In this edition of Teacher talk, we decided to talk to Assistant Professor Ana Figueiredo, who teaches Macroeconomics to first-year Bachelor students.
Where did you grow up and how did you move to the Netherlands?
I grew up in Lisbon, Portugal and then moved to Barcelona at 24 years old where I did my PhD in Economics. After that, I received a job in the Netherlands so I moved here. It is pretty much my first job since I finished my PhD so academically, I am quite young!
Where did you work before and why did you leave?
I worked as an economic analyst in a bank and at the same time, I did my Masters and realized I quite enjoy doing research. Therefore I decided to quit my job. At the time, my mom thought I was a bit crazy! She wondered why I did that.
What is the best part of your job?
So I think there are two very good things about my job. One of them is flexibility - even though we spend a lot of time working, we have a lot of flexibility to decide the topics we do research on. This means we end up doing work on things we care about. We also have the freedom to organize our work the way we want. The other thing that I like is the gratification I feel in teaching students and helping them to learn.
If you didn't do Economics, what would you be working as?
This is a very hard question to answer. When I was young, I wanted to be a Historian or an Archaeologist. Nowadays I don't think I would do that. When I was preparing for job interviews, I realized how important communication is and the impact of telling your stories in a clear way, so I think I would do something related to communications.
What do you enjoy most outside of your job?
Living abroad, you are far away from your friends and family and learn how to make the most of your time spent with them so I travel a lot to visit them. I really enjoy the time spent with them. Apart from that, I really like going to concerts so I spend way too much money on that! I listen to a lot of indie pop, indie rock and (Brit) pop.
I also volunteer with a Portuguese NGO dedicated to animal welfare. Even if at a distance, I take care of their communications, marketing and social media. I really enjoy it because even though I am not hands-on there helping animals at the shelter, I see how communications is so important for raising awareness and donations for various issues. This NGO has a shelter and contributes to animal welfare by neutering animals. By neutering them, you contain the growing problem of street animals and you also improve their quality of life by lowering their likelihood to get diseases. This also improves how humans see animals in the street and how they interact.
Do you only travel to meet friends and family or do you travel elsewhere too?
During my PhD, I had a group that was from all over the world and nowadays we are spread out so I travel frequently to meet them. I travel a lot for conferences too, that is a big part of our job - to network, and that is what you do at conferences. I travel for tourism too, and I try to do a big trip every year although I haven’t gone on a big vacation since I moved to the Netherlands a year and half ago. The best trip I did was a safari in Tanzania. I felt like a five year old kid in Disneyland who had found her favourite characters. It was amazing.
In the future, I really want to go to Chile, Argentina and Colombia. Both to visit friends and also to visit Patagonia. You should go there in December and it is difficult because I start teaching Macroeconomics in January and there is Christmas before that which I always spend in Portugal.
What are your future plans?
Right now I’m focused on getting tenure at the Erasmus School of Economics so I don’t think much beyond that. Currently, I’m on a tenure track where I start as an Assistant Professor and if after six years I fulfill certain requirements related to teaching and publishing, I get promoted to Associate Professor. After that, there is Full Professorship but I haven’t even looked at the requirements of that yet. I’m very grateful to be an Assistant Professor but it is also very hard to become an Associate Professor.
What is the strangest thing that has happened to you while teaching?
I haven’t taught for that long - this is only my second year teaching, so there hasn’t been room for many strange things. However, last year there was a student who came into my Macro class twenty minutes before it was about to end and I thought he was there for the next class so I told him to wait for it. Turns out he was there for Macroeconomics. I told him he wouldn’t understand what I was saying in the last few minutes but he really wanted to listen anyway so I let him stay. I should have told him no then.
Sometimes, I’ve been asked by people if I’m actually the Macro professor. There isn’t a time when I went into the examination room and they didn’t tell me to step on the side and sit. Last time they told me, “You can only get in at 1 PM”. I know I look young and I often tell my friends, “Teaching is the only time I wished I looked older”.
What is the most difficult part about teaching?
Teaching comes with a lot of challenges. You need to have knowledge, and all of us here in the department have knowledge on the topics we are teaching but at the same time, you need to know how to communicate that knowledge to students. It requires translating very complex things into a language students can understand, which is difficult to do. Another thing that is difficult is to engage and motivate students. These two things are especially challenging in the first few years of teaching, but things we can learn with time and by doing them.
What I think is really difficult is to make everyone happy. Students have a lot of requests and sometimes these requests are actually contradictory. Thus, it’s hard to find a middle ground. It is a problem we have when we are young, but it is also a problem you will have later in your career. We all struggle with that here, assistant and associate professors alike.
Do you have a favorite Economist?
I don't think I have a favorite economist but I have a lot of economists that inspire me, both in the work I do and also in inspiring me to continue my job. Since we are approaching Women's International Day, I would like to mention Esther Duflo. She was awarded the Nobel Prize last year and is a great role model in Economics and for students who want to pursue Economics. I hope she inspires more students to study Economics. She makes it look so easy and I admire how she communicates to other people. She has two books, both of which are very good and if I give them to my mom to read, she would also understand. That really inspires me about her work. I'm trying to be like that.
Thank you for the lovely interview Professor! We wish you good luck in all your future endeavors!