Professor Tamara Todorova: At AUBG, ‘I was attracted by the academic curiosity of the students and the way economics is taught’
Economics Professor Tamara Todorova, who holds an MBA from Columbus State University, started her journey at AUBG back in 2000. The professor, who has authored a textbook in the Quantitative Methods in Economics and was a visiting Fulbright Scholar to the University of California, views the success of her students as her biggest professional achievement. Read our interview with her and learn more about the practical benefits of understanding economics, what it’s like teaching at AUBG, and why professor Todorova chose to live in Blagoevgrad rather than the coastal city of Varna.
Tell us a bit about yourself – where did you grow up and where have you studied and worked?
I was born and grew up in Dobrich, Northeast Bulgaria. I spent my summers in Albena and Balchik on the Northern Black Sea. I had a magical childhood among the cacti, water lilies and roses in the botanical garden and the palace of the Romanian queen in Balchik. I have lived in Dobrich, Varna, Columbus, GA, Blagoevgrad, and Sofia. In the last 13 years, I spend the school years in Blagoevgrad and the summers in Sofia and Sunny Beach.
I finished a language high school in my hometown. I studied in the English class right before democracy came. It was a rare skill because few people spoke English at the time. My classmates are my best friends and the most hardworking, intelligent, and quality people I have ever met. The language school and my family gave me all the strength, confidence, and knowledge I needed to succeed in life.
I transferred to Varna University of Economics from the University of National and World Economy in Sofia just in the beginning of the transition [to democracy]. I studied International Economics which was offered as an integrated degree in international relations, finance, economics, law, etc. I finished a general MBA at Columbus State University in 1996. In 2001, I defended a thesis on multinational corporations and transaction costs before the Higher Attestation Committee in Sofia with a PhD degree granted to me by Varna University in Economics.
What led you to AUBG?
I had no idea I would end up in AUBG. I was preparing for an academic career at Varna University where I had a position at the Department of International Economic Relations. In 1999, [AUBG professors] Ivelin Sardamov and Ellen Greenberg invited me to apply for a position at AUBG. With the passage of time, I realized that I wanted to be part of American education, which attracts me much more than the Bulgarian system. I do no regret leaving Varna to come to Blagoevgrad. I was attracted by the academic curiosity of the students and the way in which economics is taught.
What are your favorite teaching topics and research interests?
I enjoy teaching microeconomics to students of all levels, but my favorite topics gravitate to industrial organization, the theory of the firm and the role of management. I also research the firm from a transaction cost perspective. My latest research interests are in the field of authoritarian management, corporate culture and corporate strategy, topics which are tangential to economics, management science and organizational theory. From this point of view, I am an economist at the borderline with business theory, but I teach a wide variety of courses – quantitative economics, international trade, new institutional economics, etc. As an East European, I am also interested in the problems of transition.
What are some achievements in your professional field that you are especially proud of?
My greatest achievement is the thousands of students I have taught at the AUBG since 2000, many of them business students taking Principles of Microeconomics with me. I am extremely proud of my students who became presidents and vice-presidents of leading investment banks such as Morgan Stanley, Citi, Barclays, Lloyds, etc. They run investment portfolios of billions of dollars. In the last seven years, we have also had 20 students pursuing a doctoral degree in economics or related fields. This is extremely rewarding.
In 2006, I was a visiting Fulbright Scholar to the University of California, Berkeley where my faculty sponsor was Professor Oliver Williamson. It was a privilege for me to interact with one of the most notable economic thinkers of the last century. I do hope Professor Williamson is watching me from heaven now. I miss him deeply ever since we lost him in May this year. He has been my teacher in new institutional economics and has given a direction and full meaning to my research.
In 2007, I started writing a short book to help students of economics in the Quantitative Methods in Economics course. It was supposed to be a short problems book but turned out to be an 800-page textbook (with two advanced chapters in an electronic format) published by Wiley-Blackwell. I am happy that this helped my students in Economics find mathematics less intimidating.
What are some traits that one can develop or gain thanks to Economics?
Economics is about rational thinking and rational choice. The best quality I have developed through economics is optimizing and prioritizing. As a teacher, a mother of two children and a daughter, I have multiple roles. It is extremely difficult to juggle among my numerous obligations of a professor, researcher, parent and major caregiver for my parents which would be impossible without my skills of an economist, one who thinks, analyzes quickly, works hard and solves problems. The time constraint is perfectly illustrated by motherhood. It also describes opportunity cost well. They say that the opportunity cost of having a child is high for a working woman, but I do not regret incurring that high cost. The economic way of thinking has also helped me a lot in my investment decisions. Given my limited income, I have done miracles with my investments. This is where the principle of scarce resources and their optimal use has worked best.
If teaching was not your profession, what would have been?
I would have pursued a corporate career in a Western country. This means I would have to emigrate. Teaching and AUBG have saved me from emigration.
Has AUBG helped you develop personally and professionally and in what ways?
AUBG has invaluably enriched me with the academic talent and curiosity of its students. I have developed my teaching skills entirely with their help. The students have been extremely encouraging and supportive of my work. With their resourcefulness and intellect, they have also stimulated me in my research. The university has backed my research financially, something which would be impossible in the Bulgarian system.
What is most challenging about your job? And what is most rewarding?
The most challenging thing is teaching quantitative methods and skills to students who are not mathematically inclined but love economics and show interest in it. We try to attract them to the subject, although they find it difficult. Sometimes the most difficult things are the most valuable achievements in life. Students start to realize that they have learnt essential things only after they graduate.
What has been your experience living and working in Blagoevgrad and Bulgaria?
I had to leave Varna and the Black Sea, but I love the cozy atmosphere of Blagoevgrad. My daughter Tatyana who will soon be 11 goes to the 7th primary school Kuzman Shapkarev in Blagoevgrad and my son Iliya who is 4 will be going to the kindergarten when the coronavirus crisis is over. They like Blagoevgrad a lot.
Apart from your hard work in your professional field, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
It may sound crazy, but I enjoy cleaning the house and cooking soup for my family! Since I do not have a house cleaner, I do all the housework myself. I have no free time, but I enjoy working on some article or working paper, watching the 24 Kitchen channel or The Good Doctor TV series and following the news. I enjoy taking my son out for a walk every day, but now with the coronavirus we stay at home the entire time. I really hope that a successful vaccine will soon be introduced so we can go back to our routine.