Department Chair Pat Bayer on Recent Changes, Future Plans

Department Chair Pat Bayer on Recent Changes, Future Plans

22 January 2010 12:00AM

“It’s a very vibrant department that continues to be rising across the board,” said Professor Patrick Bayer, the chair of the department of economics. “I’m happy to commit to this place because of the unique intellectual energy here.”

Bayer, who joined the department in 2006 and became chair in 2009, took a break from his research, teaching and advising to answer some questions related to the department and its future.

Q: Why did you accept the position of chair of the department?
A: It’s something that at the stage of a career that I am in, people normally wouldn’t do, but there are a number of different reasons. A big part of it is that I’m extremely excited about this department. The way we’ve grown has been by recruiting intellectually broad people, and that’s created an atmosphere of interaction across traditional fields that’s really unrivaled in the departments I’ve visited. We’ve added something along the lines of 25 faculty over the last five or six years, focusing on exciting folks doing ambitious research. So, by construction, the faculty here is heavily engaged in research - it’s a really unique intellectual atmosphere that I love being a part of. I also was happy to do it because we have a continued commitment of resources to keep this momentum going. So even during these tough economic times we are continuing to recruit aggressively and expanding the intellectual activity here in lots of interesting ways.

Q: What kind of faculty is the department looking to recruit?
A: The vision that has served as the blueprint for building this place has been to recruit faculty who are on the methodological frontier in their own field but also excited about interacting with a wide range of researchers in other fields of economics and, in many cases, in other disciplines. The intellectual breadth of our faculty allows us to remain strong in the core areas of economics but also to reach out into emerging areas that don’t naturally fit into the conventional boxes that a more traditional department might want to check off. As a result, we have a faculty that is especially cohesive and interconnected - much more so than in a traditional department and that makes this a great place to be.
Our recruiting strategy naturally spills over into our graduate programs - creating the kind of intellectual atmosphere where students can write dissertation topics in fresh areas of economics or apply techniques and skills from one area of the discipline to another in a novel way. The interconnectedness of the department also makes it a very collegial place with a lot of trust between individuals in different fields. This allows us to continuously search aggressively for scholars in all fields of economics - we’re looking for new faculty that complement the strengths we already have but also push us in new directions. This gives us a lot of flexibility to act fast when we have the opportunity to recruit someone great regardless of his or her field.

Q: How do you think the rise of the economics department impacts the rest of the university?
A natural benefit of recruiting people who are intellectually broad within economics is that that intellectual breadth doesn’t stop at the edge of the discipline and so a lot of the research of our faculty extends outside the discipline. In fact, many of the folks we have recruited over the past few years – people like Joe Hotz, Rachel Kranton, Duncan Thomas, Timur Kuran, Seth Sanders – have already begun to take major leadership roles across the university in the social sciences, population sciences, Islamic studies and global health. So, ultimately, the intellectual vision that we have pursued is not only great for building an interconnected department but also for expanding the role that the department plays in the university more generally.
Q: What are some of your goals for the department during your time as chair?

A: I have a lot of goals but one of my biggest is to make this the top department for junior faculty in the country. We’ve had a lot of success in the last few years in recruiting senior faculty, which means we now have the infrastructure in place to create an intellectually vibrant atmosphere for junior folks. A big part of the next phase of our growth as a department will come from hiring great junior faculty and providing the kinds of resources they need - time and money for their research, easy interactions with their senior colleagues, the ability to work with excellent PhD students, and access to lots of high quality intellectual activity like the active workshop series and many conferences organized here at Duke.

This is not a hierarchical department at all, and so it is the kind of place where it’s really easy for junior faculty to get lunch or coffee with their senior colleagues to talk about research ideas, to organize workshop series and conferences to get connected to other top people in the profession, and generally to play a major role in the life and direction of the department. Ultimately, if we look ahead five or six years, I think you’ll be able to judge my success as chair by how well we’ve been able to recruit high-quality people and build the future of the department from within by investing and ultimately promoting our junior faculty.