Globe, the Geneva Graduate Institute Review
21 November 2023

The Fun of Teaching

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Ugo Panizza, Professor in International Economics and the Pictet Chair in Finance and Development at the Geneva Graduate Institute, delves into the joys of teaching in a diverse and engaging environment.

I love teaching, and I love teaching at the Institute. I spent the first half of my career in policy jobs, and I missed teaching and interacting with students. I often hear people saying that teaching is a tax on research time. Don’t get me wrong, I love research, but I wish all taxes were like teaching (administrative work is the real tax in academia)!

Teaching at the Institute is particularly fun because of the diversity of our student body. Our economics students (both at the master and PhD level) are excited about learning high-tech econometrics and economic theory. With them, you can be super nerdy and go into the weeds of estimation techniques and statistical analysis. This is something that we economists love, and teaching technical stuff forces us to remain close to the research frontier. But one thing that differentiates our students from graduate students in the typical economics programme is their interest in policy-relevant questions. It is never technicality for the sake of technicality, they want to learn new sophisticated techniques so that they can better address important policy questions. With this keen interest for policy, it is not surprising that our graduates thrive in the world’s leading policy institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the United Nations and the most prestigious central banks.

Then there are the students in our interdisciplinary master programme (MINT). This is an amazing group of people with diverse interests and backgrounds. By and large, they are less interested in technicalities. However, they do care about policy and are keen to be part of the solution to the most pressing issues of our times. I lead the MINT track on sustainable trade and finance, and each class is a fantastic adventure. I usually start with a broad topic and then let the students take over. My objective is to have classes in which students learn from each other as much as they learn from the course material.

When I was a student, I tended to get easily distracted in class and I appreciated professors who engaged with students and tried to add interesting anecdotes to their lectures. My objective is to be like the professors I liked, and I try to make my classes as interactive and fun as possible. This is not always easy (try to make econometrics fun!) but using real-word experiences from my previous policy jobs helps in keeping students engaged and in interacting with them.

Another thing that I love about the Institute is the relatively small size of our classes and the close interaction with students that these small classes allow. Interaction was difficult when we were teaching on-line during Covid, so I am delighted to be back in the classroom.

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