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Why economics is the key to a fulfilling STEM career

RBA Assistant Governor Brad Jones explains how an economics career can see you making a big difference in people’s lives

By Brad Jones

In my six years at the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), I’ve had the good fortune to work on some fascinating domestic and international issues. And with a global pandemic thrown into the mix, it’s been a challenging and rewarding time to be working in Australian public policy.

My economics career path has been unusually long and winding! 

As an undergraduate in Western Australia, my interest in economics and finance was sparked by the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997.

My career has since spanned three periods of financial and economic upheaval: the implosion of the technology bubble in the early 2000s, the Global Financial Crisis and the global pandemic.

After my honours year, I moved to Sydney to do a PhD and one of my dissertation topics was on the RBA. 

As things turned out, I spent my early career overseas – mainly in London and Hong Kong in the financial markets, in Washington, D.C. at the International Monetary Fund, and also as a fellow at the University of Cambridge Judge Business School. But I’m grateful to be back home working on issues that are highly relevant to the welfare of Australians.

In my experience, people get hooked on economics for two main reasons. 

First, it provides you with a broad prism through which you can better understand the world around you. It’s a great way to indulge your intellectual curiosity. 

I struggle to think of significant issues – both historical and current – that haven’t been connected to economics. 

Without a solid grasp of economics, you can’t understand the rise and fall of empires, why some countries have prospered while others have stagnated, or consider the implications for society of income inequality, climate change, geopolitical conflict and pandemics. 

Second, studying economics can equip you with the skills to improve the welfare of people around you, through public policy. 

Policy making can affect people’s lives – for better or worse – in profound ways. Wielding that sort of power requires a ‘toolkit’ to tackle complex problems under great uncertainty. 

When advising policymakers, you need to understand the intended and possibly unintended consequences of actions! And this is more important than ever in a crisis – when it’s all hands on deck, those economics skills really come to the fore.

This article was brought to you in partnership with the Reserve Bank of Australia. It originally appeared in Careers with STEM: Economics 2024

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