Catherine Douglas

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It is not easy to find a free spot in Catherine Douglas’, professor at the UBC’s Vancouver School of Economics, busy agenda. Whenever she is not teaching any of her courses on economic development, inequality or Canadian economic history, she is participating in a myriad of local and international nonprofit community initiatives. From Swaziland to Costa Rica, with a stop at Oxford where she completed her PhD in Economics, her passion for social justice and economic equality has taken her to different corners around the world. Although she had been curious about global issues since she was very young, it was not until her discovery of economic history, as an undergrad, that she found the perfect environment to explore theories and methods to address ongoing economic world problems. Now, in her classes, she aims to help students use economic principles to grasp a better understanding of economic growth and the development process. In particular, through courses like ‘The Economics of Sustainability’, an International Service Learning initiative, she guides students through their own experience of engaging with communities in developing countries.

I did a degree in economics. Back then I wanted to work in international development. Initially I had thought of doing an international relations degree but as an IR major you were also required to take some economic classes. Once I started studying economics, in particular the economic history of Latin America, I fell in love with it. I thought “wow! I had no idea economics was related to all these interesting concepts”. I seemed to have a natural affinity with many of the problems that were being discussed. Because there was that mix of historical perspective and economic development that I have had a long life interest for, I shifted towards economics. Consequently I came to UBC and did an honours degree. Although I had not intended to go on with my studies I decided to do a research-based master after my undergrad when I found out it was required for working in the field of development. My research supervisor ended up going to Oxford and he asked me to come with him.

Coming back from Oxford I was offered a teaching position at UBC and I came to really enjoy it. Because of my community engagement with the BC Council for International Cooperation, and other organizations such as the experiential learning department at UBC, I was able to integrate my passion for development within my teaching. And now I am very excited about the International Service Learning course I teach every fall because I feel I am a participant in the process of development. Through my students’ discussions, but also through the Arts Research Abroad program, I bring in my understanding of economics and development to the ongoing conversation. I never thought that my teaching would end up this way, but thanks to the various programs that UBC has related to development I was able to blend my two passions together.

My favorite aspect of teaching is students’ engagement. I love it when there is discussion about issues that both they and I are interested in or care about. I taught my first Canadian Economic History class at UBC in 1999. The first class was a bit daunting but I have enjoyed teaching since then.

Economic History. I see it as another way of looking at the development process. Going back in the past and learning about how we got to where we are today can teach us a lot about current economic problems. Studying the role of institutions and technology throughout history helps us answer big questions such as: what factors contribute to growth, and why are some economies more developed than others?

 The Economics of Sustainability course for the International Service Learning program. Although I am still developing it, every time I teach it is a very interesting experience. It provides the opportunity to think about development at the ground level, rather than just at the theoretical level. I also love my Canadian Economic History and the Economics of technological change classes.

 Engagement. When it does not happen I do not have such a good day, but of course it is complicated to have it in every single class. In the beginning of the term I also look forward to diving into the material and bringing about enlightenment.