Sunday, February 6, 2011

Seminars

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, but this term is turning out to be way more intense than I expected. As I mentioned, my classes last term consisted mostly of lectures. However, this term I have two seminars every week. A "seminar" is different than a "lecture" in that seminars are student discussions led by panel of faculty members.

Each seminar is usually two hours long, and focuses on a particular topic of the course which has been covered in a previous lecture.  Each seminar topic has a list of discussion questions that are assigned at the beginning of the term, along with a list of readings that are to be read before seminar.  If you are like me, you would probably expect a "reading list" to consist of a textbook chapter and maybe an article or two. WRONG.  The "required" readings for each seminar consist of numerous, lengthy articles. totalling, on average, about 400 pages. Since there are no textbooks for our classes, each article has to be independently found (usually at the Law Library).  On top of that, there are usually about 600 pages of "optional" readings (in case you do not have anything better to do). Here are a few of the 18 required readings from my seminar in my Principles of Financial Regulation course last week:
  • Z Goshen and G Parchomovsky, ‘The Essential Role of Securities Regulation’ (2006) 55 Duke Law Journal 711 (44 pages)
  • RC Clark, ‘The Soundness of Financial Intermediaries’ (1976) 86 Yale LJ 1 (103 pages)
  • S Peltzman, ‘The Economic Theory of Regulation after a Decade of Deregulation’ (1989) Brookings Papers on Economic Activity: Microeconomics 1 (60 pages)
  • S Johnson and J Kwak, 13 Bankers (2010), Ch. 5 (51 pages)
In connection with these readings, we were given a list of 27 questions to be discussed during the seminar (I will not bore you with the entire list, but here are a couple of examples):
  • How can financial market regulation assist in promoting the informational efficiency of financial markets if investors are rational?
  • What is “systemic risk”? How can it be measured? Do all financial institutions contribute to systemic risk? How are we to identify those that do?
  • What effects, if any, does an increase (i) of competition between financial institutions and (ii) in the rate of financial innovation have on financial market efficiency, on consumers, and on financial stability?
  • “Parties governed by financial regulation will always have far more wealth at their disposal than do those responsible for designing and enforcing the regulation. This creates a sort of gravitational pull towards the interests of the regulated, resulting at best in ineffective regulators with low-quality staff, and at worst in the total capture of regulation by the regulated.”  Discuss.
  • What is “regulatory competition”?  In the context of financial regulation, is it (i) feasible; (ii) desirable?
As if the questions themselves are not imposing enough, we are expected to be prepared to discuss them with members of the law faculty (and it is often the case that they are the authors of several of the articles). On average, I would guess that the faculty speaks for about 15% of time in the seminar (mainly to ask questions) and the students talk for the other 85%. Although no one is technically "assigned" to any specific question, if no one is speaking the faculty will call on individual students and question them directly.
One of the best things about seminars is getting to see the various colleges that they are held in.  This is one of the quads at Jesus College, where my Principles of Financial Regulation seminar is held.
The view from the seminar room about 5 minutes before it starts.  The faculty sits at the front, and the students sit around the table.
Although this post probably makes seminars sound burdensome and dreadful, they are actually a fascinating experience.  The opportunity to engage with some of the world's leading academics is truly unique.  Additionally, the learning process is amplified through the process of reading, preparing, and discussing these topics.

1 comment:

  1. As a recently accepted student to Oxford's MLF 2013/2014, I am very glad that you take your time to make so great posts!

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