St Andrews Economists: Dr Erven Lauw

Dr Erven Lauw is a lecturer at the School of Economics and Finance. She is originally from Indonesia, and spent seven years in Singapore before joining St Andrews to pursue an MSc and a PhD, both in the School of Economics and Finance. Dr Lauw started teaching in St Andrews in the second year of her PhD programme (2011) as a postgraduate tutor. In 2012, she also started teaching economics for the foundation programme at the English Language Teaching Centre (now known as the International Education Institute). In 2016, having earned her PhD from St Andrews, she took on a job as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Abertay University in Dundee. After her fellowship contract ended, she went back to teaching in St Andrews. The Saint sat down with Dr. Lauw for an interview.

TS: What do you enjoy most about teaching corporate finance? 

EL: I do enjoy teaching Corporate Finance because I can relate the theories in corporate finance to what is happening around us rather easily. Corporate Finance is a module where the theories and practices can be easily connected. For example, when I taught about agency problems, I used McDonald’s ex-CEO (Steve Easterbrook)’s relationship scandal with an employee, which was against the company’s policy, as an example. From my students’ feedback, they seem to enjoy the module for the same reason. Some students had told me how they used what they learned in the module to answer interview questions (and they got the job!).  

TS: Tell us about Liquid Book Club. 

EL: Liquid Book Club is a resurrection of a book club initiated by Dr Ian Smith (also my PhD supervisor) a few years ago. After he was appointed as an Associate Dean (Education), the book club remained dormant until this year. The book club is a crossover between my love of books and interacting with our students. Given the pandemic situation, I also think it is important to have a space where we can interact with each other, discussing our common interests in Economics in a relaxed atmosphere. I discussed it with Sanjana (the current School President) via Teams the idea of having a book club where we also drink (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) together (hence, the name: Liquid Book Club). I think the idea also appeals to me because I do enjoy drinking wine while socialising with people. Sanjana really likes the idea and puts a lot of effort in making it realised. In my view, this book club is student centred; I only act as a facilitator. The book club has a good attendance so far. The regular attendees also include staff members from School of Economics: Dr Ian Smith and Professor Gavin Reid. We even have student guests from US universities attending the book club meetings. Every week, we meet on Teams to discuss one chapter from a book (currently: Good Economics for Hard Times). After every meeting, I am always left feeling very proud of our students. They really show deep and critical perception and understanding not only on Economics subjects but also on wider socio economic issues. Everyone is also very respectful of everyone else’s opinions. It has been fun and rewarding for me!  

TS: Do you ever incorporate information from your research into your lectures? 

EL: Yes, in every opportunity I could! It may be directly or indirectly relevant depending on the modules or topics. When you do research, you are engaged in the most recent discourse. I think it is important to show to our students that university is a dynamic place where knowledge is continuously being produced. In my experience, students really like it when the lecturers connect their own research to their lectures.  

TS: Did you conduct research when you were a student in university? 

EL: Not as an undergraduate student. I conducted small-scale research for my MSc dissertation and of course, a bigger scale one for my PhD programme. 

TS: What research are you currently working on/what would you like to research in the future? 

EL: I am currently working on the impact of women in politics on governance; it is a collaboration with Dr Ian Smith. It is more or less done but the pandemic has made it more challenging for me to finish up the writing. I am also working on a survey paper on gender and corruption. I am quite passionate about the issue of gender equality in relation to governance and economic development. In the future, I would like to continue working in this area. When you start working on a research project, you continuously generate more research ideas based on your current project. You never stop learning, never stop investigating. I think that is why I like doing research, it makes me feel young because I always learn something new! 

TS: What has been your favorite moment in a lecture? 

EL: My favourite moment in a lecture is when I could make my students laugh and understand the concepts at the same time. When I taught foundation students many years ago about applying the cost and benefit principle, I used dating as an example. For instance, I was explaining the concept of opportunity cost and how it was often ignored but should have been considered in the cost of benefit analysis. In the dating context, the opportunity cost of dating someone is the foregone opportunity of dating someone else (so we must make sure we are very certain before investing in a person!). There was a lot of laughter in the room but I also knew that my students really understood the concept because they can relate it to their life. They even discussed it happily with me outside the lecture. That kind of moment is very memorable! 

TS: What do you like to do outside of teaching? 

EL: I do like socialising with my friends over the weekend. Before the pandemic, we used to meet over the weekend, eating and/or drinking together. I really miss that a lot! These days, they have been replaced with online meetings, but they are not the same. I also enjoy cooking, reading and watching TV series. Strangely, I like to alternate between comedy series and crime series. 

TS: What advice do you have for students who are passionate about economics and are interested in research?  

EL: Find a research topic you really like. Then, find a supervisor who not only is an expert in your research topic but also with whom you could have a good relationship. The relationship between research supervisor and supervisee really makes a difference in terms of the success of the project, the enjoyment you get from doing research and your wellbeing. If you’re thinking about doing a PhD, personally, I think it may be better for you to spend a bit of time working outside academia first. PhD is a long and hard journey; if you already experience what are your options out there, it may help you stay on the course when the going gets tough. Moreover, the maturity and the skills you get from your work experience could help you navigate your PhD journey more successfully.