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NEW @ THE ACADEMY

Meet our Fellows: Dr. Gregg Van Ryzin (‘19)

Dr. Gregg G. Van Ryzin is a Professor in the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University–Newark . His research employs surveys and experiments to study a range of topics, including citizen satisfaction with public services, coproduction, performance measurement, nonprofit organizations, and housing and urban affairs. Dr. Van Ryzin’s work is widely published in scholarly journals and he is author (with Dahlia Remler) of Research Methods in Practice (SAGE) and editor (with Oliver James and Sebastian Jilke) of Experiments in Public Management Research (Cambridge).  He is also founding editor (together with Sebastian Jilke and Kenneth Meier) of the Journal of Behavioral Public Administration.

Here is a recent interview with Dr. Gregg Van Ryzin:

  1. How did you get involved in public service?

As a kid, I was always interested in politics and government. I remember being glued to the TV during the Watergate hearings as a boy during the summer of 1973. In college, I gravitated toward courses in political philosophy, urban planning and psychology (an odd mix). In graduate school, I worked for a nonprofit housing development organization in New York City, which I found fascinating, and ended up doing my dissertation on the experiences of people living in self-managed, low-income housing. That led me to Washington, DC, and to the start of my professional career as a public policy and administration researcher.

  1. Which of the Academy's 12 Grand Challenges resonates most with you?

My favorite Grand Challenge: “Develop New Approaches to Public Governance and Engagement”. I’ve always been interested in how ordinary people experience, evaluate, and engage with government. I’m also very interested in the ways that citizens, civil society, and nonprofit organizations form part a broader approach to governance. I realize this has not been the traditional focus of NAPA, but in an important sense public administration involves many different actors in society beyond just the federal bureaucracy. I’m glad to see this perspective recognized in NAPA’s Grand Challenges.

  1. Reflecting on your career thus far, is there a highlight, a greatest accomplishment or a funny story you'd like to share?

A strange thing about my career is how I ended up as a professor of public administration (and now a NAPA fellow) after earning a PhD in psychology, which is not the typical background. But by the time I finished my PhD in psychology, my interests had evolved toward wanting to apply my research skills more directly to real-world public policy and administration. Interestingly, the recent rise of behavioral public administration, with its roots in psychology and behavioral economics, has made my background more appreciated. So I feel less of an outsider these days.

  1. What advice would you give someone wanting to start a career in public service?

Public service includes so many important jobs—in education, public health, environmental protection, criminal justice, international relations, transportation, homeland security, housing, human services, arts and culture, and the list goes on. My advice would be to figure out which issues in society you feel most passionate about, then look for jobs that let you dig in and work on those issues. Most people do their best work and feel happiest when they pursue careers that are meaningful to them.

  1. What was the best trip you've ever taken?

Because my wife is a historian, we took our family to Madrid for a sabbatical year so she could work in the archives. I arranged an affiliation with a Spanish public policy institute, which led to several joint papers with Spanish colleagues. Our kids went to Spanish schools, met friends, and learned the language. We all fell in love with Spain, which has a fascinating history and culture.

  1. What was the last book you read or one that you would recommend?

I just finished James Scott’s “Seeing Like a State”, which is a beautifully written, deeply perceptive book about how modern states try to impose simplified, schematic plans on complex natural and social realities with often disastrous consequences. It’s the kind of book that changes how you look at government and the world.

  1. Do you have a favorite podcast, journal, newspaper, or other kind of media?

The Washington Post and the New York Times have been doing amazing investigative journalism over the last several years, which have been a troubling time in the US. The important work of these two newspapers makes me appreciate how critical it is to our democracy to have an independent, free press.

  1. What do you work toward in your free time?

My work and free time often seem to coincide. I truly enjoy my job—doing research, writing, reading new ideas, and teaching (although not grading)—and I often work from home, at odd hours and on weekends. But when I’m not working, I enjoy cooking, playing guitar, and going for a run. I also love to travel whenever I get the chance.

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