Law, Energy, and “Big Problems”

Law, Energy, and “Big Problems”

Becker Brown Bag with Robert Topel Robert Topel shared insights from his work investigating the links between human capital development, inequality of outcomes and opportunities, and macroeconomic growth, with MBA students on May 13, 2015. (Photo by Beth Rooney)

When you’re looking at business schools, it’s easy (and sensible) to look mostly at the nuances of the different MBA programs. Yet, when you choose to join an MBA program, you’re not just becoming part of a business school—you’re also joining a university community. For Boothies, that means you are attending one of the best business schools in the world, just down the street from professional schools and academic departments—nearly all of which are among the best in the world for their respective fields.

As a full-time MBA student at Booth, you will have classmates who are also medical students at Pritzker, or JD students at the Law School. The relationships you build with these students are just one of many ways you can take advantage of the incredible interdisciplinary opportunities that the University of Chicago has to offer. Beyond your peers, Booth also gives you the opportunity to learn from faculty across these disciplines, so your business and management education is informed by the world’s experts on important topics across the intellectual spectrum.

As a Booth student, you have the opportunity to take classes outside of the MBA curriculum, across different divisions of the university. However, you don’t have to leave our course catalog to benefit from some incredible interdisciplinary offerings. Below, I have put together a rundown of my three favorite courses that have delivered on the promise of this great research university.

Big Problems
This course is one of the most popular interdisciplinary courses offered at Booth, and the title probably explains a lot of the demand. Co-taught by two Law School professors (Anup Malani and David Weisbach) and two Booth professors (Robert Topel and Kevin Murphy), the “Big Problems” course enrolls students from both the JD and MBA programs to examine global crises with legal and economic lenses. 

Each week, the faculty focus on a particular “Big Problem” facing the world—from climate change to income inequality—and when four professors isn’t enough, they bring in guest lecturers to share their expertise. For instance, when I took the course, Murphy and Topel had Ed Lazear give a guest lecture on the Financial Crisis and Great Recession of 2007-2009. Lazear was the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors from 2006-2009, so it was a fitting choice, and fascinating to hear his experience reckoning with the crisis.

Over the course of the quarter, teams of law and business students collaborate to tackle a single “Big Problem,” and present their findings back to the class for discussion. It’s a great way to meet some students and faculty from the Law School, and it gives you the opportunity to think critically about systematic issues facing our world today. As the world faces an unprecedented crisis today, this type of big-picture thinking is more important than ever.

Professor Kevin Murphy co-teaches “Big Problems” with Robert Topel (pictured in header image above) and two Law School faculty members.

The Energy Policy Practicum
Perhaps my favorite course I’ve taken at Booth, the Energy Policy Practicum is a seminar-style class co-taught by Booth professor Robert Topel (of “Big Problems” fame…) and Robert Rosner, of the Physics & Astrophysics departments. Each week, we approached different issues in the energy world and looked at them from the perspectives of science, economics, and policy. Professor Topel provides the economic lens, and Professor Rosner explains the scientific understanding for each topic in energy. 

Furthermore, as in “Big Problems,” the professors bring in friends and colleagues of theirs to meet with the class and talk about their areas of expertise. For example, when we talked about topics in the oil and gas industries, Professor Topel had a former student of his—and a former head of Pemex—come talk to us about his experience leading the energy industry in Mexico.

 Over the course of the quarter, students work in small groups to address energy policy issues they are passionate about. When I took the course, the six of us split into two groups, and my group tackled issues around electric vehicle adoption, and the future of battery science. Professor Rosner (a former director of the Argonne National Laboratory) introduced us to the Laboratory’s head of battery science research, and Professor Topel connected us to auto industry leaders who had spearheaded development of many of these technologies. We used these resources to put together a white paper with policy recommendations to shape electric vehicle adoption in the United States. Altogether, one of the most interesting and fun courses I have taken at any level.

The Legal Infrastructure of Business
Law School professor Randall Picker offers a class just for Booth students that gives a crash course in key legal topics, aimed at MBA students. “The Legal Infrastructure of Business” introduces Booth students to core legal issues that many of us will encounter in our careers in business. From antitrust law to copyright infringement, Professor Picker translates these issues from their native legalese and gets the class to confront the serious legal quandaries that can arise in the business world. 

Students have the freedom to write and present on whichever topics they find most compelling in the world of law and business, and conversations flow freely. To give a little sample of the range of topics we covered, my partner and I gave one presentation on class-action lawsuits against companies like McCormick pepper when they leave empty space in food containers, and another on the ethical and legal consequences of non-compete agreements in the workplace. Highly recommended course for all Boothies!