Data, People, and Policy are the Heart of Assistant Professor James Sears’ Work

Dr. James Sears is a new assistant professor in AFRE researching consumer and producer responses to unexpected shocks.

Uncertainty surrounding how consumers and producers respond to economic shocks is not an easy circumstance for many people to process. However, Dr. James Sears values the data and trends in these situations dealing with food and agricultural economics as he works to advise policymakers. 

Sears, one of three assistant professors starting their careers in AFRE this Fall, studies how producers and consumers respond to unexpected shocks. The data collected, Sears indicates, can inform the design of actionable results for Michigan agriculture.  

“I want to be able to do research that helps inform policy or helps inform decisions that individual producers or individual stakeholders are making,” said Sears. “I think one of the strengths of a program like AFRE, where they're very much focused on not just producing research that's beneficial to the economics discipline, but also producing research that is actionable for our stakeholders, for those in the community, and for those in Michigan more broadly.” 

No matter the area or commodity focus, Sears’ goal is to inform policy. He wants to engage with stakeholders of both AFRE and Michigan State University to familiarize himself with their issues and concerns to drive his research priorities. 

Dr. James Sears teaching data analysis in AFRE 203.

For Sears, digging deeper into the data starts in the classroom, where he is teaching Data Analysis in the Agri-Food System (AFRE 203) and designing another data analytics course. 

“I see collaboration in the future to be able to design these courses,” said Sears. “These courses are not just to fulfill a set of skills that I see as beneficial for these students but also driven by folks from the industry and our stakeholders who help guide what we should be teaching.” 

As he begins his first few months here at Michigan State University, Sears is hitting the ground running.  

“There's a lot of learning to do, which is really exciting to me,” said Sears. “Starting off as a faculty member here, I'm in a new state with a fascinating industry. And so many areas where my research can hopefully contribute to like protecting and allocating resources better, improving efficiency for producers, or understanding some of the externalities at play. Managing the various constraints that they face is exciting.” 

Whether it is teaching or research, Sears has a consistent focus on growth and improvement for stakeholders.  

“From the teaching side, I would like to be able to look back and say I helped further the Department’s instruction in data analytics and be able to build out a set of classes that further the development and mastery of students coming out of our department,” said Sears. “Being able to make them not just more employable for their own sake, but for the sake of our stakeholders. I would feel really rewarded in the future if I knew that my instruction, research, and any role that I played in this development process helps draw in voices that maybe hadn't initially been folks who saw themselves represented.” 

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