Joshua Hyman is an assistant professor of economics. He received his bachelor’s degree in economics from Tufts University and earned his doctorate in economics and public policy from the University of Michigan. He previously taught in the Department of Public Policy at the University of Connecticut.
Q: What was your first encounter with economics and what drew you to the subject? A: I first encountered economics as an undergraduate student at Tufts. I was interested in quantitative fields and so when I saw some available econ courses, I decided to give it a go. In the various economics classes at Tufts I found that I enjoyed the subject! I appreciated the rigorous quantitative methods used in the discipline and its ability to harness statistics and data. Everything was real world and relevant. Also, through interactions with my professors, I learned about possible careers in economics. They showed me that economics has the potential to help the less fortunate and reduce inequality. This kind of sold me on econ because I had known throughout my life that I wanted to help people; really, economics seemed like a great way to accomplish this.
Q: What led you to your current position as an economics professor at Amherst? A: At Tufts — where there are a lot more students than at Amherst — I had a senior thesis. For this thesis, I worked largely with one advisor. My senior thesis advisor played a large role in shaping my perception of what it means to work as an economics professor. He always seemed happy! He had a great job, did cool research with interesting data. His enthusiasm with the examination of education policy and the impacts of educational reforms resonated with me. When I worked with him, I explored the material that I study now in depth and saw the satisfaction that my advisor got from his job. Being a professor seemed like the perfect balance of teaching students and pursuing higher-level research. I knew that if I wanted to simultaneously train the next generation and challenge myself every day — this career path was the one to take.
Q: What is your current research? A: My research focuses on education policy. I use economics as a lens to examine the impacts of different education policies and education reform. Specifically, I do this with the goal of trying to reduce inequality in educational achievement and attainment. In particular, I’ve done some work looking at school finance and whether giving more money to disadvantaged schools is helpful for student achievement. We have already seen that helping underfunded schools and poor communities improves student outcomes.
Q: Can you tell me a bit about the classes you’re teaching? A: I’m teaching two courses. The first is a core econ theory class that all the majors have to take. It is called Intermediate Microeconomics. That is a very important course, but not always the most exciting to some students. I have seen more passion in a lower-level elective that I am teaching about inequality in the U.S. This content matter is much more related to my research. We explore many economic commentators and explore inequality through the eyes of various perspectives. It has been super fun to teach!
Q: What field do you think you would you be working in if it wasn’t economics? A: Maybe something related to music. I really enjoyed teaching piano lessons and had at least a dozen students at one point, right after college. It was a fun gig, so I guess I may have continued doing that for a while. But it’s a hard question to answer, sort of like looking at your life through a different lens, I guess.
Q: When you’re not teaching at Amherst, what do you do in your free time? A: Mostly at this point, I care for my two young children. It’s a joy but there hasn’t been a lot of room for other stuff besides work and my 3 year old and 8 month old at the present.
Q: If you travel anywhere in the world, where would it be? A: I’ll say South Africa because the first time that I went there was so incredible. The first time that I went was on my honeymoon with my wife several years ago. It was awesome because you could go on a safari and see lions and other amazing animals, and then later you could also go to some beautiful cities. For example, on the coast there’s Cape Town. There are really a lot of fun and interesting things to do and see in South Africa.