Professor Chronicles: Dirk Early
July 16, 2020
I first taught Principles of Microeconomics as a graduate student at the University of Virginia in 1991 and taught several courses at Carleton College in Minnesota in 1993 and 1994.
How long have you been at Southwestern?
A long time. I passed the year when I was teaching longer than our students had been alive several years back. I taught my first class at Southwestern in the fall of 1994.
What inspired you to become a university professor?
I enjoyed my first exposure to teaching while at the University of Virginia, but my time at Carleton College (another small liberal-arts college) solidified my decision to be at a place like Southwestern, where I knew I would be surrounded by bright and curious students. Although I have taught some of my classes 20-plus times, I still have a blast being in the classroom.
What is something your students would be surprised to know about you?
I hate public speaking; it scares me to death. With that, it does surprise me that I picked a job that requires me to speak in front of a group on a very regular basis.
When not working, you can find me …
I try to spend as much time with my family as I can. It is fun watching my son and daughter grow into mature adults; they are amazing kids. I also try to find time for myself and get out to exercise when I can, and my Sunday mornings are often spent on a local river in my canoe.
If you could have a drink at the Cove with anyone in the world, living or dead, what would the beverage be, who would the person be, and why?
I would pick two people: Ben Bernanke and Barack Obama. The Great Recession was the defining event of the century and will shape our world for decades. That event altered our economy and our politics in meaningful ways. Federal Reserve Chairperson Bernanke and President Obama worked to bring the world economy back from the brink. In my opinion, they helped to prevent a more pronounced global economic meltdown that would have led to a much deeper and longer recession. Spending time discussing their thought process and what other policy responses they were considering during that time period would be fascinating. I would let them pick the drink.
Describe your dream vacation.
My favorite type of vacation is outdoors, preferably in a canoe. So a whitewater canoe camping trip would be ideal. We have taken small canoe camping trips as a family at Big Bend and the Devils River, in Texas, and my son and I did a week on the San Juan in Utah. Those have been my favorite vacations. So my dream trip would be something more extended—maybe the Nahanni or, even better, the Grand Canyon.
If you could choose one superpower, what would it be?
The ability to breathe underwater.
When you reflect on your time at Southwestern, what comes to mind?
Over the last 26 years, I have seen great change at Southwestern, but what has been consistent is the amazing students we attract year after year. Having them in class has been incredibly rewarding, but the opportunities to work one-on-one with them in honors, independent study, and my research have been the highlights of my Southwestern career. I have been with students presenting at national meetings and have published work with them as coauthors; these are the professional accomplishments of which I am most proud.
What advice would you give students going into your field today?
My love of economics is as strong today as when I started graduate school. Economics helps us think through the most complex situations in a logical, well-reasoned manner. Although all of the big issues we grapple with (poverty, climate change, discrimination, etc.) require an interdisciplinary approach to find effective solutions, economics has much to offer these discussions. So to students interested in the field and in making a difference, I say, “Go for it!” Your time in economics will make you a better thinker and a better global citizen. It also does not hurt that employers and graduate programs appreciate the skills and critical thinking that are part of the economics major, and our focus on using data to better understand the world is a critical skill needed in any organization. I would advise, however, that graduate work in economics is very math heavy (a second major in mathematics is recommended), so unless you are also passionate about math, a Ph.D. in economics might not be appropriate. If you like the economic approach to discussions of policy and economic analysis in general, graduate work in law, public policy, or economic development might be a better fit. All of these programs have a focus on economics but in a more applied setting. For most of my students, these programs seem to be a match for the curiosity of a typical liberal-arts major.