Why did you join the PhD in Economics program at American University?
I entered the PhD program in economics after having completed a masters in economics from the University of Nebraska (UNL). At UNL I learned quickly that I was not entirely interested in the Neoclassical model. I had heard about a newly forming group of international feminist economists who were even starting a journal of their own. I started looking for heterodox programs that included courses with a Marxist and Feminist viewpoint and quickly settled on AU because of the faculty, the location, and the heterodox possibilities that the program offered.
Could you tell us about some of your experiences while at AU?
The four most interesting courses that I took, and that I have continued to rely on in both my teaching and research were Political Economy 1 (Drs. Meurs and Hahnel), Political Economy 2 (Dr. Blecker), History of Economic Thought/American Economic Development (Dr. Wisman), and the graduate seminar on the Economics of Slavery (Visiting Professor Stefano Fenoaltea). Not only did these courses teach me important tools of economic analysis with which to conduct my research, but I also often reflect on them in order to stimulate students and get them interested in the discipline.
Of course, most learning occurs outside of the classroom (a reality that is both reassuring and humbling for a teacher like me). I worked at the Institute for Women's Policy Research as a fellow with Dr. Heidi Hartmann on issues related to what would soon become President Clinton's welfare reform bill. I later worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics and at the World Bank, learning statistical techniques that I would ultimately use in my dissertation. Most importantly, I was able to travel to Bulgaria with Dr. Meurs and get hands-on experience in conducting research on an economic system that was new for me and in understanding the important links that relate economic systems to the culture of their population. I have come to believe that this is an invaluable aspect of research that economists often overlook and ignore.
How did your career evolve after completing your PhD at AU?
I went on the job market while finishing up my dissertation and got one single offer for a tenure-track position at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. I received tenure in 2006 and then took an 18 month leave to work at Macalester College in St. Paul replacing faculty members on sabbatical. Happy with the shorter commute, I recently negotiated a part-time schedule with UW-La Crosse in which I teach for one semester per year. In the other semester I continue to teach at Macalester College. During the spring of 2009, I will be teaching the economics of sexual orientation, which I believe may be the only such course taught in the United States, at least as a semester-long course at the undergraduate level.
How do you see the years ahead for you?
I am, ultimately, not sure that I will remain in academia. Over the last decade, I've taught about 3,000 sections of introductory microeconomics, a few sections of gender and economics, and intermediate microeconomic theory. I've published several articles and enjoyed the continual exploration and learning that academia offers. In a true economist's analysis, I realize that on the one hand the flexibility and freedom that academia offers may sustain me through retirement. But on the other hand the rigidity of decision-making in a university setting and boredom of the introductory classroom may send me back to school to get a different sort of degree or into a different job market altogether.