Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Professor Jeremy Smith reflects on his time as Head of Department of Economics

Header image for article

Professor Jeremy Smith reflects on his time as Head of Department of Economics

We caught up with Professor Jeremy Smith to ask him a few questions about being Head of Department (HoD), a role he has held since August 2016 and from which he will be stepping down at the end of July 2022.

Q1: You will be stepping down from the role of Head of Department at the end of July, so it's a good opportunity to reflect on the last 6 years. What was your first year like as a HoD?

It was a massive learning curve and one I do not think I was prepared for, despite having been acting as Deputy Head of Department for 4 years previously. I was very reliant on other people - Robin Naylor (as Director of Studies), Sascha Becker (as Deputy Head of Department) and Sarah Duggan (as Department Administrator) were immensely helpful. I have also been greatly assisted by Gill Gudger and the Senior Management Team during my time as HoD.

When I took on the HoD role it was on an interim basis for one year, while the University looked for a permanent replacement, and I didn't mind a short-term challenge. But as we all know 12 months turned into 6 years!

Q2: Could you tell us about one of the highlights of holding the position of HoD?

There have been many highlights and identifying one is very hard for me. However, it was a privilege to have hosted the Royal Economic Society Annual Conference at Warwick in 2019 when we welcomed onto campus more than 700 academic and professional economists from across the globe to present research developments in economics and showcase their real-world applications.

Q3: What has the role of HoD meant to you?

I have been immensely proud of having been Head of Department for the last 6 years. To represent this great Department both within the University and more broadly is something I never imagined myself doing.

I think it is clear to anybody that knows me, that I am not a natural in the role and do not like many of the activities that one might associate with a HoD. But when I look back on my time I think I can look myself in the mirror and honestly say I could not have tried any harder and that is enough for me. When I reflect on whether I was a good or effective HoD that is for others to determine.

Q4: What has been your proudest achievement as HoD?

The REF 2021 we obtained earlier this year, where we came 2nd in the UK for research excellence, is my proudest achievement, but not because of what I did, which was minimal. Credit is really due to Ben Lockwood, Carlo Perroni, Claire Gerard, Liz Davies and Sarah Duggan for putting together a fantastic submission. The REF 2021 made a difference to how people see Warwick Economics within the University and I hope within the country (and maybe even more widely). The outcome of the REF is with us for the next 7 years or so and therefore the returns to this achievement are high.

Q5: What was the toughest challenge you had to deal with?

Undoubtedly it was the first 12 months of the Covid pandemic. Adjusting to online exams, trying to move teaching over into an online environment, and thinking about how that might look for economics and what we needed to do to support the students who would naturally find it challenging to adapt to this way of teaching and learning. I think we as a department did as good a job as we could have hoped for, and I was immensely proud of what we managed to achieve during that time, due to commitment and effort put in by Module Leaders/Lecturers, Programme Managers, all teaching staff and all PSS staff. It has been a time of intensive work for all of us in the Department and I know that colleagues spent innumerable hours helping to design and deliver teaching and other activities (e.g. virtual open days, webinars, extra webpages and communications to students) during the pandemic. However, praise needs to go especially to: Lory Barile, Caroline Elliott, Robert Horton, Elizabeth Jones, Robin Naylor, Jennifer Smith and Kelly Taylor. I am eternally grateful to these people for supporting me and spending extra hours helping design a way through the pandemic.

The last 12 months have also been a challenging time, but where we have faced different challenges from the previous academic year. Again, the Department came together to help us get through the year.

Q6: Despite having a busy schedule as HoD, you have continued to teach EC124 (Statistical Techniques B), EC125 (Computing and Data Analysis) and EC226 (Econometrics). What has been your experience of balancing teaching and management responsibilities?

To be honest the only thing that has kept me sane at times has been the teaching as it forced me to think about something else for at least a few hours every week. What was more of a problem was preparing asynchronous lectures at a time when there were many other things going on and time was rather limited.

Q7: How do you combat stress and maintain a good work-life balance in a busy role?

I love sport. Unfortunately, I am not very good at it, but playing football against the MSc students on a Sunday, volleyball on a Wednesday and ultimate frisbee on a Friday means that, if time permits, I get out from in front of a computer sometime over the course of the week.

Q8: Do you think that the pandemic has changed the higher education landscape forever, or would we go back to the pre-pandemic environment for teaching and learning?

I do not think we will go back to education as it was before Covid. I am not sure what education will look like two years down the line, never mind about 10 years hence. I think the way students interact with education has changed over the pandemic, although some of this has not been in a way which I believe is good for cohesion of the cohort or even for the existence of a community. I believe this will be a challenge going forward.

Q9: The Department has continued to be ranked highly in league tables, which recognises the high quality of research and teaching within the Department. How do you motivate staff to give their best?

I think staff motivate themselves. I work hard and try to get involved in all activities and hope that staff follow suit. What is important for me is getting the right staff in place and then everything else will be relatively straightforward. We have a great set of colleagues in the Department and that should mean that we'll be able to maintain the high quality of research and teaching in the Department.

Q10: You have encouraged new initiatives to make the discipline of economics more diverse and inclusive, for example, the Department's Athena Swan Charter application which was successful in 2021. How important is it for you to receive this recognition?

Achieving Athena Swan award is very important for the Department and is recognition of our commitment to gender equality and the time and effort that colleagues have invested in trying to make the Department more inclusive. I'm grateful to all colleagues who have contributed, in particular Michela Redoano, Lisa Hayes, Robert Horton and members of the Department's Wellbeing, Equality, Diversity and Gender Group (WEDGG) who led the submission. The application presented evidence of how we have embedded the principles of gender balance and equality into key areas of our work, including student and staff recruitment, opportunities for professional development and progression, and improving the quality of the working environment. While we have come a long way, our work in this area will continue to progress further in the coming months and years as part of our detailed Athena Swan Action Plan.

Q11: You encouraged the Department to develop and commit to a set of values (respect, integrity and accountability). Why was it important to do that?

I was taught by my parents to be respectful of others and to accept people for who they are and try to see the good in people. I have tried to live by the example set by my parents.

We aim to foster an open and inclusive environment in the Department where everyone is treated with respect and dignity. We all have a personal responsibility to commit to these values and hold ourselves accountable.

Q12: What advice would you give to your successor?

It is essential to have good people around you and recruit well into positions in the Department. Then I would encourage my successor to delegate, something that doesn't come easily for me, but is essential in this role.

The second piece of advice is not to take things personally when things don't go according to plan. I wish Ben every good fortune - he will be surrounded by a great team who will support him.

Q13: What is next for you personally?

Next year I'm Director of Undergraduate Studies. I will do my best to fill Elizabeth's very big shoes for one year and then will hope to pass the role back to her.

I hope to also get some time to remember how to do research and have some plans to work on HESA data looking at outcomes of university students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Q14: Finally, how do you wish to be remembered as a HoD?

I would like to hope that during my time people felt they worked in a positive and supportive environment, which encouraged them to do good work, and that their good work was acknowledged.

Professor Jeremy Smith, thank you for the interview.