Fresh Faculty - Collin Raymond
Issue   |   Wed, 11/04/2015 - 02:52

Professor Collin Raymond taught economics at University of Oxford before coming to Amherst. his academic focus is the intersection of psychology and economics.

Q: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
A: My name is Collin Raymond. I’m 34 years old. I’ve been at Amherst since the beginning of September. I was teaching at the University of Oxford for the past three years and before that, I got my Ph.D. from University of Michigan. I’m from the U.S. originally, but I’ve lived in England for the past three years and I lived there for two years in my 20s. I teach economics and I’m teaching two sections of Econ 111 this term. My research interests are in psychology and economics, so next term I’m going to be teaching a behavioral economics class.

Q: What made you decide to come to Amherst?
A: I like small college towns and Amherst has really good students. It’s fun to have interactions in smaller classes. Oxford has the tutorial system, which has a lot of small interactions with students and I really enjoy that, I think it makes teaching more fun.

Q: How long have you been teaching?
A: Well, you teach in graduate school, so I was teaching then. And I taught for Oxford for three years, so a little bit of time. But there’s always an adjustment, because the U.K. system is entirely different.

Q: How did you start studying economics?
A: It was so long ago I almost forget. As an undergraduate I actually didn’t enter the university thinking I was going to be an economics major. I was going to do math and I was going to do something else, so I tried about five other things. I tried music, I tried English, I was biology for a little bit, I was psychology and then I was economics maybe. I was interested in psychology and I wanted to use math to model. things. With biology and psychology you can sort of use math, but economics really uses it quite a bit, especially with economic theory. I thought that was really interesting, the fact that you’re actually trying to model things. And the thing is, it’s hard to model human behaviors — humans are erratic and you’re always going to get some things wrong, so I think that makes it really interesting because it’s impossible to really get it 100 percent right. So that’s what makes it fun.

Q: What is your research on?
A: I do some theory, and I do some empirical. For some things, I try to write down models for human behavior and to understand what are the right math equations to use to model certain types of behavior. And then I try to go out and test those using data, so sometimes I bring people into a lab and we give them choices over risky outcomes and try to see what they do. Sometimes we actually go out and find field data. I also try to study things like how disappointment or regret affect decisions. For example, if I’m expecting to win $100 and I don’t, usually I’m pretty disappointed. So how does the fact that I want to avoid disappointment play into my decisions when I’m trying to decide between different options, say, whether I should invest in the stock market or buy bonds? Similarly, making choices over different options? I might be concerned over regret and that might alter the way I make a decision compared to the standard neoclassical model. A lot of what I do is looking at the psychology literature out there and trying to incorporate insights they had or stylized facts they’ve developed from their experiments. And I ask how we can model this and come up with better ways of testing this in the data or how we can distinguish between competing data and use the math tools we have available to us in finding the right data set. I’m not interested in throwing out neoclassical traditional economics. I think it explains a lot of important things very well a lot of the time. But sometimes it doesn’t get it right, so what you want to do is use the tools and techniques of traditional economics but modify some of the assumptions about individual preferences. So part of what you need is a good rounding in traditional economics and understand what are the right parts to tweak to try to match behavior better.

Q: What is your impression of Amherst so far?
A: The students are very bright, they’re very involved in a lot of different things, which I think is good. That’s another difference from Oxford or even from a big state school. It seems like the majority of students in my class are involved in some sort of sport, and not just at an intramural level but for the college. And there are people involved in all sorts of other activities, so there seems to be a lot of involvement, which is really good. The town’s very nice. I like the small college town and it’s nice having a lot of other small towns nearby with Northampton and Holyoke. And coming here in the fall always makes a really good impression. I’ve been hiking around — I went hiking at Mount Sugarloaf last week. It’s quite pleasant and it’s also nice to be able to go up and down the East Coast and see some friends. Compared to England, it’s very close to a lot of things, including my family and friends from graduate school.

Q: What do you hope to contribute to Amherst during your time here?
A: I hope to be a good educator, teach my students and push them to learn. There’s a great faculty here, so it’s fun to interact with them. I want to work on my research. I also want to get involved with the larger college community. I try to go to events hosted by other departments — one of the benefits of being at a small liberal arts college is that you can get to know a lot of people in other disciplines and a lot of my students aren’t going to end up being economists. So there’s a lot of cross-pollination across the disciplines and I think that’s really enjoyable and it’s what sets off the best colleges like Amherst.

Q: You mentioned hiking, but what else do you like to do in your spare time?
A: I really like music — I play saxophone and piano, so I’m very into jazz music. I used to DJ a little bit and I really like listening to music and going to see live music. Otherwise, I like to cook elaborate five-course meals. I also travel a lot, both for work and also for fun.

Q: Where have you traveled?
A: I think I’m upwards of 50 countries now. I lived abroad for a while and worked as a microfinance consultant when I was younger. So I’ve lived in Georgia — not Atlanta — but Tbilisi, Georgia. I worked in Azerbaijan and worked there for a little bit. I lived in England for five years total. So I’ve traveled all across Europe and some of North Africa. I lived in Mongolia for a year as an undergraduate on study abroad.

Q: Do you speak a lot of languages?
A: I’m not very good at languages. I speak English, Spanish but not well, Russian worse, and some Mongolian as well. But no, languages are not my strong suit.