June 9, 2022Print | PDF
A students time in post-secondary education is more than just a campus or building – it's the people who make the experience unique. One of those people is Jeff Chan, assistant professor of Economics in the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University. We sat down with Chan to learn about why he chose to join the Lazaridis School, and how he’s connecting with students from every walk of life. Joining the Lazaridis School in 2017, his research focuses on the relationship between increased openness to trade and the labour market.
Chan’s path to the Lazaridis School started with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics at Western University, followed by a master’s and PhD in Economics at the University of Toronto. At Western, Chan initially started in business but was quickly attracted to economics.
“I enjoyed the more mathematical aspects of economics, so I made the switch over to that degree and also took a lot of math on the side as well. When I started grad school, I thought I was going to be a theorist, kind of like John Nash-style game theory, but then I fell in love with the applied aspect of economics and how widely economics has spread to looking at all sorts of different areas of life,” Chan said.
That fascination with applying data to everyday questions led Chan to his research on international trade and, more recently, on the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The freedom to follow that research attracted Chan to pursue a career in academia and eventually led him to Wilfrid Laurier University.
“I think a lot of people have an openness to the private sector at certain points in their career—and I was certainly open to the idea. But I think academia was super attractive for a lot of reasons. Principle among them was that you get to look at exactly the types of questions that you’re interested in,” Chan said.
During his interview at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Waterloo campus, Chan said he was impressed by the students and staff he met.
“I got a really positive vibe. There was a real sense of community and of people wanting to help each other and help the students. That was a real clear sign that the Lazaridis School would be a really nice place to work,” Chan said.
Finding a supportive community where he could pursue his research—and help others follow theirs—was also something Chan said attracted him to the Lazaridis School.
“It definitely helped that there were other people in my area that were doing some pretty exciting stuff as well. I got the feeling that I could do some pretty interesting stuff here,” Chan said.
Students and faculty alike say that the small-school feeling helps create a close, supportive community—both in school and after graduation. Chan said something as simple as learning his students’ names and making connections with them gives him a chance to know them better.
“At Laurier, we get to know the students and work to have many interactions with them throughout the term. It helps make their experience better because we can tailor their learning experiences,” Chan said.
Outside of the classroom, Chan works on his continuing research on the relationship between trade and labour markets. The pandemic provided Chan, and other researchers, with time to think about different ways to start analyzing the world we live in.
Chan had experience looking at data from Google while on a previous research paper. During the initial lockdowns, he realized that several tech companies, including Google and Facebook parent Meta, were releasing new data sets that could help researchers understand the pandemic’s economic effects.
“They released data sets with user information where they were able to essentially track their users’ movements across different locations for different days,” Chan said. “I was able to use this data to see how much people were moving around in different parts of Canada. That became a very important thing very quickly during COVID—how much time were people staying home and trying to limit their movements.”
Chan was one of the first researchers to analyze what drives people to stay home and whether some parts of Canada were staying at home more than others. That might not sound like the kind of research that an economics professor would investigate, but that’s precisely what got Chan interested in economics in the first place.
“I think you get a certain idea of economics in school, but it’s not clear on all the different things you can look at. To me, economics has always been a tool set that you can apply to many different things and generate some interesting insights from data,” Chan said.
When it comes to advising prospective students on why to pursue economics, Chan said the selling point of economics is that it’s surprising how much you can apply economics in all sorts of settings.
“It’s not just about thinking about inflation rates or about aggregate unemployment. Economics is everywhere these days and economists look at all sorts of problems. Even better, in 10 to 20 years, economics will be even more different. For people entering the field, there’s going to be more tools and even more exciting things that economists are going to be doing,” Chan said.
For students considering the Lazaridis School, Chan said that Wilfrid Laurier University has the right combination of a small-school feel, robust course and degree program offerings and co-op opportunities.
“You really get to know the instructors. For me, the best part of any semester is near the end when you really start to get a feel for all the individual students,” Chan said. “The small-community feel is also positive; it creates a really engaging experience you can’t get anywhere else.”