Inside the classroom

We sat down with EMERITUS PROFESSOR PETER DRYSDALE AO, PhD ’68 to talk about his four decades as a lecturer.

If you had to sum up your role in 30 words, what would they be?

To bring commitment to rigorous thinking and an appreciation of the part that it should play in shaping economic and social affairs.

What do you like most about your job?

I particularly like the fun of learning with students how to think about the application of social scientific theory to the questions we face in international economic affairs and diplomacy.

How has your job changed over the years?

On technique: it’s been revolutionalised by PowerPoint and IT. This has improved teaching performance, productivity, reach and accessibility to the teacher for students, and vice versa.

On substance: I taught a course in the Japanese Economy and Economic Policy for almost 40 years, during which Japan went from being a middling income, stellar growth economy to a rich country struggling with stagnation.

Many of the country’s top analysts and commentators did that little course. A lot of the questions remained the same but I must say the answers changed over the years.

How do you balance your teaching and research commitments?

My research required a huge amount of interaction with researchers and policymakers around Asia and in North America, as well as in Australia, and that came on top of everything else.

I used to squeeze travel in over summer and around breaks. That pushed the envelope, rather than achieved balance especially for my family, I fear.

What is the weirdest encounter you have had as a teacher? 

I was cajoled into a weekend skiing trip by a bunch of public servants when I was a consultant to the Australian Government on a major policy change. I cannot ski.

They kitted me out, took me to the top of Thredbo and said: ‘There you are: you’re so smart, you bastard. Ski.’

Half way down the mountain, while I’m hanging on to a twig in the snow, someone swished gently up to me and asked whether I needed any help. It was one of my Economics III honours students! I shouldn’t have been embarrassed but was I ever.

What is your top tip for other lecturers?

Enjoy the learning. If you’re not learning, you’re not teaching.

How do you relax when you’re out of the classroom?

It used to be swimming but now it’s the gym, without which I wouldn’t survive. I enjoy going to a concert or a play, cooking dinner to enjoy with family and students and a scotch.

About Peter

Peter Drysdale AO is Emeritus Professor of Economics and the Head of the East Asian Bureau of Economic Research and East Asia Forum at the Crawford School of Public Policy.

He is widely recognised as the leading intellectual architect of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, commonly known as APEC.

He is the author of a number of books and papers on international trade and economic policy in East Asia and the Pacific, including his prize-winning book, International Economic Pluralism: Economic Policy in East Asia and the Pacific.

He is recipient of the Asia Pacific Prize, the Weary Dunlop Award, the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun with Gold Rays and Neck Ribbon, the Australian Centenary Medal and he is a member of the Order of Australia.