Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Saturday, March 13, 2021

New Faculty Focus: Christine Durrance

62fb8f5a0546fd012c5c7e2053866e78 SChristine Durrance, Associate Professor, La Follette School of Public Affairs

Hometown: I was born in Simsbury, Connecticut, but grew up in Tallahassee, Florida.

Educational/professional background: PhD in Economics, University of Florida, BA in Economics, Emory University

Previous position: University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, Department of Public Policy, Associate Professor

How did you get into your field of research? I grew up in economics—my father was an economist. I majored in economics at Emory and then decided to pursue a PhD in economics. In my undergraduate life, I had thought I wanted to be a physician. I started the hard science path at Emory and realized quickly that I liked economics and statistics more than biology and chemistry. When I went to graduate school, I was able to combine my interests in health with economics, and join an interdisciplinary field that spans economics, public policy, public health, medicine, law, and so much more.

What attracted you to UW-Madison? I was struck by the community of researchers. UW–Madison appeared then and continues to be an amazing community of scholars and a collaborative and interdisciplinary environment. I was hired as part of a cluster hire in reproductive health and am a part of the Collaborative for Reproductive Equity (CORE) on campus. In my roles here, I feel I am best positioned to contribute to research, teaching, and service.

What was your first visit to campus like? My first visit to campus was in October, when I gave a research seminar at the La Follette School of Public Affairs. I came back again in March. It was much colder the second time! Both my visits were fantastic.

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with? I want my students to be exposed to new ideas and new concepts. I want them to become constructive critics of the world around them and to challenge their prior beliefs. I view my role in the classroom to teach students how to think about public problems.

Is there a way your field of study can help the world endure and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected the health, finances, and lifestyle of so many? All my work speaks to public policy and to policymakers thinking about ways to mitigate harms among vulnerable populations, inside and outside the pandemic. Economics and public policy use tools for identifying causal relationships between policy and outcomes, in ways that we hope provide the necessary evidence base for policymakers to make decisions that improve the lives of their constituents. My focus is largely on health, which has been such a focus this last year. The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that health and health policy have myriad spillovers into all areas of our lives: employment, income, child care, education, social welfare participation, health insurance, health outcomes, and more. It is important for researchers to understand these consequences overall and across vulnerable populations, and to identify factors that can mitigate harm.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how. The Wisconsin Idea is something that attracted me to UW–Madison. I chose to be in an interdisciplinary unit (Public Policy at UNC; Public Affairs at UW–Madison) because I am interested in research that has the potential to change policy and thereby change outcomes. For me, this means asking research questions that matter to policymakers and communities. It also means collaborating with researchers in other disciplines and learning from one another to best answer the questions that matter to our state and our nation.

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter during video chats (and eventually parties)? One definition of economics—microeconomics in particular—is the study of individual decisions, i.e., how people respond to changing incentives. It is not all about money! In fact, many applied microeconomists would cringe and run away when asked about their stock market predictions.

What are you looking forward to doing or experiencing in Madison? I am looking forward to campus opening up and being able to meet more of my new colleagues in person. I literally dream about attending an academic seminar with other colleagues in a conference room and not on Zoom. In Madison, I am looking forward to COVID-19 being in the past and being able to experience all that the area has to offer. My family has embraced winter this season so far—ice skating and sledding. Next up is skiing and snowshoeing—we just need to purchase the gear! We are looking forward to spring/summer and enjoying more outdoor activities: hiking, exploring, and water activities.

Hobbies/other interests: I am a mother to three children (12, 9, 5) who keep me busy outside of my academic life. We also have a two-year-old Vizsla who we adore and who joins us on outside adventures. I also enjoy running and being outside with my family exploring new places. We love to spend time on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

Research, CV, etc.