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2014 Dean’s Award: Charles Becker

Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring

After meeting with some professors and visiting the area during a visit to Duke, a prospective economics graduate student had concluded that she “couldn’t possibly be convinced to move to this town.” She even considered canceling the following morning’s scheduled meeting with Charles Becker, a research professor of economics.

She kept the appointment, and she’s glad that she did.

“To this day, I remain grateful for the stroke of luck that made me keep my meeting with him,” the student says of Becker. “In what must have been no more than twenty minutes, Professor Becker showed such enthusiasm for me and for my research ideas that I was hooked. At 21, I don’t think anyone else had ever taken my ideas so seriously, and I knew I had found an excellent mentor.”

That enthusiasm for students is one of the reasons that Becker is one of the recipients of the 2014 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring from The Graduate School. According to his students, when Becker becomes your mentor, it’s for life, and that relationship starts even before you get to Duke.

“I still recall how he patiently and quickly replied to my naïve e-mails when I applied to the Duke Econ MA program—how he gave reliable advice on both my academic plans and lifelong career goals, unconditional on my admission results,” one student says. “You get his unconditional mentoring before admission, while studying here, and even after, which is confirmed by many of my friends who have already graduated.”

Becker also has a talent for turning students’ self-doubt into self-confidence and success, students say. Once students enter the program, Becker encourages them to take chances that ultimately pay off.

“Coming to the United States I felt a large difference between the skill sets of students who went through the American system and myself,” one student says. “Faced with these discrepancies, I worked hard and finished my undergraduate degree with honors and stellar grades. However, I still felt I was not good enough.

“Professor Becker throughout our relationship believed that I could do anything, and because he believed in me I began to believe in myself. He encouraged me to take higher-level math classes I was not comfortable with, and through these experiences I realized that I had underestimated myself and what I was capable of doing.”

Comments from Current and Former Students

“Professor Becker considers his students as lifetime commitments.”

“Dr. Becker has a knack for putting students at ease and has wise words of advice on both professional and personal matters. Part of his ability to excel as a mentor is that he genuinely cares for his students and is invigorated by their successes.”

“Dr. Becker and I had extensive conversations about what my career trajectory would look like after Duke. He and I talk regularly since I graduated, and I always see him whenever I am back at Duke. He regularly influences and challenges my work.”

“Whenever you run into Dr. Becker, he is either about to give feedback on a student’s research paper, send letters of recommendations for MA students, perform research with students, or helping PhD students with their placements. He is always busy helping students!”

“Dr. Becker pushed me to take classes that were beyond what I believed I was capable of. Somehow, he convinced me to take classes that were well beyond my ability. I excelled in these classes, and I credit those classes both for winning me my spot here at Harvard and making me much better prepared for my classes here than many of my peers.”

About Charles Becker

Becker, a research professor of economics, received his PhD in economics from Princeton University and a BA in economics and Russian language from Grinnell College. He joined the Duke faculty in 2004 and currently serves as the associate chair of the Department of Economics and the director of the MA program in economics. His fields of interest are economic demography, economic development, transitional economies, urban and regional economics, and health economics. The American Economic Association awarded him lifetime membership in 2007 for service to the profession.