I see HSE as a very successful project
Levent Celik, Associate Professor and Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Theoretical Economics of the Faculty of Economic Sciences about his path in academia, work at HSE and students
How did you decide to become an economist and work in academia? When did you make that decision and what was the reason for that?
Two important stages happened in my life.
First, when I was studying in Turkey for my undergraduate degree in economics at Bogazici University, I realized in my second year of studies that I probably wanted to work for the Turkish central bank to help make macroeconomic planning decisions. And the path to get to the central bank was to take more academic electives and possibly pursue a master’s degree. That was my plan for the first half of my second year at Bogazici.
Then, as I started taking more academic courses, I realized that I actually liked economics, in particular game theory and industrial organization. And, I started to take more courses in those subjects and understood that I did not want to study macroeconomics, but instead pursue a PhD degree and become a professor of economics.
Shortly before I finished my undergrad, I sent applications for economics Ph.D. programs in the US, was accepted to the University of Virginia, and the rest just came through. During my Ph.D. studies, of course, there were still options to choose: private sector, public sector/government or academia. But academia was my target from the beginning; as I just described, I had already decided to become a professor in the second year of my undergraduate studies.
What do you think helped you the most on this way of becoming a professor?
Basically, as I started thinking more seriously about an academic career in economics, I found out that we can model many real life problems in simple economic frameworks and come up with policy relevant questions and answers by using these frameworks. And it really attracted me to studying economics much more.
Economics offers a nice mathematical toolbox, a framework to study relevant real life problems. That is what I realized early enough in my undergraduate studies, luckily. However, many graduate level students these days do not see this early enough and as a result struggle with many mathematical details. But once you realize that mathematics is just a tool for studying economics, then it becomes much more attractive.
Which step of your education helped you the most?
Taking those academic courses in my undergrad and seeing that most real life problems around us can be modeled using economic models in simple terms made me pursue an academic career in economics more seriously.
What would you advise the HSE students?
I would advise students not to simply choose their courses in order to satisfy the requirements of their bachelor degrees, but to select them in accordance with their interests and try to understand the main aims of those courses and connect them with their lives. I recommend all students to take the courses aligned with their intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivations. So take whatever you enjoy and put your heart in it.
Do you expect economics to be more or less important in the future?
Obviously, economics and finance are becoming more and more important in our daily lives: stock markets, investing opportunities, opportunity costs and many other economic factors shape our lives. Many people follow exchange rates on a daily basis to see what they say about the macroeconomic situation of the country or the future risks the country is exposed to. However, although economics is becoming more instrumental, all sciences are becoming more important over time, and people will start paying more attention to sciences, and be less concerned with old-fashioned behavioral patterns.
Will artificial intelligence replace economists?
The answer is definitely no. For example, the type of research that I am doing is theoretical, so the AI will probably have no or little impact in this area. But, AI and machine learning models are certainly incorporated into economics, especially in data analysis, because machine learning methods enable researchers to analyze huge datasets in lower amount of time, making data analysis more efficient. I do not think it is going to replace economists; it is just going to make our science more effective.
What is, in your opinion, the most perspective field in economics?
I am an academic economist, and even the most narrow research fields in our profession are important. I cannot say that one field is more important than the other, and the number of citations does not necessarily indicate how different fields rank in terms of importance. One academic article getting 1000 citations versus another one with 5 citations does not necessarily mean that the former is better. It is like music: the fact that half of the world likes listening to pop music does not make pop music more important than classical music. In academia, this is also the case. Of course, macroeconomics is always important: macro problems will never lose interest and importance in our world, because eventually macroeconomists are the ones who analyze exchange rates, real business cycles, default risks, etc. In microeconomics, behavioral models and information economics are gaining importance. Broadly, the field of information economics studies the effects of informational frictions and how people behave in such environments (including mechanism design). It might be a good idea for any HSE student who is planning to pursue graduate studies in economics or eager to get a good job to target those popular fields that are favorably perceived by the academic world.
How education in economics will change in some near future?
It seems that distance learning methods are being more widely used. HSE is also moving in this direction. These new methods will surely change the way economics is taught, though I disagree with parts of it. In my opinion, distance learning methods should be mainly employed as a means to help those people from remote geographical regions without access to a university or those who do not have financial means to study. There is a project called Khan Academy, which is one of the most successful distance learning projects in the world, and its main goal is to support those people without access to education due to lack of financial means or geographical remoteness. In my opinion, this should be the main aim of online teaching methods, because online teaching cannot replace real teaching done by individual professors. Economics is a social science, and interactions in the classroom between students and the teacher constitute one of the most important means for learning economics. Although I believe online teaching methods will continue growing, economics will still be taught in the old-fashioned way.
How do you spend your free time?
I have two small kids: 4,5 and 1,5 years old. My wife is also a professor here in the economics department. Our jobs involve research, teaching, research meetings with other people (research seminars), etc. So, our life is pretty busy with our jobs and our daily routines with kids. In our free time, we enjoy biking, skiing, skating and travelling. We try to travel outside of Moscow on weekends to enjoy the nature.
What do you think of HSE students?
I see HSE as a very successful project. I’ve been here for 4,5 years, so this is my fifth academic year at HSE. I have seen a lot of developments at HSE; it has become better structured, and better students come every year. I do not need to comment a lot about HSE students: HSE is probably the best place to study economics in the country, so obviously we attract the best students in the country to study economics and related social science topics. I am quite happy and proud to be part of HSE.