With the start of the 2015-2016 academic year, the department welcomed a new faculty member to its ranks: Jon Einar Flåtnes, a development economist, who joined AEDE as an Assistant Professor.
Flåtnes, who originally hails from Norway, is a recent graduate of the Agricultural and Resource Economics doctoral program at the University of California, Davis.
Learn more about Dr. Flåtnes in our Q & A with him below.
AEDE: Tell us about the research that you bring to the department.
Flåtnes: I recently graduated with a PhD in Agricultural and Resource Economics from the University of California, Davis where I was working in international development under Michael Carter.
My research interests are at the intersection of development economics, agricultural finance, and experimental economics. In my work I have employed a combination of theoretical, experimental and empirical methods to study questions related to optimal design of financial contracts for smallholder farmers in developing countries.
More specifically, my dissertation studied the welfare implications of two innovative financial contracts, specifically a joint liability group lending contract with a collateral requirement, and an index insurance contract based on remote sensing data.
I’m very pleased to be continuing this line of research here at Ohio State, and I’m currently involved in two different projects on this topic. The first uses framed field experiments in Tanzania to look at joint liability and index insurance, and the second studies the effects of interlinking the provision of hybrid maize with index insurance in Tanzania and Mozambique.
AEDE: What kinds of courses will you be teaching at AEDE?
Flåtnes: I’m very excited to be teaching two development courses this semester.
One is an undergraduate course in development economics (AEDE 4535), which covers basic concepts in international economic development.
The other course, which I’m co-teaching with AEDE’s Mario Miranda this year, is the first in the doctoral program’s development sequence of courses (AEDE 7421). In this course, we aim to expose students to the key literature in microfinance, experimental economics, index insurance, poverty traps, and agricultural household models, to name a few.
This is my first time teaching a full course, and it’s certainly a new and challenging experience for me but also incredibly rewarding. There seems to be a lot of interest in development economics among the AEDE graduate student population, and as we continue to develop our program, I believe that we have the potential to be one of the most attractive places to study development economics at the graduate level in the world.
AEDE: What attracted you to the world of development economics?
Flåtnes: Having grown up on a small farm in Norway, I have always had a strong interest in agriculture and I took an early liking to finance and economics.
However, it wasn’t until I took a course in development economics during my undergraduate studies at Macalester College in Minnesota that I truly realized how I could use the tools of economics to study some of the most pressing problems in the world today.
After my undergraduate studies, I spent four years working in the mortgage finance industry before embarking on my PhD studies at UC Davis. Prior to starting grad school, I had been very interested in microfinance and rural credit markets, and shortly after passing my qualifying exam, I got involved in a project in Tanzania working with a large microfinance institution called VisionFund Tanzania.
This project provided me with several opportunities to do field work in Tanzania, and the more time I spent talking to farmers, the more I understood the importance, but also the challenges, of designing effective financial contracts. The field work I did in Tanzania with local credit groups ended up forming the basis of my dissertation and has further bolstered my passion for development economics.
AEDE: What advice to you have for AEDE students?
Flåtnes: First, always do what you’re passionate about, and you will have a career that is fulfilling, both personally and professionally.
People will try to give you advice based on their own experiences and career paths but only you know what your strengths and passions are. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not the right choice for you. It’s often convenient to choose a research project because the data is readily available or your advisor already has a project lined up for you, but if you’re not passionate about the idea, you may find yourself miserable and unmotivated three years later.
Second, work closely with your fellow colleagues to get and to provide feedback on each other’s research.
At the beginning of my third year at UC Davis, a few of us got together and created what we called a “dissertation group.” Our group, which consisted of five to six grad students working in development, would meet every week for an hour and a half to discuss our research. Meetings would typically consist of thirty minutes of check-in time, where each person would give a brief progress report, followed by a more extensive presentation by one individual. The process of writing a dissertation can sometimes be both frustrating and lonely, but these weekly meetings helped keep us on track and simultaneously gave us a unique opportunity to learn about what our colleagues were working on.
AEDE: Tell us about what you like to do in your free time.
Flåtnes: Given that I spend my entire week in front of a computer, there’s nothing I’d rather do with my free time than to be outdoors, rain or shine (or snow!).
While Ohio doesn’t exactly have the kind of mountains that I’m used to in California and Norway, I’m excited to explore some of the nearby hiking opportunities.
I’m also an avid cyclist but rather than racing on a fancy road bike, I prefer mountain biking or adventure cycling in remote areas.
Also, being a good Norwegian, I always look forward to the winter, and I hope we get some decent snowfall this year so I can bring out my cross country skis!
September 30, 2015