New Teacher’s Q&A: McGuirk talks about teaching plans and development economics

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Native Ireland, Eoin McGuirk is a assistant professor of economics who joined Tufts this semester. He teaches Basic econometrics (EC-0015). The Tufts Daily spoke to him to find out more about his background, research plans and plans to Tufts.

Daily Tufts (TD): Can you tell us about your background?

Eoin McGuirk (EM): I just Galway West of Ireland. I’ve studied French and economy during my undergraduate years at the National University of Ireland, and I also spent a year at Montpellier, [France]. During my junior and senior years I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do with my life, but I was always interested in international development, so I made a MA in Economics at University College Dublin. By the time I finished my masters, I was sure that economics was the discipline that would speak to me the most after meeting some amazing mentors and influential professors. I was then prompted to make a Doctorate, which was not something that interested me from a young age; it was a case of what seemed attractive to me at the moment. I did a doctorate in economy To Trinity College Dublin, and I have spent the last two years at the University of California, Berkeley, which was my first introduction to academia in the we Since then there have been a lot of jumps. I did a project in Sierra Leone, spent time in Sweden then I had postdoctoral appointments and Brunette college and Yale University. I met my current wife who is from we, which sort of sealed off where I would end up. Now I am an assistant professor at Tufts in the economics department.

TD: Why Tufts?

EM: Tufts has real strengths in the areas that interest me: development economics, which deals with the economics of poverty and the way out of poverty in the world, and political economy, which uses the tools of economics to understand the political behavior of voters and government institutions. The other reason why Tufts was so well suited that he is very good at applied econometrics – the tools we use to study our fields. It’s great to be in an environment where there is so much emphasis on studying economics. The students are exceptional and the teachers take teaching seriously. Looking at the big picture, living in this part of the we, in particular the Boston region, is second to none.

TD: What are you teaching this semester?

EM: i teach Basic econometrics, which is a compulsory class for people who major in economics. Students will have taken introductory economics and statistics classes, so this will be a way to use statistics to test economic theories in an attempt to determine what causes what in economics. I like it because I think the students are great. They seem engaged, or at least they’re good at pretending, which is just as rewarding for me. There are two small sections – this is the kind of thing that works well in a small group because there is a lot of unfamiliar material for the students. I hope the students get something out of it. What I told them at the beginning is that with econometrics, my goal is not to teach everyone to become an economics researcher. There are critical thinking tools in econometrics that will help you whatever you do, even if you never take an economics class again. Structuring a problem by analyzing its correlation will help students develop the skills to think carefully about that problem in their lives. A basic understanding of econometrics can help you consume research by learning to filter out absurd interpretations of data and make more thoughtful inferences. So maybe I’m a little optimistic about what students can learn from an introductory course, but that’s what I hope some of them are feeling.

TD: Can you tell us about your research?

EM: I mentioned that my interests lie in the overlap of development economics and political economy. One of the subdomains at this intersection is the economics of violent conflict. My last three projects focused on conflict. I’ll give you an overview of what I’ve been working on.

In one of my projects, I wanted to examine the relationship between poverty and conflict. In economics, we ask a classic question related to this discipline: does conflict cause poverty, or does poverty cause conflict? Usually you see conflict in fairly poor areas, and you don’t see civil conflict in fairly wealthy areas. Alongside the co-author Marshal Burke, we examined whether economic shocks (negative economic events) can trigger civil strife in Africa. We had to find an economic shock that was not caused by conflict in Africa focus on… we wanted to experimentally change the increments in some places and not change the increments in other places, using this to determine how the conflict reacts to that. Obviously, we had to turn to a natural experiment because we didn’t have the research budget or the IRB (Institutional Review Board) approval to go ahead with something like that. We have studied what happens after the change in world food prices – world food prices vary for several reasons, but nothing within Africa will wreak havoc on global food prices. We saw that when world food prices increased, there was less civil conflict in the areas that cultivated these crops because the income came in. We saw more civil strife in the areas that consumed these crops, that is, when incomes fell and things became more expensive for consumers. This allowed us to conclude that negative economic shocks cause conflicts in Africa and that when food prices change, you can determine where the conflict decreases and increases.

Right now what I have started recently is to examine how weather events can cause conflict in Africa through migration. If you have a drought in a pastoral area where nomadic areas live, people will migrate to find water. There are often conflict events in the new areas to which nomadic groups migrate.

TD: What do you hope to accomplish at Tufts?

EM: There is a teaching side and a research side. On the teaching side, I can’t wait to see what the students have gained from being in my class. The assessments you complete are important to us teachers. I think basic econometrics are fundamental to the social sciences, so I look forward to modifying the course based on the feedback I get from students. I am also very excited to develop my own course, which I will probably do next year. The subject of political economy really has a moment, so I would like to develop a course for juniors and seniors to explore it. Students would be able to apply their basic skills in microeconomics and econometrics to political problems. This is my dream course, so I hope at least two students show up. On the research side, the experience has already been fruitful and I hope to use the tools of Tufts extend my research. We have internal seminars where we can get feedback on early reflections and ongoing projects that have been beneficial. There is also a new doctorate program that is at the forefront of my mind, which is the PPE (Economy and public policy) joint program with the Fletcher School [of Law and Diplomacy]. Students can specialize in development economics, environmental economics, or political economy in their second year. It’s going to be super exciting to see where the program is going, as it’s only in its third year. I’m excited to make changes to the curriculum alongside other economics professors after seeing how the First Cohort finds its experience and enters the workforce.

TD: Do you have any tips for freshmen?

EM: I was at a retirement event for an economist, and was asked if he had any advice for young researchers. In a roundabout way, he said that everyone’s situation is so different because of their different backgrounds and experiences. Universal advice almost makes no sense. We all have our own way. I’m not sure if there is any other advice I can give other than the obvious tips. If you go to class, study with your friends, and do all your homework, then you will have a good time. Stay on top. This is the most boring universal advice I can imagine. Also, talk to your teachers. It’s a good secret: professors love to talk about their research. Don’t be intimidated to meet them during their office hours as we love when a student is interested in our work and our subject. Maybe this tip was a little less boring, I hope.

TD: Do you have any fun facts about yourself that you would like to share?

EM: I can’t imagine that there are any fun facts that I would like to share… No, I shouldn’t say that. There are no skeletons in my closet. [Laughs] But I have the best dog in the world! He’s a 10-year-old black Labrador. Maybe I’ll take him to campus someday so people can say hello.


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