Prior to her career in academia, and after her undergraduate training as a mathematician, Dr. Slade forayed into the resource industries where she worked in a variety of firms and industries as a mathematician. These included Bell Labs in New Jersey, Shell Development in California, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in New Zealand, and the US Geological Survey in Virginia. She also had a stint as an Economist at the US Federal Trade Commission. Understandably, much of her research focuses on Industrial Organization, with a particular focus on Natural Resources, as well as Applied Econometrics. Although she never envisioned entering the field of economics, she thoroughly enjoys the subject and learns something new every day.
You might find it a strange story, but I was working part-time at the US Geological Survey, and before that with Shell and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and what I was doing was solving other people’s problems. I thought, “I’d like to solve problems of my own!” However, I was a single parent, so I needed financial support and couldn’t just enter graduate school. The US Geological Survey would support me, but wouldn’t pay for something like English or Drama, and I didn’t want to study Geology. Economics was sufficiently relevant for the USGS and also personally interesting. Even then, the USGS wouldn’t support my PhD fully, but only on a course-by-course basis. So I didn’t have a passion to begin with. Instead I fell into it.
Because the US Geological Survey was supporting my graduate studies, my doctoral thesis had to have something to do with the mining sector, specifically I looked at copper and aluminum substitution and recycling. After that, I worked as an economist for the US Federal Trade Commission, where I learned more about oligopolies and game theory. That spurred my interest in Industrial Organization. However, I kept coming back to researching Natural Resource industries. Currently, however, I am looking at the beer industry, which is quite interesting!
My research on the beer market involves North American breweries over a long time period. I assess productivity growth, noncompetitive markups, technical change, and returns to scale by firm and year for the entire sample and then look more deeply at US mass production to determine how performance varies with market structure. Finally, I have devised a method of forecasting post merger performance using only pre merger data.
As an example, my time at Shell was particularly interesting because we were given a fair degree of autonomy in our work and research. This was a time when fields such as non-linear programming were being developed and applied to solve problems to the oil and gas industry. My industry experience didn’t lead to my interest in industrial organization. However, it taught me new techniques and caused me to look at problems in a different light.
At that point, I didn’t really have any set plans. I found summer work with Bell Labs, and I enjoyed it and thought I might continue working there full time. Instead, however, I went on to earn a master’s degree in mathematics. Even after my PhD, I didn’t plan on becoming a professional economist, especially because I studied part-time. It was clear to me that it would be difficult to get a good academic job. However, I ended up getting a good government job at the Federal Trade Commission. When I was at the FTC, a UBC faculty member suggested that I apply for a visiting position UBC, and I did. To my surprise, I was hired full time at the end of my visiting year. So again, there was no game plan, it was all quite accidental!
I have to admit that I am a researcher at heart. Teaching was my bread and butter. In particular, it was frustrating to have a class where the students were not motivated and I wasn’t able to make them care about the material. However, when I had a good group of students, I really enjoyed it.
I think I would encourage all students to actively participate in all of their classes, whether that means attending lectures, asking questions, attending office hours, or writing good papers. First, this would help them get better grades, and second, they would be noticed by their professors, whom they would need for references for jobs or graduate studies later on!
Another piece of advice I would give to students who asked what courses they should take to get a particular job. My answer was take courses that interested them. For example, when I taught in England, most of my students wanted to go into investment banking, and investment banking firms didn’t care about the courses that students take. They want students with high grades who are enthusiastic, and who are good at solving problems. In other words, they want people who can think and who are good at what they choose to do.