Insights at UBC Sauder

Meet UBC Sauder’s New Faculty - Scott Orr

Posted 2018-10-16

At UBC Sauder, faculty members are more than just ‘professors.’ They conduct impactful research that is changing how society views the world while also inspiring students to pursue their academic passions and become the thoughtful, values-driven leaders the business world needs.

This year, UBC Sauder welcomed six new full-time lecturers, tenured and tenure-track faculty to the school. In the third of this series, we introduce you to Scott Orr, Assistant Professor, Strategy & Business Economics Division, UBC Sauder School of Business.

What brought you to UBC Sauder?

The faculty at UBC Sauder is filled with fantastic researchers, and I was thrilled to be given the chance to work with them!

What are your areas of research and how did you get into this field?

I research issues related to international trade and industrial organization - more narrowly, the intersection between trade, competition and productivity. I became interested in international trade as a research field while taking courses during my master’s degree at Queen’s University. I ended up writing my summer research paper on the topic, and eventually chose that as my field of specialization during my PhD.

I became interested in industrial organization (IO) through my advisors and colleagues during my PhD at the University of Toronto. One of my advisors recommended I take a course in empirical IO to brush up on my empirical skills. I took his advice and ended up really enjoying it, although I had no plans to pursue research in the field at the time. After that, I did some RA work for one of my advisors on productivity analysis, and in the process became really interested in some of the recent work in this area. My research then started moving more towards empirical IO through a number of discussions with one of my colleagues, Daniel Ershov, who I shared an office with for most of my PhD. He specializes in empirical IO, and through our conversations I found that the way people approach problems in this area really clicked with me. As a result, my own research began to incorporate more and more empirical IO tools, eventually becoming one of my core research areas.

What fuels your research – what prompted you to research this area?

A drive to solve problems, mostly. For example, my most recent productivity paper came out of a puzzle I was playing around with for another project based on trade and competition. The project required productivity estimates by firm. While there’s been a lot of work done on this problem, one wrinkle I had in my project was that I observed a ton of firms producing many different product lines within the same plant. It turns out that many of the popular approaches to estimating productivity are not entirely valid in this setting, so on the side I was trying to figure out a way to deal with the different production lines within a plant in an internally coherent way. I eventually figured out a nice solution to this problem, and decided to write a paper around this solution, rather than the trade and competition paper I initially set out to write. Although I am hoping to return to that project sometime soon!

What inspires you to teach?

I really enjoy teaching - it’s a great chance to review some of the basics principles in your area that you have not thought about in a while. I am also pretty passionate about what I do for a living, so getting a chance to talk about the things I find interesting for a couple of hours a week is a lot of fun!

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve discovered through your research?

One interesting lesson I learned somewhat early on in my career is that more complicated models, which by construction can more closely approximate reality than a simple model, can actually do a worse job at predicting when compared to a simple model! As a result, I’ve developed a fairly strong taste for simple models.

What do you believe is the future of your industry?

It looks like the international trade field is starting to take market power a lot more seriously than it used to 10 – 15 years ago. Note that this is more a “resurgence,” rather than a completely new development, since there was a vibrant literature on trade and competition in the 1980s. Going forward, I think there’s going to be a lot of new interesting work that combines the vast amount of theoretical work that has been done in this area with all of the new and exciting data that we now have to measure competition and market power.

What are you most looking forward to in Vancouver?

Having the chance to ski more often - I grew up in the Prairies, so in the past I have not had easy access to mountains during the winter!