When faced with the dilemma of choosing their career paths, a number of school or college going students are doubtful about what their fields of choice entail. Specifically exploring the field of economics, here are some professional insights of Dr Poonam Kalra, Asst Professor at St Stephen’s College, Delhi. Dr Poonam Kalra has been teaching subjects like Statistical Methods, Econometrics, and Indian Economy for the past 25 years. She has also mentored numerous research projects under the aegis of the Centre for Economic Research at St. Stephen’s College and is currently the head of the Economics Department.
As an economics professor, what are your expectations for students at the beginning of the semester? What gaps are there in their knowledge of the subject as they transition from high school to college?
We expect the students to be sure that they enjoy math (and not necessarily economics) enough to speak its language for three years. While mostly calculus is used, it’s relation with graphs is most relevant. And it is here we find a gap in their knowledge to truly apply mathematical skills to practical situations. They are usually well versed with the theories taught to them in school.
What about economics fascinates you the most?
Being a social science, I feel economics blends art and science very well. The theories can be empirically tested with real data. Policies can be formulated based on these empirically sound models. Economics holds the capacity to make a huge difference to the lives of people.
What is your view of the Indian economy in the present day? What changes do you envision in the coming decade?
The Indian Economy is going through a cyclical downturn though structural problems plague it too. Some of the markets which need to see reforms are labour and credit. On the other hand efforts to improve the social infrastructure like health and education have slowed down. I fear as a country we may miss the opportunity to reap demographic dividend and in fact suffer demographic disaster. On the political economy front the divisive environment is not helping.
What is it that you dislike about your profession? If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be and why?
I am extremely happy that I chose this profession. I like to study on a daily basis and love to interact with students. However, I feel bad for people who have recently entered this profession as their tenure is not secure and they have to face a lot of hardships. It is for this reason I would like greater and not lesser role of the government in the area of education as without skilled, educated and employable youth we will end up wasting the most precious resource our nation is endowed with.
How would you describe your teaching style in one word/sentence?
What is the best book you would recommend?
It can never be one but “Poor Economics” by Duflo and Banerjee
If you had to choose an alternate career, what would it be?
Engineering because I like to see machines work
What do you like to do for fun?
Go out for a walk.