University of Minnesota
What motivated you to pursue Agricultural/Applied Economics as a profession?
As an undergraduate, I majored in anthropology and did not even take an economics course. After college, I spent two years in the Peace Corps in Benin working with farmers. When I returned, I began exploring options for graduate school. I visited friends at Michigan State University and met Professor Carl Eicher, who had several large, ongoing projects in West Africa. He encouraged me to apply for the graduate program in Agricultural Economics, which I did. I spent a summer taking intermediate micro and macroeconomics courses, had the good fortune to work with Derek Byerlee on my M.S. thesis, and quickly realized that I had found my life’s work. My research interests have changed, but my passion for using economics to understand how people make decisions and how production and consumption are connected through the food system only continued to grow. So for me, it was happenstance and good luck that brought me to our profession.
Why did you join AAEA, and how has membership in the Association impacted your professional development?
I joined AAEA in 1978, when I learned that I would be receiving the Outstanding Master’s Thesis Award at that year’s annual meeting. I have been a member ever since. Through AAEA I’ve had opportunities to present and publish my work; I’ve been able to develop friendships and working relationships with colleagues who share professional interests; and I’ve had a chance to give back to the profession through committee work, service on the Executive Board and as President, and as a mentor.
What advice would you give to an up and coming Agricultural/Applied Economist?
1.) Find questions, issues and problems that interest you and are interesting and important for others. Then let the problem dictate your research strategy; don’t let methods define the problem.
2.) Be open to and follow up on hunches, even though most of them will not pan out. Creativity often comes out of logical leaps to ideas that may be true. While economics gives us a very useful way of looking at the world, it also can be useful to approach problems with a “beginner’s mind” that is free from disciplinary blinders.
3.) As a teacher, focus on learning activities that develop “generativity” – the insight and ability to adapt and use an idea, method or tool in many different settings. Case study analyses, problem sets and even exam questions are not just a “one-off” exercises to be finished and forgotten. They should be carefully crafted illustrations of problem solving processes that can be applied in many ways.
This post is part of an ongoing series of profiles of AAEA members. Have a suggestion for a future profile? Send them to Info@aaea.org.