Getting to Know our Newest Faculty Member – Sophie Borwein

Sophie Borwein joined the School in August as Assistant Professor.  This semester she’s teaching PLCY803 - Politics.

Tell us about the most recent areas of focus for your research work.

My dissertation research examined how income inequality shapes political preferences and government policy responsiveness. One particular focus of mine was on the ways in which the distribution of income in people’s communities shapes their preferences for income redistribution.
Building on my interest in inequality, I’ve more recently been working on a project examining how economic dislocation associated with automation and artificial intelligence is shaping politics and policy in Canada and other advanced industrial economies.
I am also just beginning a project geared toward understanding the pace and mix of policy responses that Canadian workers want from government as the country shifts to net-zero carbon emissions, and a second project on how gender shapes how people respond to income inequality.

What are you looking most forward to in your new role with SFU's MPP program? 

I’m really looking forward to continuing to teach and learn from SFU's MPP students. I’m a few weeks into my first semester at the school, and it's already evident to me how committed the students are to bringing positive change to the Canadian policy landscape. After 1.5 years of working from home because of COVID, it’s also just really nice to be back on campus engaging with students and colleagues in person.

When did you first develop an interest in public policy, and what led you to pursue it as a career?

I did my undergraduate degree at SFU, and although I majored in political science, I also took several health sciences courses. They really opened my eyes to the role of politics and policy – rather than just science – in addressing global and local health challenges.
So when I started my Master’s in Public Policy at the University of Toronto, my initial interest was in health policy. Although I ended up shifting my interests to other areas of social policy, I think the current pandemic has made it painfully clear just how central politics and policy are to health. Obviously, science has been crucial to the rapid development of vaccines, but many of the challenges we now face in getting the world vaccinated depend on our political leaders and policymakers.

You've recently moved here from Toronto. How have you been enjoying your time in Vancouver?

I’ve lived in Toronto since 2011, but I actually grew up in the Lower Mainland, so coming back has been a bit of a homecoming for me. It’s hard to complain about Fall in Vancouver, and I’m really happy to be closer to family, but I did find myself investing in a new rain jacket within the first two weeks of being back!

What are some of your favorite things to do in your spare time?

In the last decade, I’ve been really lucky to live in some great cities, including Toronto, Ottawa, and now Vancouver. I love exploring these places – whether walking, running, or biking.

What books or podcasts have you recommended to other people lately?

Too many come to mind!
Since the course I’m teaching this semester focuses on Canadian policy and politics, I’ll narrow it down by making two recommendations relevant to my class. First, I just finished reading Michelle Good’s Five Little Indians. It’s a devastating portrayal of the impact of residential schools on survivors, and much of the story is set in Vancouver. I think it’s an important read for Canadians in advancing our understanding of the brutal history and legacy of residential schools. I expect at least a few current and former SFU MPP students have already read it.
Podcast-wise, I’ve recently started listening to the Globe and Mail’s new(ish) Decibel podcast. I think it’s aiming to be a bit like the New York Times’ The Daily. It’s nothing fancy – each episode is about only 20 minutes, and provides a bit of context around an important story for Canadians. It’s a good choice for my morning walk to work.