Thursday, April 16, 2015

Member Profile: Trent Smith

Trent Smith 
Senior Lecturer
University of Otago (New Zealand)

What motivated you to pursue Agricultural/Applied Economics as a profession?
As an undergraduate, I had a rather vague notion that economics would provide skills and a conceptual framework that could be useful in the business world. So I made it my second major (after biological sciences), and proceeded on with a promising consulting career in the field of environmental microbiology/engineering. But while it was true that knowledge of economics often seemed to give me an edge in project management, with time I came to realize that many of the big societal (environmental) problems I was encountering in my work were economic at their core. Economics offers powerful theories of how markets work, and how they can fail, and if I wanted to work on these “big” problems, I needed more training. So I enrolled in the PhD program at UC Santa Barbara.

Why did you join AAEA, and how has membership in the Association impacted your professional development?
Good question. My doctorate didn’t come from a traditional Agricultural/Applied Economics department; UCSB is a straight-up econ department, with few ties to AAEA or USDA or land grant funds. But the research path I wound up choosing was, arguably, all about food: I was writing about dietary choice and the obesity epidemic, and how the seemingly “irrational” behaviors associated with these phenomena posed really fundamental challenges to neoclassical economic theory. In those early years, it was the AAEA that reached out to me. I started receiving invitations to speak at conferences and workshops, and I discovered this really dynamic group of (AAEA-affiliated) scholars who were interested in the same questions, and were too intent on getting the answers to be slowed down by ideology, or dogma, or even disciplinary boundaries. I honestly believe the “applied” ethos in the AAEA makes the science better.

In my experience, AAEA offers a fantastically supportive environment for young scholars, with the mentor program, and the many interest “sections” and the early-career leadership opportunities they provide. I recently returned from a wide-ranging sabbatical trip across Europe and the U.S., where more than once I found myself singing the praises of the AAEA to fellow economists disenchanted with the “closed shop” nature of other professional groups.

What advice would you give to an up and coming Agricultural/Applied Economist?
Follow your passion. Economics provides a powerful set of tools for asking and answering questions about human behavior and society. Use them to solve important problems, and to make the world a better place.

This post is part of an ongoing series of profiles of AAEA members. Have a suggestion for a future profile? Send them to

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