UBC’s new Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) aims to transform the university into a global leader in economics by using the power of data to explore pressing social issues.
Erik Snowberg, who arrives from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), is eager to work with colleagues at UBC to create the world’s best research group in “data-driven political economy,” a field that focuses on the relationship between politics and the economy. Snowberg’s appointment marks Canada’s first CERC dedicated to social sciences research.
“We are excited to welcome Erik to Vancouver and to UBC’s team of leading economists,” said UBC Interim President Martha Piper. “This CERC appointment represents an important investment in the social sciences, one that will enable our researchers to provide cutting-edge insights into how politics and the economy inform our daily lives.”
Snowberg will be the CERC in Data-Intensive Methods in Economics, based out of UBC’s Vancouver School of Economics (VSE). A graduate of Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he is one of only 26 CERCs in Canada.
Snowberg’s appointment accompanies the launch of a new Centre for Innovative Data in Economics at UBC. The centre will feature state-of-the-art facilities for data-intensive research, and encourage collaboration with other world-leading researchers and institutions through workshops, exchanges and visits.
In recent decades, social sciences research has been transformed by ever-increasing amounts of data. “It’s great that we can collect more data than ever before – but we need to make sure that we’re collecting the right data,” said Snowberg. “I’m interested in innovative data wherever it may lie, whatever the research question may be.”
For example, as part of his research, register data – data collected by governments from the programs they run – will be used to understand the economic integration and political representation of immigrant communities, along with issues of inequality.
Snowberg’s work will also develop standard economic profiles – similar to personality profiles used in psychology research – to probe how economics, politics and culture impact decision-making. Another focus will use a range of data to study so-called “weak” democracies and autocracies around the world.
UBC plans to recruit new researchers to the VSE and UBC Sauder School of Business to continue building on the university’s strengths in political economy.
UBC will receive $10 million over seven years to support the chair and his team. The federal government established the CERC program in 2008 to recruit top talent from abroad to strengthen Canadian research programs.
Snowberg is UBC’s third CERC; he follows Jennifer Hoffman and Matthew Farrer. Hoffman joined the department of physics and astronomy in 2015 to study quantum materials, and Farrer joined the faculty of medicine in 2010 to study Parkinson’s and neurogenerative disorders.