Coffee on the Third Floor

Starring Erik Hurst, Just Like His Lectures

Shikha Kapoor ‘17

Shikha Kapoor ‘17

By Shikha Kapoor '17

He seems to be a quintessential family man, I say to myself as I enter his office. Books constitute the largest proportion of surface area in his well-organized room, but it’s the pictures of his family and paintings made by his daughter that make it colorful.

A chemical engineering student, Professor Hurst realized in his second year of undergrad studies that economics was probably a better fit given his love for math and social sciences. He promptly switched and decided to become a professor. He started teaching at the University of Chicago when he was 26! He fondly recalls that many of his MBAs students were his age or older back then.

On what he likes about teaching MBAs, he says that most of them would have unprecedented access to policy makers as they move up their career ladder, and he considers shaping the way they think to be a very worthy educational goal.

On being probed about the popularity of his courses, he exclaims, “don’t spend points on my courses! There are several awesome macro professors. TAKE THEIR COURSE! NOT MINE!”

“Everybody should take macro!”, he clarifies, ”but you need not take it with me.”

He is also in awe of Professor Kevin Murphy. “Save your points! Keep them for Murphy! If there is any justice in the world, Murphy should win the Nobel Prize well before me.”

Professor Hurst, at a Dolphins game, with his son

Professor Hurst, at a Dolphins game, with his son

“So, when are you winning the Nobel Prize?”, I dare to ask the million dollar question. He responds with, “someday, hopefully someday.”

He muses further: “As researchers, every day we should be waking up and try to make an impact with our work. Teaching is a very important part of our job, but three quarters of a year, we are doing research. Once you get tenure, you do not really need to do more. Then why do we keep striving to be excellent? Because that’s who we are, all of us. If we are not driving ourselves and striving to have an impact, then we should go home!”

I ask him if winning a Nobel Prize is the right way to measure impact.

“It’s one way, a very important way”

“Impact can come in many different ways”, he continues, “one more way could be directly influencing policy making.”

Is he drawn to policy roles? “Not as much as other people. I love policy in economics, I don’t like politics. I don’t think I would be able to sell bad policies. But policy in Federal Reserve is more independent, and that is something I would be open to at some point. I have no plans of going to Washington.” In addition to which, there are practical limitations too, “I’ll have to buy a suit!”

He laughs out loudly with surprise and amusement as I ask him about his fashion sense.

“When I come to the classroom, I never dress up differently than the way you see me every day, because that would be fake. I would never ever deviate from the way I dress on my teaching days than on other days.”

Speaking of his goatee, he gives me a perfectly logical argument: “As the hair on my head went away, I decided to conserve total hair space!”

On his interests, “I really enjoy spending time with young kids. I coached Hyde Park Little league for seven years.  I am also a television connoisseur”, he continues, “my top favorite shows of all time have been The Shield, Justified, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer”

He is also an avid fan of the Miami Dolphins. He has their 1972 Super Bowl winning picture, duly signed by all the team members, adorning the wall of his office.

If he had to do it all over again, would he do anything differently?

“No”, he replies in a heartbeat. “I am a very content person, content with life.”

He considers his first meeting with Gary Becker as special. “I had an hour with Gary, talking about my research. It was one of the best memories of my professional life.”

Parting advice to his students: “With great power comes great responsibility! As you climb the socio-economic ladder, use your power well.”

 

Shikha is a first year who is working hard at having an impact at her ever growing to-do list.