My Job Now: Nathan Nunn

Tue, 12 Sep 2017

Welcome to My Job Now, a blog profile series featuring workers from across Canada. Engage with the SFU Public Square community by reading stories of career aspiration, professional development, and bumps along the road.

Dr. Nathan Nunn is Frederic E. Abbe Professor of Economics at Harvard University. Professor Nunn was born in Canada, where he received his PhD from the University of Toronto in 2005. Professor Nunn’s primary research interests are in economic history, economic development, cultural economics, political economy and international trade.

He is an NBER Faculty Research Fellow, a Research Fellow at BREAD, and a Faculty Associate at Harvard's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (WCFIA). He is currently a co-editor of the Journal of Development Economics.

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a professional football player in the CFL. Unfortunately, the town I grew up in in northern BC didn’t have a football program at the time. So that didn’t work out. Instead, I applied to SFU, got in, and then started taking courses. I decided to stay in school until I didn’t find it interesting anymore or until I got kicked out. Neither happened, and so I ended up finishing my Ph.D. in Economics at the University of Toronto.

How has your career path unfolded so far?

For me, I think it was helpful to be constantly working during the summer and part time to remind me how much more interesting learning is than working. I’ve done a lot of different jobs, working at a range of places including: automotive stores (stockboy), newspaper (editor/photographer), freight company (laborer), paint factory (filled paint and made paint), ski hill (worked in the office), book publisher (laborer), and private tutoring.

After I graduated from SFU, it was also helpful to work for a year and realize that the job prospects were pretty limited with a BA in economics only and that I needed to go back to school and get a Masters. This resulted in my moving to Toronto, where I kept going until I finished my Ph.D.

During my undergrad, I also took a year off to live in Seoul, Korea, for 6 months, where I took Korean language classes full time. This was helpful because it is there that I really developed an appreciation for learning. It was great learning a new language in the morning and then putting what you learned to use later that night when you were out drinking beer with Korean college students.

The way we work is constantly changing, from the types of jobs we have, to where we do them. What new opportunities or challenges do you think the future of working might bring?

Within Academia, I think things are relatively stable. The nature of research has changed. With increased computing power the type and amount of data that can be analyzed has expanded exponentially. Many new questions can be examined now that in the past was not possible.

What challenges have you faced in securing your desired employment situation?

I don’t think I have faced any special challenges. I am very lucky to have a job where I have the freedom to learn about the world. So, the challenges are related to this. Of course, one would always like to have more funds for research and more hours in the day to do research. But, other than this, I think I am really lucky to be in the position I am in.

If you were offered a guaranteed basic income of $1,000/month with no strings attached, how might your life be different?

I don’t think my life would change that much. I really enjoy what I do and so would continue doing this. Plus, given the cost of living these days (especially housing in urban centers like Vancouver, Boston, etc) 1K really can’t get you much 

Are there any projects you are working on that you would like to tell our readers about?

A big part of my research these days uses surveys, interviews, focus groups, experiments, and statistical analysis to understand the nature of societies around the world who are different from us. What social structures and cultural values do they have? How are their families, villages, and societies structured? Why are they this way? What implications does this have for economic development?