Post-Baccalaureate Diploma in Economics

An alumnus of the Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management (BPAPM) program in 2012, Robyn will receive the Post-Baccalaureate Diploma in Economics at the June convocation.

 When Robyn Gibbard applied for Carleton’s Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management program in 2008, he imagined himself going to law school and eventually working in politics.

 But as is often the case, his path veered in a different direction. Now, seven years later, he’s on his way to the West Coast to pursue a Master’s degree in Economics at Simon Fraser University.

 You started your educational journey with a Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management. What piqued your interest in public policy?

My parents were in the Canadian Foreign Service, so I grew up in Cuba, Costa Rica, Mexico, Barbados and Venezuela. That really showed me how social and economic systems make a difference in people’s lives. For example, everyone in Cuba is given a home and food rations, so no one is hungry or homeless. There is free education through the post-secondary level and many of the health outcomes are better than in the United States. But I also remember a time when we were in a hospital in Cuba and the phone was ringing, but the receptionist was ignoring it. I asked my dad why, and he pointed out that she had a guaranteed job. So I learned about the trade-offs in that system.

It opened my eyes to the fact that every system has things you admire and other things that leave you scratching your head.

You were accepted into law school, but you decided to try working in a law firm first. What happened?

I spent six months working for a criminal lawyer in Ottawa as a legal assistant, mostly making court appearances, and I realized that wasn’t the path I wanted to take.

So I decided to try politics, as an intern with the Parliamentary Internship Programme. Only ten students are selected in Canada and we each chose two Members of Parliament to work with: one in the government and the other in the opposition.

I worked with Conservative MP James Rajotte, the Chair of the Finance Committee, and Roger Cuzner, the Liberal critic for Labour and Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC).

It was a great experience, but I realized I was less interested in the politics itself than in public policy.

How did your BPAPM degree prepare you for that experience?

It was fantastic because it’s interdisciplinary, so we look at problems from many different points of view. We’re taught to understand the legal context, the social context, the political context, and the policy process itself. When I was on Parliament Hill my work ended up touching on a wide range of policies and, because of my BPAPM degree, I felt I had a much richer understanding of each of them, an ability to see them from many different angles.

 So you were able to rule out two career options in the course of a year. Some people spend their entire lives trying to figure that out.

 I was really thankful I had those experiences because, in the case of law school, I would have spent three years and thousands of dollars before I found out that it wasn’t right for me.

It’s really easy to get on this treadmill after high school, start university and then go right into a master’s, but I would really recommend taking some time off after high school and after your undergraduate degree to try things.

The next chapter in your journey will be in Economics. What attracted you to that?

I came from a background with no mathematics training, but I could see what a valuable skill this would be in public policy. So I did the one-year Post-Baccalaureate Diploma in Economics. The mathematics was challenging, but the professors were great and it was such a small group—fewer than 20— that we worked together all the time.

What surprised me was that one of my favourite classes ended up being in econometrics, which is the application of statistical methods to economic data. I was nervous about it, but Professor Simon Power did a phenomenal job explaining complicated concepts.

After this one-year program, I had offers from several top schools and I was able to get a scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to pursue my master’s degree in economics next year.

There’s this idea in North America that math skills are something you’re born with, but the truth is it’s like any kind of literacy: if you work really hard, you’ll learn it.

Friday, September 9, 2016 in , , , ,
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