Taking the reins at CGT
New director for the Center on Global Transformation Joshua Graff Zivin talks multidisciplinary research and plans for the center’s future
April 20, 2020 | Virginia Watson | GPS News
The Center on Global Transformation (CGT) has found itself at the center of its own transformation: new leadership.
The center, designed to bring together the worlds of academic inquiry and political analysis, will be led by UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS) professor and co-director of the UCSD Global Health Institute Joshua Graff Zivin, following the departure of professor Gordon Hanson, who served as director for 13 years and recently began an appointment at Harvard University.
Graff Zivin, an internationally renowned economist whose broad research interests include the environment, health, development and innovation economics, also holds the Pacific Economic Cooperation Chair in International Economic Relations at GPS.
In this Q&A he discusses the future of CGT, how the center has been affected by the novel coronavirus pandemic and the multidisciplinary benefits of problem-focused research.
As the new director, what’s your vision for the next phase of CGT?
"My plan is to continue the excellent work that was led by Gordon Hanson and generously supported by Joan and Irwin Jacobs. That will include recruiting the next wave of Pacific Leadership Fellows to foster dialogue about pressing policy issues with thought leaders from around the globe. We will also continue to invest in a range of research activities focused on the various ways that technological innovation shapes the economics and politics of the world around us. And, of course, we will continue to nourish our flagship research endeavors at GPS including the Big Pixel Initiative, the Japan Forum for Innovation and Technology and the new Center for Commerce and Diplomacy."
Has the current coronavirus pandemic affected the operations of CGT?
"The pandemic has forced us to reschedule our last Pacific Leadership Fellow for the current academic year, but we will add him to the terrific lineup of speakers already scheduled for next year. On a more upbeat note, I have been amazed at how smooth the transition to a virtual workplace has been, thanks to the IT revolution that has delivered a number of impressive tools to us over the past two decades."
Your research is conspicuously multidisciplinary. What’s your approach for deciding on your subjects of study?
"Policy scholars are generally problem-focused, and this often means leveraging insights from a variety of disciplines to tackle the challenge at hand. This is especially true in my fields of interest – health, environment and innovation – where obstacles and solutions are typically science-based. While my research spans many fields and topic areas, all of my projects begin with a strong sense of passion and curiosity. What do we know about a particular problem, and would knowing more make a difference in the world?"
What current research projects are you most excited about?
"I have a number of projects underway at the moment, but perhaps the one that is most exciting is one that looks at the role that pollution plays in the spread and severity of influenza. The inspiration for this project was the current coronavirus pandemic, and it has all come together rather quickly. Our results suggest that in addition to the usual benefits that we imagine when we talk about environmental protection, it may also serve as an important hedge against the nastiest impacts of the current and any future pandemic. That will become especially important as we begin to restart economies around the world.
I have also been working with a group of local life scientists to help define COVID-19 virus and antibody testing protocols that allow us to better balance the health and economic tradeoffs as the current situation continues to evolve."
You teach a number of popular courses at GPS that allow you to share your insights with the next generation. What skills or understanding do you hope your students leave your classes with?
"I hope to teach students to think through the incentives – economic, political, psychological, social or ethical – embedded in all social problems and policy-making contexts. My intention is to reinforce the importance of an ecumenical approach to understand the nature of any particular problem and the incentives that can be levered to tackle it. I also encourage students to recognize both the value and limits of generalizing those insights across countries and policy domains."
As a faculty member, what does holding an endowed chair mean to you?
"I am very grateful to hold the Pacific Economic Cooperation Chair in International Economic Relations as it allows me to support students in a variety of ways that better prepare them for the job market. This includes hiring them as research assistants, helping to fund their attendance at professional meetings and facilitating their placement into internships. The chair funds also enable me to invite speakers to campus and host small workshops on topics that connect to the broader interests of our faculty."
Additional Joshua Graff Zivin stories:
- ‘You can always go around the obstacles’
- A culture of encouraging diverse research pursuits
- A message on the new school year
- Three GPS professors named as Hellman Fellows
- From Thailand to the local passport agency, a student explores new horizons
- A focus on policymaking and social justice
- Democracy as a habit – in 10 minutes or less
- It’s time for San Diego to talk trash
- ‘A lot of experimentation’
- Science Policy Fellows use research to help shape well-informed policy options
- Ten things to know about our COVID-19 world
- Class of 2020 shines brightly in the face of adversity
- Students honored for academic achievements, contributions to GPS community
- Juneteenth and the GPS Community
- Statement on George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery
- A day in the life of a remote student
- Ulrike Schaede and the business reinvention of Japan
- Robertson Fellows show commitment to public service
- Alumni-nominated spotlight: Jessica Keegan MAS '16 of the International Republican Institute
- A rundown of binge-worthy shows and films
- Global connections foster global solutions
- Taking the reins at CGT
- A message from Dean Cowhey on COVID-19
- A gift to enhance U.S.-China relations
- Reflections of a harrowing journey through China's turbulent revolution
- A day in the life of a teaching assistant
- Ensuring diversity and inclusion
- Deploying mangroves to fight climate change
- Alumni-nominated spotlight: Alisha Tomita-Yu ’16 of Oracle
- Student group puts focus on China
- Decoding the Hong Kong protests – and more
- Is the MPP the right degree for me?
- Through knowledge we gain understanding
- Mapping a cleaner San Diego
- A day in the life of a NCAA Woman of the Year Honoree
- Nirupama Rao defines the future of Indo-Pacific relations
- Winter reading for the bibliophile
- Alumni-nominated spotlight: Booz Allen Hamilton consultant Maura Deignan
- Leading from the front
- Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies expands research on drug war and migrant crisis
- A marriage of policy and advocacy
- Decarbonizing the grid
- Sylff Fellows translate vision into reality
- Stanford study finds poor air quality responsible for one in five infant deaths in sub‑Saharan Africa
- Office hours: Associate Professor Jennifer Burney
- Class of 2018 graduates embody global citizenry and leadership
- Science Policy Fellows program nurtures effective interdisciplinary scholars
- Building cross-border relationships
- Geoengineering a greener future
- Sponsored Student Spotlight: Adnan Saygili
- Celebrating academic excellence
- Painting the picture of an MPP student’s day
- Gregory Lee looks at the future of digital health and technology
- A sustainable seafood hero
- Pass the pen: Alumnae nominated spotlight
- Campus recognizes alumni as leaders and changemakers
- Innovation in mobile technology
- Ian Johnson chronicles the rise of religion in China
- Writing the book on China’s economic policy
- Broadening horizons through international experience at BCG
- Office hours: Professor Gordon McCord
- New evening option for working professionals
- China's infrastructure investment as a development strategy
- Rethinking the war on drugs in Mexico
- Creating theoretical frameworks
- Nurturing future leaders at TechPolis
- The future is female
- Jamal Russell Black on Veridian Analytics' entrepreneurial spirit
- Love is in the air
- A day in the life of an MCEPA student
- Health and human capital
- Eduardo Porter finds journalistic inspiration at GPS
- Technology assessment at the nexus of STEM and policy
- IGCC receives coveted UC research grant
- Battery storage at the center of energy policy
- Researching how humans and the environment interact
- Office hours: Professor Ulrike Schaede
- Fighting wildfires with web based imagery
- United we dream
- Our 2017-2018 Boren Fellows
- Applying game theory to study behaviors
- Students craft views on climate change at COP23
- Molding future technical experts
- Why GPS: A niche in life
- The art of entrepreneurship
- Solar energy and pursuing the policy dream
- Social entrepreneur and first time author Ken Davenport ’90 of “The Two Gates”
- Why GPS: Discovering a passion for all things math
- Our 2017-18 Dean’s Fellows
- A Living, Learning Laboratory
- A ‘Prep Program’ for success, before day one
- Office hours: Professor Gordon Hanson
- Adding to a truly interdisciplinary academic environment
- Why GPS: Apply now and figure it out later
- Sponsored Student Spotlight: Noritoshi Kurokawa
- West Coast-Trained for a Washington, D.C. Think Tank
- Linked in Latin America
- Facilitating a ‘family affair’
- Nico Ravanilla retreats to Oxford for research
- 2016 alumni remember their first year in the real world
- Pioneering international excellence
- Research at the border: A living laboratory of transformation
- UC Policy School Deans’ Response to OMB Prohibition on Critical Race Theory Training