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客員ファカルティーにインタビュー! 第7回

An Interview with Professor Anders Frederiksen, Visiting Researcher

This summer of 2015, a very successful researcher from Aarhus University joined our institute from May to July.  Young at age, Professor Anders Frederiksen is well known for his strong commitment to his researche in the labor economics field, while at the same time being responsible for talent development for the younger generations. His contact with Hitotsubashi University started 10 years ago, when a researcher rooted from here visited his university.     
We hope you will enjoy the interview, and learn how he ended up at Hitotsubashi 10 years later. 

“I could draw pictures of the world that nobody else has seen before!”

Q: Where and how did you grow up?  
I was born in Denmark, with a population of 5.5 million people, rather a small country. And I grew up in a small town with around 5,000 people. At school we did sports, like badminton and football. Then I went to a high school in a neighboring bigger town called Odense, with around 100,000 people, but it feels so little compared to Tokyo! I went off to Aarhus University, where I spent two years before going abroad for the first time. I wanted to learn more than just the math and statistics that was thrown at us. So I travelled to the UK for a year, to University of Southampton, in the southern end of England. Later I also went to Bonn in Germany, to visit the IZA and Bonn Graduate School of Economics.  During my Ph.D studies at Aarhus University, I was a visiting graduate student at Princeton University. After graduation, my first job was a post doc at Stanford University, where we lived for about two years, and during that time, we had our first child. So, I was really moving around a lot. I came back to Denmark and started working at Aarhus University. Aarhus is the second biggest city in Denmark, and that’s where I live now as well. I have been able to continue traveling the world – though now that I am a father of two - not as frequently as before - and most recently I have visited University of Hawaii at Manoa for three months, and now we’ve been here for three months – and it has been great! 
When I return to Denmark I will be working at one of Aarhus University’s satellite department, which is located in the smaller town of Herning, which is about one hour from Aarhus. One reasons we have a satellite department in this area, is to make sure that young people who live in the not so big cities have access to further education. The students at this department are engineers and business majoring people. The beauty of all this it is that many students can live in their home town and go to the university and not having to go all the way to Aarhus or Copenhagen. This allows the students to remain in their hometowns, and to subsequently take jobs in this area. I think the firms and factories in the area are happy that we are around to offer education. Just a few weeks ago, I have accepted the position of the head of that department – a challenge I am looking forward to.    
Q: What motivated you to take economics as your major? 
I think the decision was taken very early, actually. When I was a high school student, I was very interested in the society around me. I wanted to understand economic growth, trade, education, labor markets. But what really made me decide on labor economics was an experience I had during my university days.  In economics, you can study many issues, you could focus on growth, trade, labor markets, financial markets and so on, there are so many areas you can focus on. So, when my wife was studying business language and she had to go to Germany to study, we decided to visit the country together, and I ended up in Bonn at a labor market research institute called IZA. They had a lot of seminars and conferences, which made me think that labor economics is a lot of fun! I really became interested in this area, and decided to be part of this field, utilizing the registered database I had access to in Denmark, I could draw pictures of the world that no one has seen before! I think what got me started was that I could actually make a contribution, learn something, and give back that knowledge to other people.        
Q:  So, you continued your journey in the labor market field?
Yes, I continued my journey. Labor economics is about labor markets in general, which a lot of researchers have been studying for many years, but I tried to see things from a different point of view. For example, instead of focusing on unemployment duration which has been studied in detail, I focused on employment duration. Then I realized that there are many reasons why people leave a job. So, in order to understand these motivations, I had to dig deeper into the firm, trying to understand what is actually going on in those companies. So I started thinking about the careers people have in firms, how employees are motivated, through pay systems, promotions and so forth. But then, I faced a hurdle, since there are so much stuff that we needed to know, and we do not know much about it yet. So, to learn more, I started to work with private firms, to collaborate with some big firms in Denmark, to study what is going on in those firms, while at the same time utilizing the register data we have in Denmark. Now we are looking at sickness absence, retention, roles and types of supervisors and how they influence the employees’ careers. And that is sort of the very reason why I am here in Japan. To study, talk about, and share information with my colleagues in Japan. It has been a very good opportunity to come over here, and talk to local researchers about these things, and develop new ideas on how to move forward, maybe as a collaboration.  
Q:  So, everything started with your single interest to the society when in high school days? 
Yes. You are not fully informed when you are in high schools, you can only use the language you know at that time and my focus was on general economics. Later my interest moved from general economics to firms, how they operate and organize. Today, I would say that I am interested in people in organizations, understanding how employee careers develop, how firms are motivating those employees, doing the right things. Economists are often is the situation that we only describes what is going on - it is very hard to be normative and give specific advice. But some of my research is leading to what can be called career advice, telling you that you should move around and experience different things, expose yourself to opportunities in the labor market. That is exactly what I have been doing, so I have taken my own medicine.  
Q:  So, in your point of view, what is “job” to a person? 
That is very difficult to define. I think we are moving beyond what we call production labor in the sense that in Denmark, we do not have as much manufacturing production as we used to have, because most of it has been moved to China and East Asia. So, what is happening now is that everything is shifting towards knowledge workers. It is rather easy to study manufactory labor, you can easily measure their productivity. But modern economies are about knowledge workers, people are producing something out of their heads, something that is really hard to measure directly, so it is really difficult to access the productivity of a particular employee. So, it is very difficult to define what a job is in this complex world we live in.           

Life in Kunitachi, working with Hitotsubashi

Q:  When was your first contact with Hitotsubashi? 
Oh, that’s a long story! I think maybe ten years ago, we had a visitor at Aarhus University, Professor Takao Kato. He is a very nice and friendly person, so we started talking and after some time, we started talking about working together on a project. He then told me about his home country, Japan, which I became interested in. We started talking about places and universities in Japan, that was when I got to know about Hitotsubashi for the first time. But when I think back, I have known Professor Daiji Kawaguchi from my Stanford University days, Professor Ryo Kambayashi I have also known for some time, and Professor Hideo Owan of The University of Tokyo as well, actually having them come over to my conference in Denmark last year, so in that sense, I have known about Japan for a long time - we are like a small family now.     
Q:  So, it is your first time to live in Japan. How do you like living at Kunitachi International Guest House? 
Oh, I like it very much, life is very convenient. I saw the place when I visited last time so I sort of knew what I was getting, but coming here was actually easier than I had expected. When I visited Hitotsubashi for the first time two years ago, life here looked very different, I even went to Japanese supermarkets in Hawaii for trial, every products they had there looked different.  But when I actually got here and started living, it has been far easier than I had thought of.       
Q:  Are there any differences between Hitotsubashi University and Aarhus University?
I like the campus as a “university park” to the public, a lot!  It is the same at Aarhus University, so the environment is very similar. We have a lot of international faculties, too. We do research and talk about research, organize seminars and conferences, do international travels, just like here. But if I have to look for differences, we have more women in most departments.   
Q:  Do you like staying in contact with students? 
Yes, I would like to stay in contact with students. A bit of classroom teaching is actually good for you!  Before I came here, I was deputy head of the department, and was in charge of supervising Ph.D. students. Part of my job was to talk to Ph.D. students and young faculties, give them guidance in their academic careers. If you ask me what type of person has potential for a career in the academic world the answer is easy. If you can’t sit still and read a book, you shouldn’t be here. But having said that, if you can only read and write books, then you can lose contact to the real world that surrounds you. You often need connections with society to learn from it and see how your research can be used and fits with the world. I know a lot of researchers who do not do this. I am taking the time to talk to people, to go places and explore the world. It is not all about math and statistics, it is also about being creative, meeting people, and understanding the world around you.     

Academic life and freedom

Q:  What is it that you always appreciate in life? 
It is certainly, freedom. My freedom to do what I would like to do. I am a hard working person, so even when people delegate freedom to me, I work very hard!  Studying what I would like to study and organize my own time, that is something which I value highly in my life. It might be one of the reasons why I am still in the world of academia.    
Q:  How do you manage so well in managing your career and life?  
Well, that is kind of a complicated issue to answer! I think one of the reasons might be that I have the freedom to organize my time. That gives you a little bit of flexibility every day, say, you may need 10 minutes more in the morning to send your children off to school. Having that flexibility and freedom really helps in your daily life. You can have longer days, I’ve had many of those, but you can also have shorter days, if you need it. And of course being a hard working person might be also a requirement.    
Q:  What is it that always attracts your curiosity when you go to different countries, or meet different people from around the world? 
What would that be? As I told you earlier, I have always been interested in knowing about the world. I think my parents have been very influential on these matters as they took me many places. I have been traveling quite a lot during holidays, going places such as Germany, Sweden, France, and Italy. And there you meet people and you learn new things and at the same time grows your curiosity. Then after joining the university, I moved to many places and learned a lot. I was very fortunate being able to do that, broadening my experiences through staying abroad for significant time periods.  
Q:  Please introduce in one word, your impression in living in Japan for the first time. 
Oh! Beautiful, nice food, and interesting people! When I first got here, I went for sushi, but now I am probably moving more towards everyday food. I had to live here to find them.  


Q:  Please introduce in one word, which part of Denmark, culture, or spirit, you would like to introduce to the Japanese people? 

I think it is Christmas. I think it is very Danish, in a sense it is all about family and  being together for some time, doing something with your family. Most of the people in Denmark are Christians, but Christmas is not just about Christianity, it’s about family, something nice in winter time.    

Always “Strive for Excellence”

Q:  Kindly share briefly about your current researches. 
I was very conscious about what I was going to do in the future when I got here, but it changed in the middle and now I am going home to something different!  But of course it is all related. What I would like to do is to work with businesses, and understand what is going on in businesses. As a researcher, you have a unique opportunity to go across firms and see what is going on there, not in just one firm but in many other firms if they allow you to. I want to use this opportunity to sort of understand what is going on in firms in general. This spring, I became the director of Center for Corporate Performance – CCP – which is a research center which works closely with firms, focusing on how to use human resource data. I would like to develop this research area even further, get more companies on board, and build a small collaborative community among those companies and the affiliated researchers. Now I am having this additional dimension after having been appointed head of department, which gives me a lot of additional opportunities in particular in the area our school is located, so I am very much looking forward to that as well.        
Q:  What would be your policy when you become the Head of Department?
That is a big question! I want to strive for excellence. I can say that because that is what we actually do at my department, working closely with society, and companies. So, I want to strive for excellence in research and teaching and I also want to give it a twist which makes it relevant for firms. Sometimes, people in academia are occupied with theoretical questions, which is good, but I think it is important for at least some of us to work with businesses and make sure that they have access to the newest knowledge. And that is the role I would like to fill. I am trying to be the bridge between academia and the real world.    
Q:  Do you think labor economics could be your lifetime reaching theme?  
I think it could, because the theme is so broad. I could study many different issues, and I can allow those topics that I study to shift during my career which I have already been doing. In that sense, you would never become bored as a labor economist. What is beautiful about labor economics is that a lot of tools, mathematical or statistical, are being developed by labor economists. And those tools are useful in many ways, so knowing them you can easily move around between research questions make new contributions to a variety of fields. So, I think I can work in this field for the rest of my career.  
Q:  How do you keep up your motivation to continue your researches when facing some challenges? 
I have been in academia some time now, so my approach has probably changed. I think my current wisdom would be, to forget about it until you have slept one night, and then the next day I would look over it again, and very often there are some clues. Sometimes, you should not attack immediately, you should leave it for a while and then come back.  

Young people, “Explore the World!”

Q:  What is important for a person to decide whether he is good to go for academic world or not? 
First of all, you will have to be a brilliant student, but that is not enough. You also have to be creative and explorative, because you will have to be able to ask relevant questions about the world. That is at least what is important in my field. You have to be able to look at the models in new ways so that you can develop on those models, and not just replicate what people have done before.  Research is not about doing what other people have done before, but it is about writing new books people are supposed to read and learn from. So, you will have to be able to recognize what is important and be able to ask those questions which would be interesting to other people and maybe to the societies around.  One thing which would help develop your curiosity is to travel a lot, visit other places and learn new things. Go out and find something, combine them into new shapes. And in the global society, it is also important to learn language skills, which in my field, certainly is English. You will have to become fluent eventually, otherwise you will end up spending too much time on language issues, and this takes time and focus away from research. Having said that, nobody expects you to be fluent from day one. It takes time to learn and the best way is to practice is to start speaking English and maybe go abroad for a while. I think in Denmark, we have more opportunities in relation to English as we are exposed to English through television and radio, so maybe it takes more effort to learn English in Japan, but it is worth it. 


Q:  Please share in one word or a phrase, your encouraging message to the young researchers here in the same field. 
That would be… “Explore the World!”  I might add, learn English, too. In particular in the world of academia, if you want to be part of the international scene, English will give you more access to other people in the global society, providing you more opportunities in your career, being able to receive more feedback from the world.       
We sincerely would like to thank Professor Anders Frederiksen sharing his very busy time with us, inspiring us about the importance of having curiosity in life, and how to enjoy new things through many episodes from his own experiences.  His vision has touched deep in our hearts. We wish him and his family the very best in their future endeavors. 
Interviewed on Wednesday, July 15, 2015, by CEI staff, Akiko Ito, and Cindy R. Suzuki.