How long have you worked at the Uni? What does your role involve?
I have worked at the University since May 2019. My role is as the Director of Research at the Institute for Policy Research (IPR). My role involves not only being a researcher myself, but also the strategic positioning of the IPR by assisting in research bids and supervising some of the staff who work at the IPR. We’re generally working towards producing research, creating engagement and working with the Universities Policy Engagement Network (UPEN) in the UK.
My research has largely been in public policy, and my PhD research focused on IMF bailouts and their design and execution. Most recently, I’ve been doing research on health system reform and on cryptocurrencies in central banking. I got into IMF bailouts when I was a research intern for the Irish Department of Finance assigned to the International Financial Institutions section. It was during the time of the millennium debt forgiveness movement.
What would you most like to achieve while at the University?
I would like to see the IPR expand in its abilities and research, to become a place where policymakers in Whitehall and Westminster feel that they can automatically connect to and find cutting-edge research. There’s some really interesting stuff happening in terms of basic income, artificial intelligence, ethics and policy making, as well as welfare state research. I’d really like to see the IPR become a point on the map in the UK, but also to develop deeper and more meaningful engagement around the globe.
Name one thing that makes you feel proud to work at the University of Bath?
The University is a very pleasant place to work, and I’ve found that, over the last few months, I haven’t met happier and friendlier people in academia at any other university. The University is also a great school in a great location. It’s difficult to find such a gorgeous place elsewhere in the UK.
What piece of advice would you like to give to a student?
The advice I would give to a student is to read, and to read widely. I think students today, due to the pressures of time, work and social lives, tend to only do what’s necessary. But I think, as an undergraduate, you have a really great opportunity to explore and expand your horizons in a way which you won’t be able to when you’re older. I would go to them and tell them to use this time wisely, try to read, try to expand your horizons but also remember what John Henry Newman said about the university, which is that you’ll learn as much, if not more, from your peers. So think carefully about your peer engagement because you will learn so much from them. I think you can see that really clearly in institutions which have a good staff/student relationship, like Bath.
Who was your most influential teacher/educator, and why?
I would guess that it would be a toss up between a teacher I had in secondary school who taught English, and also one of my friends at university who was also an academic.
In terms of my secondary schooling and what was most influential about that teacher, was the fact he made us do enormous amounts of work but he enabled us to improve. He enabled me to grow and learn to be a writer. We had 3 essays and 4 tests per week, as well as one term paper per quarter. You really did do a lot of reading, writing, thinking and analysis.
More recently, in terms of mentors in higher education, it’s a man I’ve worked with for several years and is a researcher in engineering. He started out life publishing in Nature on the subject of radio based on work he did during the Second World War. He then graduated to becoming an engineering educator and then an education policy administrator. He showed how you can change your career over time and the structure required to do so.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I guess my initial desire was to be a medical doctor, but then I realised I was terribly squeamish! I realised that the inability to not pass out at the sight of a needle meant that wasn’t really an option. I had an interest in finance and politics and so I found a way to combine those for my research work.
What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you’d known when you were younger?
Time does run away from you quickly. Every older person says that to a younger person but, inevitability, you don’t realise that until you’re a certain age. The other thing would be to, as the poet Brendan Kennelly once put it, "take it easy, and if you can’t take it easy, take it as easy as you can". Don’t work yourself into an early grave, being a workaholic has had its disadvantages over the years.
What was your first job?
I was a temporary press officer for the New York City Police Department. I did that for about a year and a half, working summers in the headquarters. It was fun and interesting, I definitely learnt a lot. It was also my first encounter with politics and the media, the ways they work together, and the complexities of that.
If you could start your own dream business, what would it be?
I’m not quite sure! I would enjoy being a portrait photographer or owning a bookshop. Those are my hobbies and interests, but I’m also not sure they’re economically viable…
Where is your favourite holiday destination and why?
It’s not so much a location, but a category, and I love cities. One of my favourite places to visit is Vienna, closely followed by Dresden or Berlin. I really enjoy interesting historical locations. There’s also cities people don’t usually think of, like Ljubljana in Slovenia. Slovenia is such an interesting place to visit. I’m a bit of a culture vulture, so anywhere I can find museums and operas is fine by me.
What’s your favourite book or album and why?
I do not have a favourite book, because I have too many books! If I were to look at a work book that I keep coming back to it would be Schumpeter’s History of Economic Analysis. There’s always something in it which I find interesting. If it’s a book which I just enjoy reading because it’s fun, is Machiavelli’s The Prince. I tend to prefer non-fiction, and I go back to philosophy books quite a bit. I also have a great appreciation for people who are just great writers, as I really enjoy their work. My bookcase is certainly eclectic, with random government documents thrown in too. I do purge those every so often because they’re large, heavy and dull, but the books tend to stay!
In terms of guilty pleasures then it would be things like Star Trek and Star Wars. I have always been fond of the Peanuts Charlie Brown and Snoopy cartoons. I’m quite fond of cinema too, from things like Lawrence of Arabia to really fascinating documentaries. I enjoy Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation and Ken Burns’ Civil War.
For music, I listen to mostly classical music. It wouldn’t necessarily be my favourite album, but my favourite piece of music would be Bach’s Mass in B minor and my favourite opera is Mozart’s The Magic Flute closely followed by the Marriage of Figaro.
When are you happiest?
I guess it’s either pottering in the Metropolitan Museum of Art or in a bookshop somewhere. Or a really high quality opera, where I go as often as I can!
If you could meet anyone in the world dead or alive who would it be and why?
That’s a very complicated question… I would like to meet David Attenborough. I’ve always been a fan and I’d like to take his mind on things.
In terms of the world of the dead, assuming there is perfect linguistic translation at all times, it would be a mixture of people. I’ve always been interested in Metternich and I would love to meet him. I have always wanted to meet Charles V too. In fact, John Julius Norwich wrote a book about a time in the 16th Century where you have Suleiman the Magnificent, Francis I, Charles V, Henry VIII, all these lads in their 20s and Pope Leo X as this geriatric looking at them all. I’d like to ask how humanity made it out of those 20 years when they were all trying to kill one another.
There’s such a long list, probably way too many for this interview!
Which one superpower would you like to possess?
Having poor vision all my life, I’d quite like to not need glasses! But in general, I’m quite happy to live without a superpower if I’m honest.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I don’t know. I think most people I’ve met over the years were surprised to learn I grew up in New York City. People are also usually surprised by my interest in fixing mechanical things, like old cameras. I think people also assume I’m quite a serious person, but actually I don’t take myself too seriously and I’m not as serious as people might think!