When I arrived in the cafeteria this morning Gus Johns and Bob Bunn were engaged in animated conversation. It seems that one of our ex-students, Simon Smart, had contacted Gus asking if he could recommend any final year students, soon to graduate, who would be able to explain economics and business ideas clearly and simply as he is looking to recruit a few people for a new online business venture. Simon is one of our graduates from a few years back and he is now a really successful businessman, worth millions. He first set up an online company called Smart4phones selling recycled smart phones, later adding to his Smart Systems range, amongst others, Smart4Dates, Smart4Loans and Smart4Travel. Now he is planning Smart4Business. Gus recalled how Simon had shown entrepreneurial flair even as an undergraduate at USE, earning money as a web page designer after taking Gus’s option “The Economics of the Internet and the Digital Economy”.
Bob said that the VC, the Dean, Mike Rowe (our Head of Department) and the USE Alumni Office will all be delighted about this when they hear the news. We could also ask Simon to come and talk to our students as part of the Careers Module that we now run. Perhaps he could also contribute to our Public Lecture programme. Bob said Mike would probably see if Simon could endow a new Chair in the department – “The Smart Professor of Economics” had a nice ring about it! Gus said that reminded him of the time when the Computing Department were try to get DEC to sponsor the “Dec Chair in Computing!
They both agreed that one of the joys of the job was seeing how students were getting on after graduation, not just in their careers but also in their family lives. Gus said that he was in touch with quite a few alumni via Facebook. Some had stayed in academic life or were working as business economists or forecasters; some were working in the public sector as teachers or in the government economic service. There was a policeman and a fireman too! Several put up pictures of their wedding day and later their young children. Bob said that he had been invited to a wedding later in the summer by two ex-students who had met each other when they sat next to each other in his microeconomics seminar class. They didn’t need to use Simon’s Smart4Dates system!
Gus said that he had recently tried to calculate how many students he had taught over the years at USE and it must be well over 4000. Bob asked if he could remember them all. Gus said, unfortunately not, although he had quite a good memory of the very first cohort back in the early seventies. He could also look at his index card system if he got a request for a reference from a student who graduated more than three years ago as the university now archived student files after three years and it took quite a while to get hold of them. I asked Gus what his index card system was. He said that whenever he had a new group of students he gave them all a small index card and asked them to write, in very large letters on one side of the card, their first name or nickname (or how the wanted to be addressed). On the other side off the card they should write their full names, the name of their Personal Tutor, and three interesting things about themselves – where they came from (country/town/city), which football team they supported if that mattered to them and any hobby or keen interest that they had. Gus said that for the next few classes, until he got to know the students’ names, he would place the cards on his desk at the front in positions corresponding to where the students were sitting. He would also add additional comments as the term went on to help him remember who was who. Although the university did provide a sheet of photographs of students to help with this they usually didn’t arrive for a few weeks and in any case, some of the student photos seemed to bear little resemblance to the actual faces!
Gus said that some students seemed to find it quite difficult to work out what to write so he usually started by saying what he would put if he was filling in the card. 1 I’m from Watford and I support Watford FC 2 I like travelling, especially to Greece. 3 I play the guitar. This sometimes led to a discussion if someone in the group said they supported Manchester United but they came from Guildford, or worse still if they said they supported Luton Town! There would also often be further discussion about who played musical instruments, during which Gus would reveal that he had briefly been in a band called the Unobservables during his second year at Warwick. As you might guess the band was made up of four people from the econometrics group he was in. He had written a song called “The Unobservables” for the group which had the chorus “We are the unobservables, you can’t see us but you know we are here”. The group was short-lived just doing a couple of support act gigs at the university before it had split up and Gus had concentrated on his solo act at the Folk Club.
Gus recalled that in the early years before the Internet he had asked students to keep in touch by sending a postcard if they were travelling round the world and that he still had some of those. One person had regularly sent cards with just a short message to show that their time learning economics had not been forgotten. He remembered particularly Profit max if MC=MR, alpha + beta = 1 <=> CRS, and a statement of the Heckscher-Ohlin theorem sent from Sweden.
Going back to a discussion of former students he said that he reckoned that if, instead of his salary, he was paid just one per cent of the salary of every student he had taught he would be a lot better off. Bob said one per cent of Simon Smarts’s income would make a very good start! Gus said he thought that there were quite a few highly paid bankers out there too, although he said he half feared turning the radio on one morning and hearing that one of our ex-students was implicated in a banking scandal!
When I left them still talking they had returned to a musical theme. Bob said why didn’t they try to set up a band in the department. He though that Tony Steel also played the guitar, Chaz played base, Sian was a very good singer and surely they could find someone to play the drums? What could they call themselves. The Users? No, that sounded too much like a bunch of drug takers which wouldn’t go down very well. The Usefuls? The Economusicians? No. They were still trying out names when I left. If this band does ever get off the ground you can be sure that you will hear about it in a later blog post!