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Best advice for experimental economics programs — ‘Just do it,’ says Prof. Smith

March 28, 2011

Vernon Smith, Ph.D., professor of economics and law and George L. Argyros Endowed Chair in Finance and Economics, visited the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) last week, where he worked closely with professors and students in the university’s growing experimental economics team and from the Institute of Social and Economic Research and the College of Business and Public Policy.

Professor Vernon Smith

 This was just the most recent of the visits Professor Smith has made to UAA since 2003, where he has been instrumental in transforming the university’s economics research program, first as the Visiting Distinguished Rasmuson Chair in Economics, and afterwards by regular invitation.  Working closely with faculty and Dean of College of Business and Public Policy, a home-grown system of once-a-week “Just Do It” meetings at which the economics faculty would each present something he/she was doing or thinking about doing, began to evolve.  The economists would look at experimental work related to their own research, and then talk about it and discuss how experiments might be set up. Professor Smith, according to reports, argued that “learning from him” by hearing him lecture wasn’t going to get them going in experimental economics — that they had to “just do it.”

Lee Huskey, Ph.D., professor of economics at UAA, sent us this rave about Professor Smith’s work: “‘Just do it!’  Who would have guessed that Vernon’s recipe for learning experimental economics would transform the economics program at the University of Alaska Anchorage?   Since Vernon’s first visit to UAA in 2003, our program has been changed in dramatic ways.  We were a program where few faculty made use of experimental economics, and became a program which now uses it widely in teaching and research.  We have built a research emphasis using experimental methods, adding four faculty members with experimental backgrounds.  We have also made connections with the wider experimental community.  The university and the Alaska community supported these changes by providing the resources to add two new positions and build a lab. Vernon’s presence helped us attract good new faculty, connect to the outside experimental community, and gain support in Alaska.  

“The results of these changes have shown up in the standard ways: more publications and more research funding,” Professor Huskey continued. “But more importantly, Vernon’s yearly visits have fostered a new attitude in our program.  Alaska has always been a place full of interesting research questions made for experimental methods.  Our longtime connection with Vernon has provided us with the means and the confidence to address them.”

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