Fresh Faculty of the Week- Brian Bethune
Issue   |   Wed, 03/07/2012 - 01:19

Economics Professor Brian Bethune received his Masters of Arts in Economics from McMaster Univ. He holds a doctorate in international economics from the Graduate Institute at Univ. of Geneva. He has taught at Concordia Univ. in Montreal, Canada and has experience in commercial banking and macroeconomic consulting.

What brought you to Amherst?

Well, I came to Amherst simply by making a quick phone call. It was fairly simple; I called Chris Kingston, the chair of the Economics department. I’d heard they were looking for a visitor, and I was looking to do something a little different. I called him up, he answered the phone and it’s that simple. It was kind of refreshingly simple in the kind of world that we’re living in.

Where were you at that point?

I’d been working mainly in consulting. I’d been working in consulting for about five or six years, and I wanted to try something different, maybe combine some teaching with consulting, that kind of thing. I was looking for something that might be a different combination of activities.

Have you taught at other institutions?

I did, I taught for a period of time as an adjunct professor, because I was employed full time immediately after getting my Ph.D. I was still interested in teaching, so I did some adjunct teaching, which was mainly in the evenings. I was living in Montreal, Canada at the time, so there was a downtown campus where they offered quite a number of evening courses, and they needed adjunct professors to help them out. So I did that for a couple years, and I got out of teaching for a period of time as I got more involved in professional activities. I got involved again, just to see how it would fly.

How did you get into economics?

Well, I was in a college, actually in Canada, that was a comprehensive school, so they did have graduate programs, but it was not a large comprehensive school. It was sort of midrange by any U.S. standard. So I was taking various courses, almost following a liberal-arts kind of program, and then eventually I gravitated to economics and mathematics, so I graduated actually with a double major in economics and mathematics. I got interested in economics at that time, and then continued in my master’s with economics, and then did my Ph.D. in international economics; that was my main interest. It’s a good idea to, I think, experiment with a number of different things, see what fits your inclinations and then gravitate towards those things that make sense. I had a strong interest in mathematics; I probably could have continued in applied math, which would have been a completely different career direction — that field was exploding, of course, at the time, but for whatever reason I decided to continue with economics. It’s been a fascinating area.

What do you like about Amherst?

Well, I must admit Amherst exceeded my expectations in almost every area. I was very pleased to get the invitation; it was relatively straightforward, there weren’t a lot of complications. I came down here, and I think, overall, my experience, like I said, has been very positive. It’s exceeded my expectations in terms of what I was thinking of prior to coming. I had not been to the Amherst campus. I’ve been to a number of colleges in the Boston area, obviously, and then in other parts of the U.S. and Canada, so I’ve seen a lot of different situations. So I didn’t know what Amherst was all about, but nevertheless, I am definitely pleased that things worked out as well as they have.

What classes are you teaching this semester?

Well, this semester I’ve got Principles of Economics, the introductory course, and I also have an intermediate macro course, which is a mid-level course, but it gives you a good general introduction to macroeconomics. I’m also leading a seniors’ discussion group on macroeconomic topics. So I have actually three courses I’m running right now.

How did the third one come about?
The third course actually came about because I had some senior majors that approached me with respect to having another macroeconomic topics course this semester. I did have one in the previous semester, and this semester it was not a course that had been offered. It wasn’t on the calendar initially, but there was a strong interest in having the course. In fact, I think initially we had about 15 to 20 students that were interested, and that was actually too large for that type of discussion group. We unfortunately had to confine it to the economics majors. But that’s one of the advantages of being an economics major and a senior. You get a little bit of special treatment when you’re a senior major, so that’s something to look forward to.

What do you do in your free time?

In my free time, I have quite a range of things that I have been interested in. It’s a question of number of hobbies that, depending on the circumstances, either I can get involved in that or not. I’ve been quite active in terms of physical activity. For a period of time, I’ve done a lot of cycling; I’ve been involved with some charity work involved with cycling, the Pan-Mass challenge in particular. Other than that, I do enjoy all kinds of outdoor activity, including sailing and swimming and things involving underwater activities, snorkeling and skin diving. I enjoy a lot of different things, and of course it all depends on what circumstances present themselves. I haven’t been able to do much cycling here, simply because I haven’t actually brought my bicycle down with me. So I’ve converted to running down the bicycle trail and hanging out in the exercise room over at the recreation center. But that’s been great, to have those facilities available for that type of thing.
I have always had a strong interest in international issues, so I picked up a couple of languages when I was in Canada; I started learning French when I was in grade one, so I’m fairly proficient in French, and I also know some Spanish. I’ve been to Europe a number of times, so I like doing some of the international travel. I’m very interested in other parts of the world. In my topics course, actually, I did a special focus on Europe, simply because of all of the issues that have been playing out. And so we spent two or three weeks just diving into issues relating to the currency zone, the European Union, what were the issues, some of the problems, the stresses and how potentially to resolve them. I’ve always enjoyed that part, the international part of economics.