Professor Gavin Reid reflects on balancing teaching, family life and research as an economics PhD student in the 1970s, playing flute in a blues band and approaching 30 years' service at St Andrews.
Gavin C Reid
PhD in Economics
|Year of Graduation||
Your time at the University
As a research student, I was also a member of staff studying (1972-75) for a PhD in the economic theory (oligopoly) group under Professor Nat Wolfe. I was married, with two children, and living in a lovely terraced house in Corstorphine. This meant I had to balance teaching (1st and 2nd year microeconomics, honours economic thought, and honours econometrics), family life, and research. Theoretically not easy, but in practice it worked well for me, the Department, and my family. My sister had lived in Edinburgh a few years before that, and I’d visited just once, driving a Lambretta scooter (I was a ‘mod’), and was hooked instantly. The view from the top of The Mound, near the Bank of Scotland clinched this.
I had graduated from Aberdeen in 1969 with First Class Honours and was advised to consider an academic career. This was great advice, so I followed up with an MSc in Economic Theory and Econometrics in Southampton University, which was then the ‘hot’ place to do highly technical economics research. By a miracle, I managed to get two papers out in leading research journals while there, and this made some impact, and several universities were keen to hire me: Aberdeen, Stirling, Edinburgh, Southampton and Reading. Edinburgh won the day in 1971 and was indeed my heart’s delight. I ended up staying there for 20 years!
I particularly remember the vitality of the Students’ Union: good facilities and good company. I had played the flute in a jazz quintet previously and performed once in the Students’ Union. The Postgraduate Union, Buccleuch Place, was also a great watering hole, and I remember affectionately a boozy encounter at the bar with a young Brian Lang, reading for a PhD in social anthropology - later my boss, as Principal of St Andrews University!
Your experiences since leaving the University
Unusually, ‘leaving Edinburgh University’, as a student, was no leap, as I remained in the Economics Department for twenty years (1971-1991), rising to Reader and Acting Head of Department, before becoming Professor of Economics at St Andrews University in 1991. It was very hard to leave Edinburgh, as I had become so embedded, having hundreds of friends, and many associations, especially in sport (tennis, badminton, running), and music (including playing flute in a blues band called P’fessuh Rhythm, with members from Economics, and Statistics). I also had transformational experiences while in Edinburgh, including holding visiting professorships in Denver University (Colorado), Queens University (Ontario), and a visiting scholarship in Darwin College, Cambridge, which broadened my outlook hugely. As a distinctly Scottish academic I came to see the world in more global terms and became a confirmed internationalist.
Even recently, if I’m visiting Edinburgh, and walking across George Square, I’ll be hailed by a former colleague saying ‘Hello, I’ve not seen you in a while – have you been on sabbatical’! I am now very embedded in St Andrews University, and next year will mark 30 years in St Andrews, and 50 years in academia. In that time, St Andrews has been virtually re-invented. It was a good, but small, mid-ranked, somewhat parochial place until Principal Struther Arnott (1986-1999) and several gifted Vice-Principals took it into a new orbit. That has made my time in St Andrews the most exciting and exhilarating of my life. It is now ranked in the top 100 in the world, is up with Cambridge and Oxford in the top three in national rankings, and its Economics & Finance School is currently ranked first in the UK. It has been a privilege to witness, and to be a part of, that process of transformation.
Even recently, if I’m visiting Edinburgh, and walking across George Square, I’ll be hailed by a former colleague saying ‘Hello, I’ve not seen you in a while – have you been on sabbatical’!
I now realise how much my success has depended on my environment. Hard work, ability, flexibility, imagination are important, but they don’t necessarily lead to success or happiness. I had a wonderful grammar school education, in the round, making me fit for life. Aberdeen University pointed me to academia. Southampton University gave me a tool kit. Edinburgh University did so much: launched and developed my career, and made me a professional, through thorough training in processes. So, my advice is: choose carefully the team to which you affiliate. There is no I in TEAM! You can’t achieve alone.
Professor Reid's St Andrews staff profile (external link)