Faculty Spotlight

Ted Groves
Teacher and Advisor

By Ben Gilbert, Ph.D. ’11

Few people leave as illustrious a legacy to their field and their department when they retire as Ted Groves. It is as difficult to summarize his many contributions as it is easy to celebrate them. As a grateful beneficiary of Ted’s outstanding scholarship and warm friendship, I am honored to highlight the important impact he has had on the field of economics, on the UC San Diego community, and on me as an economist. I hope you will join me in wishing him a happy and adventurous retirement, and in thanking him for all he has done for the profession, the university, the department and all the students and young faculty he has helped to develop over the years.

[Photo: Ted Groves]

An All-Around Good Guy

No description of Ted’s accomplishments would be complete if not seen through the context of his personality. Ted is the nicest, most caring person you could ever hope to meet. He is frequently seen in a Hawaiian shirt and fedora, shouting hello from the third floor of the economics building to a student 150 feet away. He is enthusiastic about life, family, travel, scuba diving, wildlife conservation and the happiness and success of his students. He’s an all-around good guy, which makes his accomplishments that much more enjoyable to celebrate.

Contributions to the Field of Economics

Ted has truly been a powerhouse in our profession. His contributions are profound. As a pioneer in mechanism design theory, he helped develop entirely new ways of thinking about resource allocation, public goods and private information. An elected Fellow of both the Econometric Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, his work has given rise to an entire class of allocation mechanisms that bear his name and that help solve the problems of hidden information, free-ridership and inefficiency. Ted has applied these discoveries to a broad set of important problems ranging from survey methods for valuing environmental goods in the absence of markets to bandwidth allocation in video multiplexing. Even in retirement, Ted demonstrates his passion for solving real problems and improving institutions as he continues to take on projects designing fishing rights allocation schemes and to serve as director of UC San Diego’s Center for Environmental Economics (CEE), which he created.

Contributions to the Department of Economics

Ted has had an enduring influence on the composition and culture of the UC San Diego Department of Economics. As department chair, Ted helped build UC San Diego’s strength in applied microeconomics. More recently he has been a major force in developing the campus’ reputation as a place for strong environmental economics research and graduate training and has co-authored the most cited paper in the environmental economics field. Ted’s friendliness and enthusiasm for teaching and advising help set the tone in a department that prides itself on both academic rigor and collegiality.

A Tough, Insightful and Kind Critic of Students

As a teacher and as an advisor, Ted is known for pushing his students. He has a talent for provoking fruitful class discussions even in classes of more than 100 students. Many undergraduates see Ted as a hard professor, but the other professors in the department almost immediately know when students have taken classes with Ted: They are better prepared and work harder.

As a Ph.D. advisor, Ted is like a blacksmith: He hammers away on your blunt edges until you get sharper. He doesn’t accept slack effort, simple extensions of the literature, reusing fashionable but flawed models, or reduced-form empirics without clear hypotheses motivated by good theory. He doesn’t care if a particular research strand is in vogue and likely to land a publication but does not have impact over time; he cares about meaningful results.

Graduate students know that Ted can be the toughest, most insightful critic of their papers. He has pushed students to ask deeper questions that solve relevant problems and to reason from first principles, then challenged their answers with hard questions about the assumptions, methods, conclusions and interpretations. He has been known to argue vehemently from one point of view one week, and then argue the opposite point of view of the same research question with equal vehemence the following week. This approach has not only prepared students for the harshest criticism they will face in seminars, but helped them develop stronger ideas from the start. At the end you feel that you’re a better, more developed version of yourself rather than a clone of your advisor.

Although he’s rigorous with research, Ted is kind and supportive. Perhaps the most striking aspect of his advising style has been his generosity of time and intellectual resources. Virtually all of the environmental economics graduate students in recent years have spent considerable time with Ted, either their advisor or committee member, and found that his Socratic questioning style made them stronger in both development and presentation of research. Ted’s impact on graduate students will continue through his ongoing presence on campus and leadership in the Center for Environmental Economics.