Interview with Chad Bown: Class of 1994

Each month, a new interview featuring a member of the Bucknell Institute of Public Policy (BIPP) Advisory Board will be posted on the official blog of BIPP. For the month of September, the interviewee is Chad P. Bown, an International Relations and Economics major and graduate of the Class of 1994. 

Chad P. Bown is a member of the Bucknell Institute of Public Policy (BIPP) Advisory Board, as well as a Senior Fellow for the Peterson Institute of International Economics. In addition to being an author of several books, Bown has published a number of articles in well-known outlets such as the Financial Times, the Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. On top of his many other distinctions and honors, Bown has also worked in President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers as a Senior Economist for International Trade and Investment and as a Lead Economist at the World Bank. Bown received a Bachelor’s of the Arts degree magna cum laude in Economics and International Relations from Bucknell University before going on to receive a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

1. What responsibilities do you have as a member of the BIPP Advisory Board?

Bown: What we do is meet periodically with the director and some of the staff and students, and we both get updates as to what BIPP is doing in terms of programmatic activities, what their strategy is for the upcoming year and their long-term strategy – both curriculum-wise…and extra-curricular as well, in terms of programs that are happening, research projects that are happening outside of the classroom. We [also] hear updates and provide feedback on those updates, on top of providing additional ideas and suggestions, and also ways of networking.

2. You’re currently a Senior Fellow for the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Can you tell me a bit about your job?

Bown: I’m a Ph.D. economist. In many respects I do the same kinds of research, in terms of economic research, that Bucknell professors do, or people in government agencies. The basic elements of the research are trying to use economic tools, so data and statistical techniques, to answer questions about the real world economy.

The second part of having a job at a think tank is to spend a considerable amount of time explaining [your research] to the public and the policymakers. The job there is not only to explain your own research, but to also explain the insights of other people as well, including professors and students. I engage with policymakers and meet frequently with policymakers in Washington D.C… and work with the media to help them understand economics and international trade, and answer any questions they might have…I interact with policymakers and the media evenly.

3. What do you like most about being an economist?

Bown: I like it all. I think that’s what makes this such a great job; that it’s not just one thing. [I like] that I get the opportunity to interact with all types of people in international economics and international trade.

4. You were a professor of economics at Brandeis University. Can you talk about your experience of leading a classroom?

Bown: It was really my experience as a student at Bucknell and the great professors I had there that made me want to go to graduate school…Brandeis is a wonderful school…with very engaged and bright and hardworking students. It’s one of the best jobs you can possibly imagine, to get to teach a topic that you love, which for me is international trade, to people who are excited and want to understand it better.

5. What were the greatest difficulties you encountered in transitioning from being a student to being a professor?

Bown: I can’t think of any. I didn’t have any bad experiences. I would say graduate school was hard; that was a big challenge. But once I got through that, it was challenging, but all in a good way. For me, I really felt that Bucknell did a wonderful job of preparing me to be a professor because I had such wonderful role models as an undergraduate, and learned what I had to do to interact in the classroom and be an effective professor. I put a lot of time and effort into [being a professor], but it’s a great experience.

6. What do you remember most about being an undergraduate student at the University, where you majored in both economics and international relations? What was your class experience like here?

Bown: I chose to major in economics because I liked the organizing framework that it provided to help me think about the world. I’m kind of a control freak, and I don’t like not understanding things. I felt as if economics gave me a way to organize my thoughts that helped me better process and understand the areas of the world I cared about the most…I found economics to actually be very hard; I liked it a lot but I didn’t think it was easy. I felt it was a topic I could spend a whole life trying to understand better, and never get bored by it.

The international relations [major] was kind of a complement. Ultimately the type of economics I do is [rooted in] international trade and international economies… My classes at the University helped me to identify relationships going on in the world that are important, and the challenges that other countries have with getting along. It really was a complement to my economics major.

7. What kinds of organizations were you a part of at the University?

Bown: The most transformative and important organization that I was a part of was the Residential College system. I was in the International College [now known as the Global Residential College]. Interestingly, I was not in a residential college as a freshman student, but I saw it and wanted to be apart of it.

My sophomore year I was a junior fellow, in charge of programmatic [duties]… my senior year I was a residential assistant, and was there [to provide] for the social wellbeing of other students. My sophomore and senior years, being part of the residential college, was a huge part of my college experience.

Other than that, studying abroad was important to me. I studied abroad in the ‘Bucknell In London’ and ‘Bucknell In France’ programs, so [I studied abroad] my entire junior year.

8. What inspired you to study abroad for a full year, rather than for just a semester?

Bown: I liked international stuff. I lived in London as a kid, so I was always interested in going back. I was a French minor as well, and enjoyed languages, so I always wanted to study in France.

9. Any advice you have for students currently attending Bucknell? Perhaps for IR and Economics students in particular?

Bown: My suggestion is always to take a diversity of classes, because that helps you learn about what you don’t like…sometimes you can only really understand that you like and are passionate about something by taking things that you don’t like.

Beyond that, when you’re starting to think about what you want to do after Bucknell, it’s again important to explore a wide array of different opportunities. Think about applying to a lot of internships, potential jobs. Even if you have your heart set on a potential path, it doesn’t always work out, so cast a big net.

I knew I wanted to go to graduate school right away. But when I was thinking about internships, I was applying to anything I could find and even things I couldn’t find. The one I eventually got, there was no rhyme or reason to why I got it; I just ended up getting lucky. But I only got lucky because I cast my net pretty wide.


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