An Interview with MFRE Professor Sumeet Gulati

 

Sumeet completed his Ph.D. in agricultural and resource economics at the University of Maryland in College Park, USA, in 2003, and has since been at Food and Resource Economics at UBC. In his research, Sumeet focuses on questions related to the formation and effectiveness of environmental policies, for example, should our government subsidize hybrid electric vehicles, what are the benefits of paying people to scrap their old cars? Sumeet teaches Environmental Economics and Policy in the MFRE program.

Can you tell us about your background in natural resources economics?
I did my PhD in a program of agriculture and natural resource economics at the University of Maryland with several courses on natural resource economics. For the last 16 years, I’ve been teaching an upper-level undergrad course in natural resource economics. I’m currently studying issues surrounding biodiversity, wildlife and conservation, which is again, in the realm of natural resource economics.

Can you tell us about your work for the UBC Master in Food and Resource Economics (MFRE)?
I’ve been teaching at MFRE for quite a long time now, since the program first started actually. As one of the founding faculty members, I’ve been teaching a course on environmental economics and policy which has now been split into two separate modules – one which consists of a theoretical section of environmental economics, while the other focuses on the empirical section of environmental economics.

How can you compare the MFRE to a natural resources economics masters?
I’m not aware of any pure natural resource economics degrees in Canada; in the US for example, the kind of programs I experienced were of agriculture and resource economics. Those have a strong agricultural economics section, and a significant natural resource and environmental economics. This is similar is spirit to what we do at the MFRE program. At MFRE, our agricultural and resource economics happens to be more geared towards the business side of economics, in addition to covering some agricultural economics concepts. I don’t think there’s a big difference other than the fact that that the programs are in different parts of the world and at different universities.

What are some key similarities between the MFRE and a natural resources economics masters?
One of the similarities you will find between MFRE and an agriculture and natural resource economics degree would be that you get an exposure to agricultural economics, natural resource economics courses and also an exposure to environmental economics and development concepts. The kind of courses that are offered by the MFRE program would be quite similar to the programs in natural resource economics, and the kind of expertise we have in our strong faculty, is similar to that found in some of the best resource economics programs.

What are some differences between the MFRE and a natural resources economics masters?
A big difference would be that a lot of other programs here in Canada and the US are mostly thesis-based programs. Professional programs are relatively new and I’m not aware if a lot of the agriculture and resource economics programs have professional programs. Another difference would be that in a thesis-based program, you would invest two years to write a thesis and your focus would be a little less on the business aspects but more on the economics and natural resource theories.

Would you recommend the MFRE to people interested in a natural resources economics masters?
It depends on what the person would like to do pursue ultimately. If they are looking to do a PhD, then the MFRE program would probably be less valuable than a traditional masters in natural resource economics. If they want to work in the industry, the government, the non-governmental sector, or just want to explore the field, then the MFRE program would be appropriate.

Can students reach a level of specialization similar to a natural resources economics masters through the MFRE modules?
If a person is interested in being exposed to the field of natural resource economics, MFRE would allow that in a year, as opposed to a two-year program. We have so many different modules on a variety of topics such as fisheries, agricultural economics, environmental economics—all areas of traditional natural resource economics programs. One may not have the same depth as you would get in a two-year program, but it is certainly sufficient for someone aiming to work in these fields.

What sort of research topics are you currently working on at the moment?
My current research is all about natural resource economics. I am studying farmers in India that are proximate to wildlife reserves and experiencing conflict with wildlife. Through a newly established Wildlife and Conservation Economics Laboratory (http://wildconsecon.landfood.ubc.ca/) I am also evaluating the political economy of the Species at Risk Act in Canada.