Meet Chihwa Kao, Head of Economics

Department of Economics
Ph.D.: State University of New York, Stony Brook
Office Location: Oak Hall

What would you say are the areas of strength of the Department of Economics?
According to Research Papers in Economics, a bibliographic database of research in the field of economics, UConn’s economics department is ranked 57th of all economics departments in the country, and notably, we are ranked 13th in the world in the field of law and economics. We have research and teaching interests in areas such as economic development, health economics, education, applied microeconomics, macroeconomics, international economics, environmental economics, industrial organization, political economy, labor economics and public finance. Our econometrics program is also markedly improving, and we will be proposing a new master’s degree in quantitative economics. Within Connecticut, we are ranked 2nd for students wishing to study economics, behind only Yale University.

What interests students in studying economics?
Students often study economics because they want to know how the society we live in works. Economics greatly influences how individuals and families, schools, businesses, charitable organizations, and national and international governments make decisions about resources. Economics is the third most popular major at UConn – we have almost 1,000 undergraduate students.

What types of jobs do students pursue after attaining an economics degree?
Economic analysis hones your skills at both understanding and influencing today’s policy debates. A bachelor’s degree in economics prepares you for a career in not just business, banking, government, and financial transactions, but also areas such as urban planning, international development, policy analysis, journalism, education, and the non-profit sector. Economics is also one of the most lucrative college majors, according to the Brookings Institution. For all graduates, jobs include working in the public and private sectors, at insurance companies, think-tanks, financial consultancies, and accountancy firms. Our Ph.D. students often move on to academic positions at universities in the U.S. and around the world.

What do you see as upcoming challenges or opportunities for your department?
The popularity of economics as a major has drastically increased enrollment in our courses over the past decade – we now have more than double the number of undergraduates we had just ten years ago. We have hired four new faculty members, one senior and three junior, this fall, and we will need to continue to recruit top faculty to stay competitive in research and to keep up with increasing enrollment for undergraduate classes due to the popularity of economics courses. The market for economics graduates is also increasingly growing, so we foresee many opportunities for our graduates in the working world.

We have also proposed to expand our current master’s program, which is currently a one-year MA. And, like many departments, we also see opportunities to engage with our alumni, who are working all over the country.

Are there any common misconceptions about economics?
The biggest misconception is that all economists know how to invest and make money. We are interested in the ways that the distribution of resources affects decision-making, but we are not all experts in financial markets.

Where do you see the field of economics going in the next 10 years?
The new fields of “big data” will require increasing sophistication in both economic theory development and econometrics methods for the next 10 years.

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