honor and privilege to learn leadership skills from FIU President Emeritus Modesto Maidique in his leadership Honors course. This set of skills has become extremely useful and helped me stand out from other RA colleagues. I really like to practice his teachings of empathy, excellence standards and persuasion at the Fed. All these skills that I learned at FIU help me to excel amongst my peers and help the Fed achieve the goal of serving all American people by protecting the economy through financial markets, here within the U.S. and around the world.
If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what career related advice would you give yourself?
There are three pieces of advice I would give my younger self career wise. First, I would encourage myself to apply and seek more opportunities outside FIU. I cannot stress the importance of applying to as many opportunities as you can! Throughout my time as a student, I received many negatives in my application processes, but it only took one acceptance into one of these opportunities to open the door and start generating marketability by learning new skills. After that, the negative responses reduce, and opportunities keep getting better!
Second, I would advise my younger self to start learning how to code in statistical software earlier in my college years. In my opinion, coding is quickly becoming the universal language of research in social sciences. Most of my job is about coding, and I wish I would have more experience on how to code faster and generate more elaborate codes.
Lastly, I would encourage my younger self to read more about diverse economic topics. I believe that in economics research the best way to find out what topics you are passionate about is by figuring out the topics you do not feel passionate about! This was only possible when I started to expose myself to a broader range of economic topics. This can be scary at first. Certain branches of economics require higher understanding of background literature and economic modelling. However, reading and learning about multiple economics topics helped me be more specific about the topics that made me fall in love with economics in the first place.