Q&A with Frank Witte

Headshot of Frank Witte

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am doing a bit of everything in many ways. As Departmental Tutor I am responsible for the pastoral care and personal tutoring system. One aspect of that is to figure out how with limited resources we can provide a personal tutoring system that encourages students to adopt a productive learning attitude and to develop a deep interest in their subject area of economics while also catering for the needs of those who do need pastoral care. It is something that touches on many aspects of the student-experience and it makes you very aware of how intertwined all these things are … which is a challenge in an institution like a university that tends to be rather fractured organisationally.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role(s)?

I started at UCL in 2010 as a Departmental Tutor and the role has evolved significantly over the past few years. It was originally thought to evolve from an academic pastoral role into a more managerial and professional organisational role. But views change over time and I would say currently the pastoral care aspects and the teaching and teaching-development are really at the heart of what I do on a day-to-day basis. To add a little more expertise to the pastoral side I have recently started a CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) diploma course as many students face waiting times before they can get a place in NHS or private therapy and support services. So being a bit more trained to help students bridge such periods is a useful thing.

Tell us about a project you’re working on that you find particularly interesting.

Well a long-term project that is now nearing completing is my Economics of Science book. It has grown out of my Economics of Science module here at UCL but covers more ground than I could do in a 10-week course. I tried to put something onto paper that is different from the available texts and hopefully complimentary in some ways. I have always had a strong interest in the philosophy of science, issues of ‘theory-choice’ and other collective choice processes at the heart of research-based disciplines in addition to the more standard economic aspects of the topic such as reward structures, etcetera. I am now due to finish that before I go off into mountains this summer … but I have said that too many times before! Fortunately I can nowadays point at a recent book on Blockchain economics of which I was an editor, so at least I finished something.

If you could teach any economics course, what would it be?

I must say I am really happy about what I view as my three main modules: Economics of Science, Environmental Economics and the new Computational Methods for Economists. All three have a strong computational component and I believe this is essential in the modern day world. I sometimes find that the whole discussion about the amount of mathematics in undergraduate economics degrees is a little “stuck in the 80’s”. The discipline that shaped and formed me, theoretical physics, has undergone a rapid change in terms of its curriculum in the past 30 years. A topic like nuclear physics has almost entirely vanished and left to engineering curricula (and somewhat to Astrophysics) whereas many fundamental new insights from the 20th century have slowly but surely trickled down to first-year undergraduate courses. The response “oh that is too difficult/abstract/complex for our students” was always in the air during those years … but it usually turned out that the students were not the problem. In a module like my computational methods I delve with students into network theory and its applications and that can be daunting. But it is also awesome to be there with students when they digest and ‘get’ developments in that area that are just a decade old. That is super rewarding as a teacher … to translate something new and difficult into something manageable and digestable and to be part the student’s journey. It doesn’t always work the first time around but with modules like this you can make them better every year … like I said: it is a journey.

What is your favourite economic joke?

I am afraid I have to pass on this one. But I can give you a physicists joke? A neutron and an electron sit in a restaurant staring at the menu. The electron says: “I can never find anything I like in this place” to which the neutron replies “ah, you’re always so negative”.

Please take a look at Frank’s complete bio!

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