“Everyone on the program has very strong abilities and we all inspire each other”

The November myUniMA story is about Xi Lin (25) from Beijing. Having completed his bachelor’s degree, he is currently in his first year of the fast-track master's program in Economic Research. In his myUniMA story, Xi explains where his fascination with his program comes from, and why Mannheim is the perfect university for him.

Why did you come to Germany and choose to study in Mannheim?

I decided to come to Germany because of the research approach in Economics that is predominant here. In China, economic research is more qualitative and is based on observations and perceptions of society. Here, and in Western economies generally, research is predominantly quantitative. I see quantitative researchers as magicians – they turn the real world into a world full of numbers, equations, and models. In this abstract world of mathematics, I think my professors have superpowers. Some people don’t believe their research findings, but I think that you have to abstract before drawing any conclusions. Why did I choose Mannheim? I had several options, but the University of Mannheim is one of the best universities. Compared to other German universities, like Cologne or Berlin, Mannheim is much more international, especially when it comes to the school and the research concentrations.

How is your degree program structured?

The master's program has two different tracks. The regular track focuses on applied Economics. I decided to study the second track, which is more research-oriented and leads to a doctorate. At the beginning of September, there were about 20 students in my track, but now, almost half of them have quit, including some of the doctoral candidates. There are only three master’s students and nine doctoral candidates left. If we start to feel overwhelmed, we can transfer to the regular master’s program at any time. This flexibility is one of the reasons why I picked this program.

In total, there are roughly 50 students in the entire master’s program. I really like this program structure as, for me, learning success is strongly linked to class size. Compared to other universities, this is a large advantage for the University of Mannheim. In the first year, there are six introductory courses each semester which look at every aspect of our discipline. It’s quite theoretical and involves a lot of math to start with. Then, once we’ve finished our first year, we can choose our research area. I’d like to specialize in applied micro-economics, which involves auctions and game theory, for example, and acts as a bridge between theory and practice.

You mentioned that your school is very international. Why is that important for you?

So far, I’ve taken four courses. Two of the teachers came from abroad – one from Korea and one from Italy. There are also three tutors who aren’t from Germany. This strongly influences the school’s research orientation. Everyone at the school is very supportive when it comes to language barriers. Job descriptions are usually provided in English and the Secretary also translates the essential information. Not everywhere does this. I’d say that international students are treated almost exactly like the German students. So, the school’s international orientation is also reflected by the structure of the student body.

Do you know many other Chinese students studying here?

I know a lot of Chinese students, but as there are so many of us, it’s impossible to know everyone. I regularly meet up with some of my Chinese friends. In my building, there are also two or three other students from China. Most of them tend to study the Mannheim Master in Management. There is only one other student from China at my school. The other Chinese students that I know also study full-time, but I guess around 80% of them study Business Administration.

How do you cope with the workload?

There’s a lot of pressure. But when you’re doing what you really like, what you really love, it’s easier to cope with it. Each week, every course gives us homework which takes around ten hours to do. This means that, after attending the lectures and tutorials, and reviewing the lectures, we still have around 40 hours worth of work to do. But I know that the students at the top universities in the USA have to do the same. We don’t compare ourselves to the top 100 universities, but to the top 50 or 25. Once we’ve finished the first year, things will improve and we’ll have more time to think about our future projects. I work very closely with my fellow students and really like the atmosphere. In China, students are very ambitious and society as a whole is quite competitive. Within our group, it doesn’t matter how good you are or how good the other students are. We can only overcome the high demands of the program if we all work together. We can’t research our material using textbooks or Google anymore. Everything is based on human thinking. Everyone on the program has very strong abilities and we all inspire each other. This is one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about my subject.

Where would you like to do your doctorate? Are you planning on staying in Mannheim?

Staying here for ten years might be a little bit too long. But after the first semester here, I have to say that the quality is extraordinarily high. I spent a semester studying in the USA and the system there, for example, is completely different. They start with the very basics and give every student the chance to adapt to the program. Some students then show strong abilities and others aren’t so strong. Whereas here, everyone needs to reach a certain level. If you can succeed in a program with this kind of structure, your chances for the future are very good. I like reading my professors’ CVs to find out how they got to where they are today as I, too, would like to become a professor one day. Most of them gained experience either in the UK or the USA. So, I’ll finish my studies here and then follow their example. But I also think that China’s future is very promising. I don’t like the content of the Economic degree programs there at the moment, but they might need my knowledge one day.

What do you do in your spare time?

I’m a big sports fan – I like the sports program offered by the Institute of Sports, and am going on a skiing trip to Austria with them. That’ll be a great chance to relax. Overall, there are a lot of things to do in Mannheim and in Germany. I really like the work-life balance here. In China, that doesn’t really exist. Although my program of study is demanding, the general pace of life here is much slower than it would be in China.

Text: Lina Vollmer / November 2016