David Kastelman is a graduate of Yale University with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics & Cognitive Science.
David’s story is one of a lot of exploration. I especially like his framework for different disciplines as being defined by the questions you ask and the tools you use to solve them.
He tried Biology Research during the summer, and decided research was not for him. He discovered Economics with campus clubs, during the summers in Ghana and at the State Dept. Academic interest led him to Cognitive Science.
Hi-Fives from the Podcast are:
Episode Title: David Kastelman on Yale: Econometrics, Summer in Ghana and The Glory of Intramurals.
Episode summary introduction: During High School, David grew up thinking he loved Biology and was passionate about Global Development & Poverty. He was involved in a number of related clubs in school, played baseball and was in the student government.
David Kastelman is a graduate of Yale University with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics & Cognitive Science.
In particular, we discuss the following with him:
Topics discussed in this episode:
Memorable Quote: “I think in college, you enter at this time and you feel like you could do almost anything, and after college ends, you can still do so much, but maybe it doesn't feel quite like you can do anything.”
Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.
Transcript of the episode’s audio.
So the next summer was really cool. I, I spent it in Ghana, interning for an organization called Innovations for Poverty Action. And they did randomized control trials of development interventions. So I was working on a project that was looking at the efficacy of a financial literacy curriculum. And I was stationed in the capital of, of Ghana, in Accra. And firstly, like, I refer back to my time in Ghana a lot because it's just fairly different from other things I've done in my life. And as a result, you know, it comes up more and more.
David Kastelman is a graduate of Yale University with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics & Cognitive Science.
During High School David grew up thinking that he loved Biology and was passionate about Global Development & Poverty.
He was involved in a number of related clubs in school, played baseball and was in the student government.
He wasn’t interested in Med school.
So, when time came to think about college, doing research in Biology seemed like a good way to go.
David joins us on our podcast to tell us how things turned out at Yale.
Before we jump into the podcast, here are the High-Fives, Five Highlights from the podcast:
You know, I made some of my closest friends during my time at Yale. Some of the people I admire most to this day and you know, seek to emulate or were professionals, I had a gal. And it was also just a really fun, fun time of life in a good environment for.
Like, when I visited Yale, I remember visiting a class called the architecture of power. And I thought that that would be a class kind of like political science focused, like what are the elements of power, but it was literally an architecture class, which I did not expect. And yet, I found it fascinating, despite not having any background in architecture, and the students in the class were like, really encouraging, and they wanted to get my opinions.
[Profs: “Fantastic Teaching”]
But but the thing that stands out about professors I admire most more, these were professors who I had seminars with and students would be, would be talking to each other. And they were just, like, such fantastic listeners, like the way that they would get, you know, the most out of what people were saying, Were was fantastic. Like a student would say something and, you know, at times, maybe I'd be something like a little dismissive. Like, oh, that doesn't make sense. And then the teacher would say, you know, draw out an element from that comment. And, wow, that is, that's so fascinating.
You kind of hear like in high school, you learn biology, and, and it's from a textbook, and it all seems like this very, like, linear narrative, and things are known and things are not known. And, you know, you kind of hear that, like in practice, it's not that linear. people discover things, they publish papers, you know, those papers either replicate or fail to replicate. You know, we may not be generalizing correctly, we may have a theory that isn't quite right. But, you know, doing the lab work, I really did get that sense of like, you know, this is a messy process, I think.
[Advice for Aspirants]
I think college admissions really want you to actually be passionate about something. And so they want that to be like an actual interest and actually something that you're engaged with. And the second thing is, you know, unfortunately, the reality is, I think you have to be quite good at it.
Venkat Raman 4:04
Now, I'm sure you want to hear the entire podcast with David. So without further delay, over to David Kastelman!
Venkat Raman 4:12
David Welcome. Welcome to our podcast. College Matters. Alma Matters.
Thank you. Yeah, it's great.
Venkat Raman 4:20
Yeah, we meaning to talk to you for a while. And here, we are excited to talk to you about your year experience. So if you're ready, we can jump right in. Sounds great. Okay, fantastic. So yeah, I just like to maybe start, maybe by reflecting it's been a few years since you graduated from Yale. What, What was that experience like? What did you like and not like, maybe at a high level?
Yeah. Yeah, a few too many years. Just 10 next year. Well, overall, I really We enjoyed my time at Yale things I liked, included. You know, I made some of my closest friends during my time at Yale. Some of the people I admire most to this day and, you know, seek to emulate or were professionals I had at Yale. And it was also just a really fun, fun time of life and a good environment for being at that stage of life, there was this. This Yale student who unfortunately, passed away in a car accident shortly after graduation, but she wrote this collection of short stories. Her name is Marina Keegan. And she she had a piece about like, you know, just kind of this sense of possibility and togetherness, that that exists in undergraduate. And then that that resonated strongly it was, was really fun, fun time. What What I didn't like, I don't think there's anything I didn't like, there were certainly challenges and things I learned. One, one challenge was, yeah, it was just a lot more freedom than I had had up to that point, freedom in terms of figuring out my schedule, figuring out my direction, time spent in conversation with other people. So it was, you know, my, my high school experience actually prepared me quite well, I think academically four year old, but it was a was a big social transition. So I enjoyed it a lot. But but, you know, also was learning a lot. And there were some there some challenges there.
Venkat Raman 6:46
So maybe we can go back a little bit more and sort of talk about why you picked Yale, I know, you had some really great choices, I think, between Harvard and Stanford and others and curious why you ended up picking Yale.
Yeah, you know, it's a really good question. And one thing that's a bit hard is I think that sometimes we look back and kind of construct these narratives that make sense, but weren't actually, you know, maybe fully true at the time. So. So I'll try and give the truest answer I can, as I remember some time and then also a little bit of, you know, looking back now how it sort of sort of makes makes sense. So at the time, I honestly think that I sort of chose Yale, for reasons that don't make any sense right now, like, I was interested in, I like really enjoyed biology in high school and thought that that I might have some interest in and kind of lab based research. And Yale appealed to me because it had a strong biology department. But it also had a department with a lot of availability for undergrads to do research. You know, I think at certain schools, if I remember correctly, it, you know, it was certainly there were strong lab science research departments, but grad students often filled a lot of those positions, and I just kind of was under the impression that my ability to do research in biology at Yale would would be really strong. And that was kind of a determining factor. I ended up I did do research. My first summer, it helped, but never did it again. It wasn't that relevant to my experience, but But I will say that, you know, I sometimes, you know, decisions, it's kind of this culmination of like, feelings, you know, you just decide, okay, yeah, and you think about, okay, what are the different reasons but, but it's kind of a feeling. And there were a number of other things that contributed to that feeling. I think, like, when I visited Yale, I remember visiting a class called the architecture of power. And I thought that that would be a class kind of like political science focused, like what are the elements of power, but it was literally an architecture class, which I did not expect. And yet, I found it fascinating, despite not having any background in architecture, and the students in the class were like, really encouraging, and they wanted to get my opinions and kind of all throughout campus. You know, there was a lot of people who like welcomed me to campus and really friendly and I just got this, this really friendly sense. And, you know, I think students who probably attend, placed these places you mentioned, like, Stanford, Yale, Harvard, you know, I think that, you know, there's probably a lot of similarities between the students on our voice but but there probably is some differences in the environment. I just got the sense at Yale that the environment had been structured such that there was a little bit more kind of, you know, and it togetherness, friendliness, sense of welcoming that, that I really appreciated so so that was another element, I think, yeah.
Venkat Raman 10:00
But let's sort of go back a little bit more and talk about your high school. What kind of things interested you, what, what was your passion? What were you, What were the things that really excited you? What are the things you were involved in?
Yeah. So I mentioned my interest in biology, I also had kind of an interest in sort of like issues of development, like global development, like I was in clubs that was involved in, in raising funds for various causes, like building educational capacity and other schools or micro finance and these sorts of things. So so I thought I had some interesting kind of addressing global poverty in various ways. I did a lot of clubs in high school. In addition, I was on the baseball team, I was in Student Council. So yeah, yeah, that's, that's some of, of what I remember of kind of what I was involved in, in, in high school. Yeah.
Venkat Raman 11:12
So any, any particular passion that you felt at that time? I mean, I know biology was something that you liked as a subject.
Yeah, yeah. I think my strongest passion really was, you know, kind of these leading up on issues of global poverty. Okay. And development. You know, so I would, in addition to being involved in these clubs at Harker, right, I was actually reading a lot of like, academic papers out of interest. And I joined this kind of community group based in Santa Clara. So not just high school students, but, you know, interesting residents, and I remember us talking about op eds, we could why kind of how to talk to local representatives to support legislation dealing with with international aid, and yeah, I think that was that was that was sort of my, my passion, you know, global poverty, the inequity related to how does how does one engage, engage with that? Yeah.
Venkat Raman 12:12
Let's jump over to Yale. So you go from high school to Yale. What was that transition like? You you started started to mention something about the academic aspect, but give us a feel for what it was like. That whole transition.
Yeah. Well, so I think, I think there was a couple of things. So So one is, I remember. So I'm a, I like to use the word introvert like that, that would resonate with me, I'm a bit of an introvert. And there was a lot of meeting new people, I think, kind of, in your first few months at college, like every meal is a conversation with a new person. And, you know, that was fantastic. But it was also almost overwhelming. I remember many days, needing a little time to, like, recover by like watching TV, or something mindless from all of that, like, wow, meeting. So so many new people. So that's, that's what I am not just meeting new people. But you know, after, you know, part of my my introversion is after meeting new people, I would think back on the conversation would be, you know, like, oh, did, did I say the right thing. And some of this is good. You know, it's how you learn, I don't know, conversation stuff. But some of it, of course, is you know, the scheme of things is not is not that important, and can be a bit a bit tiring. So that was a big transition. But also, yeah, I'm trying to remember, I don't know, if I started hanging out with all of my best friends at Yale, like right away, or whether it took some time to kind of find them, I think I started to meet some really good friends. And of course, you know, having Kartik at Yale was was a big help, especially initially, the fact that we were such good friends going to school together that that was was helpful to have a good friend in the midst of the initial transition. So yeah, that's that's some of what I remember. I think I also something else that happened is, you know, there's these like activity fairs. And I think I signed up for like, way too many like clubs and activities. Yeah. Like in college, you know, I don't know in high school, it's almost like activities are almost like, I don't know, classes in a sense, you know, like, in addition to doing them out of passion, you feel compelled to do them as preparation for the future and in college, I think it's really an opportunity to be more thoughtful and join clubs not because you should but because, you know, you really enjoy it and you want to deepen your involvement. So in high school, I think a lot of people at Harker were in, you know, three, four or five clubs. I don't think that's uncommon. But I think in college, you know, by the end, people are mainly involved in one, two activities primarily. And to remember that that transition a little bit just to just heading up for way too many clubs.
Venkat Raman 15:11
You mentioned time management a little early on, how did you sort of navigate that? How did you grapple with that, get it under control?
Yes. So at Harker, I think I took, you know, it was something like seven courses in college, I think he tended to take more like four or five. So that's actually a big, a big time savings. And that frees you up in college to you know, sit and spend more time and be intentional about things like volunteering and activities and meeting friends. So that that's great, kind of the big mistake I got was, or I made was in the first semester, when advisors are really recommending you to not overwhelm yourself with classes, because, you know, you're going to want time to meet people. And it can be a pain to transition, I found that first semester, I just found myself with all sorts of time, and I thought it was such an easy semester. So I went from, I think four classes, to maybe like five and a half all of all of them. The other art in college with picking classes is not just of course, the number of courses, but kind of like the cadence of work and the quantity of work. And I didn't, I didn't think about any of that. I just took five and a half classes, all of which had a lot of work, all at the same time on a weekly basis. And I remember myself just absolutely drowning second semester. And in fact, I think that there is this kind of Yeah, it was really, there was all sorts of incidents like I remember, by the last weeks of the semester, just being like totally under underwater. And I think that like I mean, there's all sorts of things that happened, I think some friends saw me at like, I like a snack area. And I was like grabbing a box of cereal. And they said I was just like, looked like I was shaking and out of it just like clutching this box of cereal. And I remember taking one break while I was studying to like, get a little exercise and I was running to smile. And I just win it like way faster than I ever had since before because I had so much adrenaline and I even like I was studying at my desk, and I fell asleep at my desk before final and woke up like 30 minutes after the final started and had to learn to the final and it ended up being okay. But that was a close call. So I definitely kind of was, you know, loaded into a false sense of this is really, you know, I've all sorts of time first first semester and kind of overdid it overcorrected second semester, so So I remember that very distinctly. Yeah.
Venkat Raman 17:57
What did you think of your classmates, your peers, people you met, the friends you made?
Just just a really fantastic, interesting, nice, nice people. Yeah, you know, some, some of my my best friends to this day are friends from from college. I, I think that there's kind of different models, you know, like in high school, I sort of had a group of friends, like, we would eat lunch together, and we would hang out together. And it was a strong group dynamic. And in college, there was like a couple of groups I spent time with, but I didn't have as much of this, like, you know, most of my social world is in the context of a specific group that all hangs out together. You know, it was more kind of individual Friends Meeting and in different ways, different activities, or even just like happenstance, living arrangements. And so that that was kind of one one thing about my social experience in college. And, yeah, you know, one, one thing I one thing I will say, too, about, about social life at Yale is going back to that point about how, you know, I think probably in a lot of ways people are fairly similar about colleges. But, you know, I mean, one thing I will say is that my philosophy is that, like, you know, kind of what you do with your college experience is probably far more important than, than where you go to college, probably, to use my statistical terms, the within group variance is a lot higher than the across group variance. But to the extent that you're making decisions between colleges and and want to think about that and think about the across covariance, I kind of mentioned that, you know, people are similar, but environments matter a lot. And there may be some difference in environments between between schools. And one way I think you see that reflected is sort of like the conversations you have, if you join a random group at lunch, or or in a room and You know, of course, we talked about all sorts of things. We talked about movies, and we talked about sports and but, you know, kind of the things that stand out is I'm not quite sure. But if I had to speculate, you know, at Stanford a place like Stanford, I think that there's probably a lot of talk of things like startup ideas, and, you know, tech and I, you know, certainly at Yale, probably, especially now there's, there's more of that, but but I found there was more random conversations around things like, like ethics and philosophy. And that was something that I really hadn't been exposed to as much in high school at Harker, and something I really enjoyed thinking about in, in college, and I just remember all sorts of conversations around like, you know, ethics, and you know, which, which, which things have more standing and which things don't have more standings and metaphysics, and how do we know and, you know, that wasn't all of our conversations. It's not as formal as I make it seem by using these terms. But, but that that was an aspect to my social experience that I think is somewhat, you know, unique to Yale, or different schools, we're kind of have different, you know, conversations that that tend to crop up kind of seated by past conversations. And yeah, that was something I really enjoyed about, about the experience at Yale, but yeah.
Venkat Raman 21:20
Very cool. So what, what did you think of the professors? And how was the teaching? And how did you enjoy the in classroom experience?
Yeah, mostly, I would say, the teaching is, is fantastic. So so a couple of points, there. So firstly, is, I think I mentioned that some of the people I most admire now, and kind of seek to emulate were professionals I had and, and kind of the things that that really stands out. About those professors are, you know, in a lot of ways, I think being a college professor, you know, to, to, would you say too much, it's almost like, you know, lectures are, it's almost like a form of entertainment, almost, right. Like, how engaging you are, and how vivid your videos are, and how strong of a narrative, you can weave together disparate facts. So there's a talent in, in kind of, you know, the speaking and presenting and, and, and I think that, that, professors that, you know, often are quite good at that, but but the thing that stands out about professors I admired most more, these were professors who I had seminars with and students would be, would be talking to each other, and they were just, like, such fantastic listeners, like the way that they would get, you know, the most out of what people were saying, Were was fantastic. Like, a student would say something and, you know, at times, maybe I'd be something like a little dismissive. Like, oh, that doesn't make sense. And then the teacher would say, you know, draw an element from that comment. And I was like, wow, that is, that's so fascinating. And that's true, that's something that was in the students response that I had kind of missed, because it wasn't quite in the, in the language, maybe I expected. And, you know, as a result, these conversations were just, I learned so much from them. And also like the students, it created this environment, where students like all we all became really good friends, because we were just getting a lot out of the each other's comments and, and benefiting from, from each other's questions and, and contributions. And, and so yeah, that that, you know, I had a couple of professors who I think we're just, you know, maybe this is something that existed at all universities, I, you know, it probably does to an extent, but there, you know, I had a philosophy professor, and even an English professor, and I only took one English class at Yale, but they, you know, they were such good listeners, and that, and that really stood out. So that's, that's, that's one thing, I'd say. The other thing I'd say is that with math classes, especially, I would say that sometimes, I think the, the teaching left something to be desired. And, and even, like, I think some of my math classes, frankly, were taught by grad students, not not professors, and, you know, I think that's something of No, I'm at a place like, Yeah, well, that being said, I found that, you know, it was kind of hit or miss for math classes, some of their I thought the pedagogy was actually quite effective, because, you know, grad students are actually quite smart. And, you know, it's not like you need to understand the, like, braking research in the field, you just kind of need to understand, you know, the concepts and, and, in addition, Yale offered a lot of resources around like, you know, extra time with other grad students and that's really helpful that's something that I got an undergrad that that I did not get in grad school this kind of, you know, widely available tutoring, extra help outside of class which is really helpful for for something like math where you can kind of really struggle on your own with a textbook if there isn't someone you can go to and ask kind of individual questions to so I would say some some some questions that you know, with math like the widely available tutoring, and a lot of the grad students are pretty smart, but but definitely some. Some minuses. You know, I think some of them are classes work. Topic lab students I think it was it was a little a little hit or miss there in in kind of the, the math land. What else about teachers I studied one of my majors was economics and Yale had a particularly strong economics department. So that was, that was pretty cool. I mean, to just have people who are so seminal to the field and researchers really interesting and fantastic teachers and engage with students. And that that's really cool to go to a place where what you're studying the department is, is like really strong. And you know, the papers you lead and another professors class cites other professors you have not because their friends are just because they're kind of, you know, seminal to the, to the field. Yeah.
Venkat Raman 25:51
Let's, let's move on, jump out of the classrooms and talk a little bit about campus life. So we talked a little bit about the residential colleges and the general setting there.
Yeah, yeah. Now that you mentioned that, I think that's a big part of kind of the social environment at Yale that I really like the the residential colleges. Because, you know, like, a common refrain is like, my group of randomly assigned students is better than your group of randomly assigned students. You know, it's really cool to have this environment where you, you know, live with a group of people primarily for four years, there's, there's much less off campus. People living off campus at Yale, and then another colleges. And so you kind of have this chance to be put together with a smaller group where you can get to know kind of everyone better and, and a diverse group of people and you kind of you know, you have these chance encounters you run into each other multiple times. So just a really good group to get to know well, and a lot of my friends were, we're in the residential college and residential colleges also lead to, I think, one of the better intramural sports systems out there. You know, you not only play that individual sports, but there's points and residential colleges compete against each other. And that was one of the most fun parts of college for the one intramural sports, and that dovetails really well with, with the residential colleges, so yeah.
Venkat Raman 27:20
Tell us about campus activities. I know, there are zillions of clubs and organizations, what kind of stuff did you do?
Um, yeah, you know, I did too much at first, like, I remember starting, like microfinance group, and we stream this like lecture that, that someone gave out of Princeton, and we talked about ways to be involved in in kind of issues of microfinance and led research about, you know, is it micro finance, that's actually helpful adjust micro savings accounts and consumption smoothing and, and that was all nice, but that that club kind of fizzled, and I think that was a little bit more of like, you know, you know, high school mentality of like, a lot of clubs, and I need a club related to my, my interest, I actually learned a lot more, you know, kind of, in that space of, of, you know, like, like global global poverty from actually just like academic classes and internships, and I didn't necessarily need you to crop in that space.
So, so the, the club that I ended up, staying most involved in, I think, you know, one was definitely spoken word poetry. That was something that I, like, started a little bit at the end of high school, like a creative outlet, and I didn't know how to play an instrument or, you know, but I knew I knew how to, like, you know, speak. So I thought I could do spoken word poetry. And, and, to be honest, I actually was never any good at spoken word poetry, I really don't think my entire four years. But it was a really nice group. And we would edit each other's poems and have interesting conversations. And yeah, so that that was nice. It was honestly almost social, because not only do I not think that I was very good at spoken word poetry, but, you know, certainly there were individual poems, I remember that were good, but even just like as a, as, like an art form, I don't know if I, I really appreciated spoken word poetry the most. So I think that was mostly just about, you know, I really liked the group of people I met and we had interesting conversations and, and the spoken word was, was almost secondary.
It also though, was helpful in that I have towards the end of my time in college with spoken word, I started like hosting a lot of our shows, and I found that I was like, much better at like hosting than, like doing the poems. I think it kind of, you know, I started doing stand up comedy mics by the end of college and I did that a little bit after college and to this day, and, you know, I kind of, in some ways, you know, found some of that, that, you know, desire to have like an open mic and, and that thing from from my involvement in spoken word. So that's, that's one activity.
I remember, and then intramural sports was a lot of fun. I guess one story from that, as I remember, there was this game at Yale called razzle dazzle football. It's like a variant on touch football. And I remember telling some friends, like, I think I'm really good at this game, like, everyone at Yale. I'm one of the best players. And I remember my friends just being like, like, like, what? Like, is that true? And to? Like, could that possibly matter? Like, where else do you play? But I really liked and I thought I was really good. And yeah, I have one. There's one write up about me. And like the Yale student newspaper from that time, about my, my success, and as good as Oh, and I thought that was the coolest thing. i Yeah, yeah.
Venkat Raman 30:55
Let's move over to the different summers. Tell us what kinds of things you do during the various summers.
Yeah. So that, that first summer, I did do that research in a lab. You know, I think that there was something valuable in that, you know, you kind of hear like in high school, you learn biology, and it's from a textbook, and it all seems like this very, like, linear narrative, and things are known and things are not known. And, you know, you kind of hear that, like, in practice, it's not that linear. people discover things, they publish papers, you know, there's papers either replicate or fail to replicate, you know, we may not be generalizing correctly, we, we may have a theory that isn't quite right. But, you know, doing the lab work, I really did get that sense of like, you know, this is a messy process at the cutting edge, like with enough application, you know, science does produce things that look a lot like truths, for the most part. But, you know, when you're working at the cutting edge, there's so much that's not known. And there's so much that you think, you know, that isn't true, and so much that, you know, you don't know, and it's a really messy, messy process. And, you know, of course, I don't have the, you know, deepest understanding of that, but, you know, the kind of this, this lesson that I had been told, you know, I was really able to kind of under understand from from that, whatever. So that was great that That being said, you know, I remember doing some western blots or things, but mostly, I think I spent that time, like leading New York Times articles, like they really just wasn't that much for me to do in the lab. And I would say, it wasn't, it wasn't the I could tell that I wasn't actually, I didn't love lab work. And yeah, that summer was it was more about having fun living in New Haven, then then actually, anything that that useful, I think, in the end, or discovering that lab work isn't for me, I guess. Yeah.
Venkat Raman 32:49
Fair enough. What about the next, next couple of summers?
So the next summer was really cool. I, I spent it in Ghana, interning for an organization called innovations for poverty action. And they did randomized control trials of development interventions. So I was working on a project that was looking at the efficacy of a financial literacy curriculum. And I was stationed in the capital of, of Ghana, in Accra. And firstly, like, I refer back to my time in Ghana a lot, because it's just fairly different from other things I've done in my life. And as a result, you know, it comes up more and more often, because it's more different. And I learned a tremendous amount. I had a really good time, you know, I made you know, there's all sorts of things I, I learned, I think, kind of one lesson I had was, you know, for better or worse, I think that that summer, in certain ways was less stressful, because there was just so much I didn't know, that I was like, constantly, you know, making a fool of myself. But as a result, I like expected myself to, I expected to make make a fool of myself. And in certain ways, there is a certain level of relaxation, of like, just expecting to, to make all sorts of, of mistakes. You know, I don't know if you if you want to, you know, always make tons of mistakes, but there was a certain interesting, like, you know, expecting or, you know, letting go and relaxation, that. I mean, maybe two more stories from from that. The first is that one, one thing that happened was a bit unfortunate is that the organization, there was a full time staff member who, who broke her leg and how to recuperate at home. And so when I got to the site, essentially, I was, you know, filling in for a lot of the work that this full time staff member couldn't do, and I was filling in on a compressed time schedule because I had like two months and they had like been home already for, you know, some months so I just remember like working 16 hours for the most part in an office like in Excel, which was not what I expected. When I got to to Ghana, Okay, so the staff member was was fairly young yourself probably a few years out of college. And I remember telling her this, like, I'm working, you know, 16 hours in the office and expecting her to be like, Oh my god, I'm so sorry. But she was like, "Yeah, you know, happens". So, the other staff members were all like, very impressed by me, maybe slightly concerned, but also very appreciative because, you know, the work was getting done. So that was, that was, that was one thing, and I still did have time to, you know, visit different parts of the countries on weekend and, and learn a lot and, and enjoyed it. Me, uh, maybe the last story I'll tell is that I did end up contracting malaria while I was in Ghana. And, but it wasn't I didn't have full blown symptoms, because I was taking anti-malarials, which, which were suppressing some of the symptoms, but you know, they kind of always tell you to have a plan of like, where you go for medical attention if something goes wrong. But being very young, naive, I didn't exactly do that, which meant that like, when I was just like, so wiped out from malaria, and at my lowest i to try and figure out what to do. And I was talking to the staff member, and she was naming all these clinics. And I was hazy, and was like, oh, and eventually she named this clinic, Beijing clinic. And I was like, I know that clinic, it's right by my house. So I'll just go to that one. So I went there. And they actually told me that they were like, closed at 3pm. So I went home and essentially passed out and the next morning went back and, and then they they drew my blood, which is good, because it's one way you can you can test for malaria. And, you know, a little while later, they said, like, you know, okay, you're fine. And I was like, You mean, tested negative? And they wouldn't say that. They just kept insisting, you know, okay, you're fine, which, which maybe was just a language thing. But I started looking around. And I noticed that on the wall, there were these like certificates and the certificate said, like certified alternative health provider from the government of China, which, you know, wasn't maybe the credential I necessarily expected. And then they told me that if I was feeling sick, they could prescribe me herbal teas, and, and I decided to pass on that and, and then the next day, I went to the clinic that was right next to the American embassy, and they were like, oh, yeah, you, you have malaria here, here's additional medication that will solve the problem. And I thought that was sort of the end of the story. But then I was talking my co workers about this. And they were laughing really hard, because apparently Beijing clinic is where they all go, because for work authorization in Ghana, you like need, like a health clearance. And Beijing clinic is known for like, not really doing anything. And so they were laughing. So I did learn that having a plan of where you go for medical attention. Good, good idea. Don't Don't wait until you're, you're feeling sick. But yeah, we, I really, really enjoyed that experience. And, you know, it was around that time that I was starting to realize that, you know, like international development work is really tricky. It's really tricky to be responsive to the people you're serving, it's really tricky to you know, understand these problems and all their intricacies, you know, to do the work well, you might want to live internationally. And, and I wasn't sure that, you know, I wanted to do that and be so far away from family. So in college, I kind of, you know, took some of the themes around, you know, poverty and equity and justice and started thinking more about about domestic issues. But I'm just so glad that I had that summer in Ghana, I learned a lot. Took took classes also on international development at Yale that I learned a tremendous amount from that topic with professors. And yeah, so that was that was a great summer.
My last summer in college, between sophomore and junior year, I interned for the Oh, no, I interned for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which is it no longer exists. It's now been merged with the Import Export function in the US, I think, but at the time, it was this. It was essentially this. I think it was a government agency. And it would basically facilitate, like projects that were important with State Department priorities by using the US government guarantee. So remember, there was projects like building a hydroelectric dam, and a country and, you know, OPEC would use the US government guarantee and that would allow this project to be financed that lower interest rates and it would coordinate with State Department for like priorities and also focus on international development. And I remember them being very proud of the fact that they're one of the few government agencies that like makes money because they charged some fee for using the US government guarantee but also I just think that's like a really good business model just like licensing the US government guarantee so so that that was a summer where I was like, Alright, I'm studying econ, I think I might want to do government. Let me just look For econ and government, and, you know, I like this experience, but you know, what I was doing specifically were like a lot of literature reviews and, and lighting things up. And, you know, the work itself wasn't quite what I wanted to do. So that was a good learning around. Alright, even if the general domain is, you know about like, you want to focus on more like job specific features. So, so yeah, there's those. Those are some thoughts on my summers. Yeah.
Venkat Raman 40:29
The fact that you majored in economics and cognitive science I believe, and where did that love for biology kind of disappear? Was it the first summer? Or What happened to that?
Yeah, yeah. So. So with biology, it was one of those things where I really was academically interested in biology, in high school, but you know, a lot of people who, who major in biology in college, they are essentially what's what's called pre Mater, they're following a set of requirements that will get them in into medical school, and I'm a little squeamish, I didn't really want to be a doctor. So So I thought that maybe, you know, I do some sort of research pathway, but I didn't entirely know what that entailed. And to be honest, you know, biology was was sort of this academic interest, but it didn't necessarily map closely to requiere interest. And also, I had some suspicion by the end of high school that the question is, I was really interested in questions like, you know, global poverty mapped more to, like economics. So I didn't take any economics classes in high school, but I kind of knew I wanted to start taking economics, I had some suspicion, I, I'd be interested in that. And, you know, I guess one framework that that that I use in life that's helpful is that a lot of disciplines are defined by the questions you ask, and the tools you use to solve them. And, you know, I think colleges is a really good time to try and make progress along, you know, one or both of those dimensions. So to find the questions, you're really passionate about the questions you really want to ask. I think that's fantastic. Because there are these courses, that there's just so much knowledge that's contained in them, and you can really get get, you know, fairly thorough and reviewing literature and better understanding questions. And you know, if you can find that that thing that you really want to focus on the questions you want to ask, I think that's fantastic. Or, you know, conversely, if you don't know exactly we made the questions you want to ask about, but you kind of know, the tools you want to use to solve them, you know, whether you want to use statistics, or computer science or journalism, or you know, have a set of tools that allow you to, to work on different questions. You know, I think that's also a fantastic, you know, use of college. So, so with economics, I think I was kind of drawn more by, you know, the questions you want to ask, you know, the questions I had my mind and on global global poverty, I think those kind of dovetail to questions of economics, and then cognitive science. You know, I promise this isn't like a just so story. It's really true that, you know, that's mostly thanks to Kartik because I think it was second son, either first or second semester, he was interested in taking this intro to cogs AI class. And I didn't think I was going to take it, but I had some extra time. He's like, You should check this out. And I was like, Sure. And then I took it, and I just loved it, I was hooked. So it was really, it was really an academic interest. Like the classes were, were fantastic thinking about, you know, what motivates humans to behave and how does, you know, consciousness and perception work? And, and I just, I really enjoyed it. And there is this intersection between economics and cognitive science. That's kind of like behavioral economics. But, you know, largely, that wasn't actually why we're starting at that intersection. I just, I kind of really like both both subjects. And the question they were asking, and they seem kind of, you know, urgent at the time, like, you know, how do we coordinate people? is one big question with with economics, how do people respond to incentives, what models can be used to describe negotiations and with, you know, cognitive science, you know, like, yeah, how does, how does consciousness work? And, and what are some, you know, ways that that humans tend to behave in different environments? Yeah, yeah.
Venkat Raman 44:29
Fabulous. So you did a senior thesis as well.
Yeah, yeah, I ended up so for Cognitive Science. A thesis is required for economics. It is optional. I ended up doing a thesis for both. I had pretty different experiences. So I would say that with economics. It was such a valuable experience. And also, I remember it being kind of a dreadful process. If I'm being honest. Like I remember being on campus for spring break senior A year, and it was still like snowing in New Haven. And I was there because I needed to work on my senior thesis. And I was just so sad. But I think one of the reasons why the senior thesis was so hard is because I mostly focused on questions, like in economics that was focused on like, okay, what are the questions you ask? You know, I hadn't like fully synthesized, what are the tools you use? To answer these questions? So, you know, I think I was asking these really big questions, and I didn't think about okay, but what data sets? Do I really have, you know, what tools of SPSS, SPSS at the time, I think I used, you know, now I use more like R and Python, but at the time different, but so, so kind of merging the questions I asked with the tools I have to use to solve them. But that synthesis kind of came together at the thesis and I was kind of ambitious, and a junior, during the process, and not kind of, you know, thinking as much about what tools I have to answer these questions I want to ask, because, you know, when you're given problem sets, it all seems, I don't know, you didn't need as much synthesis on that somehow. But, but yeah, I learned a lot from that process. You know, this is this is a little bit disparate, so feel free to cut it. But but one of the big differences, I think, between like school and work is, you know, in an academic setting, and this comes up a lot, whether it kind of data is scarce, or whether it's plentiful. So in an academic setting, I think oftentimes data is fairly scarce. And so projects, you know, sometimes really, we'll start with, like, what data is available, like, what interesting data sets are out there? And then I'll think about, you know, what questions can I apply to this data? And that would have been a helpful, you know, mindset for my thesis, but I would say that, in a business context, actually, there tends to be quite a bit of data. And either the data does exist, or it's not hard to collect it. And so it's much more this process of like, what is the question you largely want to know, and in a much less, you know, it starts with questions, and then the data follows, whereas I think in academia, sometimes, you know, you have to be a little more conscientious of, you know, what data exists, and the question follows. So, I guess I was hands on that synthesis. And in some sense, I was already using kinda like, business mindset, when when the academic mindset would have would have been helped. So that was my economic thesis, I will say that, like, I wrote a thesis, I ended up having to gather my own data through experiments to answer the question I wanted. But, you know, I wrote a thesis on the sharing economy, and the non monetary utility people get from sharing, and I enjoyed that thesis, I ended up going to grad school, I asked my thesis advisor who had been a professor to like the letter of reference. And, you know, he focused on the thesis and he said, it was kind of, you know, a forward looking thesis and so that that would that was really good. I think it did help with Sure. With with grad school, my cogs, I thesis because my econ thesis took up so much time, I think I will my cogs thesis in like a week. And it was kind of like, like, the Econ thesis was like a thing of its own, like a distinct experience. The cogs a thesis was kind of just like, a really long essay. And I talked about this philosopher, John Rawls, and, you know, he had these certain, he had a certain approach to thinking about justice in society. And, and, and some of his approach kind of made statements about human nature. And so I thought, you know, how can like, you know, psychology and empiricism inform his approach, given that he's making assumptions about human nature, assumptions that, that maybe we may be able to study. So so I kind of wrote an essay and hit OK. On that piece. I think they were like, some interesting ideas. Seems like this was written in a week. You did. Okay. Yeah, something like that. Yes.
Venkat Raman 48:43
As you reflect on undergrad and your Yale experience, how do you think that experience has shaped your post-college life? What kind of impact has it had?
Yeah, that that's a good question. I mean, certainly, I think often about these professors who I really admire and the way they listen and how they want to emulate that. I didn't think start thinking about that. Maybe right after college, I think it took me a few years to think about, like, you know, how important that that model was. So that's something I think about quite often, you know, of my, of my closest friends. You know, you probably, you know, three quarters of them. went, went to Yale. So that's, that's quite, quite important. And, yeah, you know, I, you know, along that dimension of like, you know, figuring out the questions you want to ask are the tools you want to solve them? I think, you know, one thing that I struggled with is, I sort of focused on the questions I want to ask, but it was at a pretty high level. And, you know, it was kind of, you know, driven by this urgent desire to think more In some ways about like global poverty, which is a really complicated field and a field that, you know, I haven't really focused on professionally. And so I think, you know, I only made, you know, at the time, I was looking at questions that felt urgent, and I really appreciate working through those questions. But you know, given that, that those are questions that I thought I would kind of, necessarily dedicate my career to, and they were kind of at a high level, you know, I only made some progress around figuring really figuring that out that the question they want to ask, and in terms of the tools I've used to solve them, you know, so I guess I would glade like, the questions you want to ask as, as a bit of an incomplete I kind of like what I what I did, but it was at a bit of a high level, and, you know, ultimately decided those, those aren't fully the questions I want to ask, and in terms of the tools used to solve them, you know, like econometrics, I ended up going to grad school for for statistics. And, you know, sort of by the end of my senior year, I discovered that this Econometrics, which is the kind of this statistical aspects of economics is something I was really interested in and suspecting I might be interested in statistics. And so and so that was that was really good. And it gave me a basis. And, you know, I think drove future feature interest in grad school and clear, but but also a bit of an incomplete because I kind of figured that out later in college. I didn't take, you know, all the Statistics courses. But But yeah, I, I did get something from, from econometrics. And you know, professors were a big part of that kind of, you know, talking deeply through these econometrics approaches and understanding what they meant and how to apply them and having seminars. I, I, I really enjoyed that. And then, you know, ultimately, glory, because, you know, I've never I'm not sure I've ever recaptured the glory of intramural intramurals. Since so I'm glad that I had that. That shining moment, time in the sun. Yeah.
Venkat Raman 52:00
You know, I always like to ask people, if they could go back and relive those four years. What would you do differently? What are the things that looking back you wish you hadn't done? Or wish you had done? Or had done more of?
Yeah, this is, this is a good and really hard question. I mean, one thing definitely is around, you know, the overloading on classes, second semester, freshman year, and that was really painful. You know, a broader point. I think it's, it's really hard, because, you know, it's almost like, you know, how do you assess history? And how long do you need? Being 10 years out of college is is is, is definitely, almost 10 years is definitely some amount of time. But, you know, my answer has changed in the last five years, and I don't know how it'll continue to change. One thing that makes this difficult is that, you know, I think in college you enter at this time, and you feel like you could do almost anything, and after college ends, you can still do so much, but maybe it doesn't feel quite like you can, you can do anything and figuring out, you know, how to balance that, like, how do I keep, you know, windows open, while still allowing myself to kind of go into depth into things that I think might be my interest is kind of a hard balancing problem. And one thing that's hard to figure out is, you know, like, one lesson I would say is that, you know, for your first job out of college, I think that you're going to have a lot more options about where to work, if you pick up certain technical skills, especially, like programming, you know, but but that's advice, that's a little bit, you know, that definitely helps for that first job, like, you know, I think if you think about building capacity, the reason so many people go into, like consulting and thinking these sorts of things is I think it does build, you know, there's all sorts of reasons but but to make sense for building skills, there's some truth in that there's only so many places that want to invest in entry level employees and, and build those skills and have the infrastructure to, to help them be productive. But there's a lot more options when you have programming where you can really be more choosy about where exactly, I want to work with those skills. But you know, it's a little bit temporary, because you can definitely learn those skills after college. You can learn them in grad school. You know, like, if you didn't study pre med in college, but then you want to be a doctor, I have plenty of friends who kind of, you know, after college did these programs that would pay them for out of school school, so so it's a little bit it's a little bit hard, because I'm kind of rambling here, but basically, it's a little bit hard because all sorts of things that would be very helpful to you in college, but it's not like college is your last opportunity to do them. And so one thing I would say I think is, is maybe I should have focused a little bit less on keeping all doors open, and a little bit more on just doing what I think was interesting because there's Still, there's a lot of options to go back and, and open doors back, back up. And, you know, I do think that, you know, if you want to have more, you know, choices right out of college, then getting programming skills is really helpful. But, you know, if you don't like those tools, you know, certainly not the end of the world or, you know, if you don't pick those up in college, there's certainly opportunities to do that after college as well. In grad school, one thing I noticed, kind of my joke response to the only thing I regret in college, you know, people are like, I regret not spending more time with people or relationships formed, or my joke is kind of the only thing I really regret from college is time not spent with math textbooks, which is in jest, but it kind of speaks to, if you're going to go to grad school, in a technical field, math is kind of the basis of all of it, it doesn't matter if it's computer science, or statistics or economics, but really, math is at the heart of it, and you can definitely take math classes after college, and you can take them in grad school. But, um, I would say that, you know, if you're interested in studying a technical field, you know, math is very helpful, and college is a great place to study it. And, you know, maybe looking back, I would have taken a few more math classes. Because of that, because of that experience. So, so that's kind of a rambling response, where I think the main point is, uh, you know, like college, you enter college, and like, if you do anything, you leave college, maybe that's not quite true, but you can still do quite a bit. And you should realize that there's all sorts of opportunities to fill in things that are missing in college, but you will have more choices right out of college, if you pick up these tools, technical tools to answer questions. And, you know, if you think you might want to go to grad school, you know, again, if you like, you know, for like a PhD research is really important. And if you can do that in undergrad, you can save a lot of time and, and money. But if you don't do that undergrad, there's still these like fellowships, and I think there's ways to pick that up. But but the thing that's really helpful for technical grad school, in my experience is his math classes and having a really solid foundation in math.
And, yeah, last year, you know, I think that, you know, discipline is defined by the questions you ask, the tools you use to solve them, you know, if you can find the questions you want to ask, because there's the survey courses, but taught by really experienced smart people. You know, I think that's fantastic. I think that's a fantastic use of, of college. And I only made so much progress around both the questions asked and the tools to solve.
Venkat Raman 57:38
What, what would you tell all those aspiring students are getting ready for college or about to apply? What are what kind of things should they be thinking about?
Yeah, what one insight that I think I sort of picked up on from my college admissions process is that, you know, extracurriculars do matter, but they only matter if two attributes exists. The first is that, you know, I think college admissions really want you to actually be passionate about something. And so they want that to be like an actual interest and actually something that you're engaged with. And the second thing is, you know, unfortunately, the reality is, I think you have to be quite good at it. Like, you know, good enough that, you know, that passion is going to continue to be put to utility in college, which is why Yeah, you know, something like sports, so I really appreciate that I did baseball in high school, but that couldn't be kind of my, my extra period to hang my hat on because even though I ended up playing club baseball, in college, you know, I didn't play varsity. I wasn't I wasn't that, that good at it. So So I think you kind of need both you need these activities, you know, whether it's, you know, leadership positions, or different sorts of academic clubs, but you need these, these activities, and they have to be things that you're actually interested in, not not, not like if you have to look good. You know, I think college admissions are pretty good at sucking out like, is this an actual interest someone with with actual passions, and then you need to be good enough that you know, you can continue to kind of contribute to it in at the college level. So that's the one insight I kind of remember from, from my time applying to colleges. I was very fortunate. I gotten to I was lucky enough to actually get into every college I applied. And I think that was a lot of like luck and happenstance like Harker provided amazing opportunities. I had this experience with the JA where like I was chosen for a conference and got to, like, light up these like pseudo policy suggestions based on the voice of the youth to present to world leaders. I think that was probably a pretty like, you know, compelling. Like bit of a bit of luck you know, I Harker was really good environment For me, so I was able to, to, to do really well in classes and demonstrate that I did well. So, so yeah, I, you know, I think, uh, yeah, yeah, but but also you can only go to one college. So, you know, it's not so important to get into every college, it's important to get into, you know, a college that you're gonna thrive in and enjoy. And, and I guess the only advice there I have is, you know, when you think about stuff besides grades and test scores, which are obviously important for admissions, you know, I think activities are important. And I think, you know, it's not so much being in five or six clubs and being president, it's like, is this something you're passionate about? And is this something that you can continue to do at a high level and in college, and I think letters of reference probably help quite a bit too. And, you know, Harker had fantastic teachers who were really good, good letters. And so being thoughtful about, you know, how do I find teachers who are looking to advocate for me is, is probably quite, quite important.
Venkat Raman 1:01:02
So we're sort of getting to the end of our podcast here. Before we sign up, wanted you to share any memories or traditions or anything else that you think would be interesting to, to the audience here.
Um, one of my favorite memories from Yale was going to was the first time I really lived in snow. And there are a few kind of really special memories related to that. But one of them is, Yale students would often after enough snow that I turned into ice would grab trays from the dining hall and find good places to go dining hall, tray sledding, and that was just the time of my life. And I really enjoyed doing that with friends. And, you know, being being kind of scrappy and young and yeah, yeah, I really like that.
Venkat Raman 1:02:04
Very good. So, David, I want to thank you for taking the time and being so vivid and detailed with your stories and your experience at year. I sure we'll talk some more in the future, but for right now, take care. Be safe. Thank you again.
Awesome. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.
Venkat Raman 1:02:27
Yep. Bye bye.
Hope you enjoyed our podcast with David Kastelman about Yale University.
David’s story is one of a lot of exploration.
I especially like his framework for different disciplines as being defined by the questions you ask and the tools you use to solve them.
He tried Biology Research during the summer, and decided research was not for him.
He discovered Economics with campus clubs, during the summers in Ghana and at the State Dept.
Academic interest led him to Cognitive Science.
I hope David’s experience motivates you to check out Yale University.
For your questions or comments on this podcast, please email podcast at almamatters.io [firstname.lastname@example.org].
Thank you all so much for listening to our podcast today.
Transcripts for this podcast and previous podcasts are on almamatters.io forward slash podcasts [almamatters.io/podcasts].
Till we meet again, take care and be safe.