Faculty Profile, People
Encouraging a sense of curiosity
August 17, 2018
Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences
Okanagan (Kelowna, BC)
BA (Economics), St. Francis Xavier University
MA (Economics), Simon Fraser University
PhD (Economics), Simon Fraser University
St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador
“The pool of exceptional undergraduates available to hire as research assistants allows me to answer research questions while training the next generation of curious scholars.”
IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO and only one to stumble. Similarly, governments and markets—imperfect dance partners—move to the immutable tune of economies, whose tempo constantly changes.
That isn’t Associate Professor Ross Hickey’s metaphor, but he would agree that his field, the social science of economics, is itself a rousing force and one that seeks to improve the lives of citizens and their communities. This exciting and challenging field made him want to continue learning by becoming a great teacher.
Hickey teaches public sector economics, as well as introductory macroeconomics, and researches charities, lobbying, and other aspects of public finance and political economy.
“I’ve embarked on a lifelong pursuit of insight about the world,” he says, “and sharing this with students teaches me as I teach them.”
EAST TO WEST
Hickey hails from the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John’s, a city of a similar size to Kelowna, BC and its surrounding bedroom municipalities. “Newfoundland is a very different place both culturally and geographically,” he says. “But embracing the natural beauty and the local history in the Okanagan makes living here easy… That and not having to shovel very much in the winter!”
UBC’s Okanagan campus, like the city, is proximate to nature. But it’s the university’s culture of closeness that Hickey really appreciates.
“The Okanagan campus is unique in that it is small enough to encourage a lot of cross-faculty collaboration but large enough in that it offers a broad range of programs,” he says.
“Students can benefit from the knowledge that faculty members have of the teaching and research that is being done outside of their own disciplines, something that can really help as students seek to select courses.”
THE WORLD THROUGH AN ECONOMIC LENS
Hickey says he’s passionate about teaching students to see the world through an economic lens. “While this lens is not helpful to understand the whole of our world, it helps when considering how people interact with one another. I think economics gives students extremely useful knowledge while encouraging a sense of curiosity about how people live together in the world.”
Learning and creating the tools necessary to answer his own questions, and those that society collectively thinks are important is such a satisfying endeavour that it keeps Hickey up at nights.
“Whether it is trying to gain a better understanding of how the presence of multiple charities interacting affects the levels of services society receives from them; or investigating how lobbying regulations affect the policies established by government, there is nothing like learning something that you were really curious to find out.”
Being the first to know something when working on data you collected yourself is thrilling, he says. “UBC is a great place for research. The pool of exceptional undergraduates available to hire as research assistants allows me to answer research questions while training the next generation of curious scholars.”
CHARITABLE GIVING & LOBBYING
Hickey’s research is improving quality of life because he studies relevant policy areas: charitable giving and lobbying. The interplay between the roles of governments and of charities in the provision of social services is relatively new, he says, and studying this is important as we try to decide how we can improve outcomes for those who require the assistance of others—which is all of us at some times in our lives.
“Also,” he says, “there is much we don’t know about how special interest groups influence policy in different forms of governance. My research on lobbying in parliamentary democracies (such as Canada’s) can help us establish appropriate regulations in Canada, and in other countries with similar forms of governance.”
BEYOND THE CLASSROOM
Hickey was recently involved in a community based field course that brought graduate students from UBC to the Okanagan community of Peachland to help address some water-related issues that were identified in their community.
Some aspects of the problem were physical and required engineering solutions; others were about the human interaction with water and required a social science, economics lens.
“Bringing the students to meet the community partners helped them to see how important research can be to improve the lives of those off-campus. I hope to involve community groups in my future undergraduate-level teaching, particularly in relation to my research on charities.”