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Linking Sustainable Development & Climate Change: Interview with Prof. Jaehyun Jung

This Spring 2022, Ewha GSIS added a new professor to their full-time faculty. Professor Jaehyun Jung will teach Quantitative Methods, Research Methods, and Poverty and Development this spring semester. This interview will give students an inside look into the new professor, his academic experiences, his goals during his time at Ewha GSIS, and advice for his students.

Could you please introduce yourself a little bit, especially why you decided to become a scholar living in Korea?

So originally I am from Korea, born and raised in Korea. I completed my undergraduate in Business Administration at Yonsei University, so this area is quite familiar to me. My undergraduate major was Business Administration and after that, I became a banker at the ‘Export-Import Bank of Korea.’ The bank is the government bank, and there are two main organizations that are responsible for the international cooperation of Korea. One is KOICA and the counterpart is the ‘Export-Import Bank of Korea.’ KOICA is usually in charge of donations but the ‘Export-Import Bank of Korea’ is in charge of loans. I had a chance to work there, so I have participated in several workshops in Africa to share Korea’s development experience. I visited, Ghana, Tanzania, Egypt, and I visited those countries to share Korea’s development knowledge and I was quite surprised that the African officials were quite into about learning Korea’s development strategies and experiences.

That’s where I found my way to be an academic scholar because everyone wanted to learn about Korea’s development

but actually, there has not been much study on that. I decided to be a scholar who studies the development strategy or development cooperation in general.

That’s when I decided to pursue a further academic degree, so after two years in the bank, I applied for the Master of Public Administration at Columbia University, but actually, that was my bridge program to get a Ph.D. So I heard that there is a development cooperation major at Ewha University, but in most cases in the United States, it was considered one subfield in Economics. I wanted to be a Ph.D. student in Development Economics, but I did not have any experience in mathematics or statistics, so that’s why I chose the bridge program at Columbia University. When I was a Master’s student, I had extensive experience in development cooperation and I also took math and economics courses, so luckily I had participated in field projects in Malawi, I stayed there for about three months to do some field projects. The program was to promote male circumcision to prevent HIV infection, so I participated in that program. Based on that experience and my professional experience and academic preparation, I luckily got accepted to the Sustainable Development program at Columbia. I spent about eight years in New York, two years for my master’s and six years in the Ph.D. program. After that, I came back to Korea, but I really wanted to be an academic scholar from the beginning but the system here is not that good for a fresh Ph.D. to have a job in academia right away. So I have experience in sectors, that’s why I joined the Korea Institute of Public Finance. 

Professor Jaehyun Jung

Can you please explain more about your area of interest: sustainable development, in particular, environmental problems and the impact on developing countries?

My research interest is in between Development and Environmental Science. I am studying the impact of climate change on public health in developing countries. One of my key research is about the environment or climate change. Luckily, the Korea Institute of Public Finance also is in charge of environmental taxes including carbon taxes, so they offered me a position I worked there for three years. And working on the environmental taxes, carbon taxes. After that, the position at Ewha was vacant so I joined.

So my Ph.D. program is an interdisciplinary program that combines not only development economics but combines natural sciences; for example, in my case, it was environmental science so when I did my Ph.D. degree I focused mainly on the problems that would affect humans, rather than firms or corporations, I focused on health or the economists call it the human capital. The subject area also confirmed, that’s why I always wanted to link environmental impacts with human health or human capital. That is why I chose my research area and there are multiple research interests for my colleagues, some students were interested in ecology so they tried the impact of pesticides on natural life, and eventually, it had an adverse impact on human health. My colleagues studies or others studied climate change and negotiations in international relations, so there are many students studying various areas. For my case, I tried to really link the environmental impacts on human health, which became my primary interest.

Everyone who graduated from my program had one key paper, we call it the ‘job market’ paper because we bring this to the job market. My job market paper was studying the impact of climate change, actually how it has various adverse aspects, and what was interesting to me was some extreme weather events. For example, I used the drought and I investigated the impact of drought on the economic conditions of rural households in Vietnam, through the economic impact I studied the extreme events in Vietnam affect fertility decisions in rural women in Vietnam. I also studied the transboundary pollution between China and Korea, but the problem was not just between China and Korea, it affected Singapore and other countries in Southeast Asia. 

This semester you are offering three courses, can you please describe your teaching method and anything in particular that makes your teaching method stand out, especially in these courses?

I have very basic teaching experience, I was a TA and I have been a visiting professor at Kyunghee University, so actually, this teaching experience is almost the first one for me. I think the most important thing is that I really want the students to understand the material. I am teaching three courses, Quantitative Methods, Research Methods, and Poverty and Development. The most difficult course is actually Quantitative Methods because I am teaching statistics to students who are not familiar with quantitative skills so I think I really try hard for them to make sure they understand the material. Sometimes I read their faces, facial expressions, I think I sense that they do not understand what I am teaching. I really try to give a lot of examples and I try to ask them if they understood the material, or I try to let them say the concept in their own words. I am still searching for the most effective way to deliver the course material to the students. I am from a quantitative discipline but I remember that the level is different for each student, so I try to find some middle ground where all the students feel happy, I think I am still doing that.

So it really depends on the students’ reactions to the course materials but I think the online course is not the best way to interact with the students, I prefer offline courses which is why all three courses are offered offline this semester. I really try to read the students’ reactions.

What do you want the students to learn from your courses?

I really want the students to feel comfortable with reading any kind of paper. I think most students are based on qualitative research, but nowadays there is much of quantitative research so I will hope that students will learn how to read quantitative papers more comfortably. Although they might not understand perfectly, at least I hope my students can learn or can understand, those quantitative papers, the main theme of the papers.

Do you have any concerns about starting the new role in this new environment in Ewha GSIS?

This environment is really similar to what I have taught at Columbia University, so there is a mix of students and it is quite similar to what I had at Columbia; although there are no male students but a mix of nationalities. So I feel like I am just doing TA for students. From that perspective, I don’t have any problem or discomfort with this environment. 

I am okay with staying or teaching at this woman’s university, but the only problem is that is COVID. So I hope the school environment changes, to have more people on the campus, more active, for students to play outside. I heard during the new faculty meeting organized by the President of Ewha, that only 17% of students are on campus. That is the only disappointment, so I hope to see more students on campus and interact with students in the classroom. 

Could you please give any tips on being a creative and productive researcher? Some of the Master’s students often think that they are not good enough to write something worthwhile.

As you know about myself, I did not consider being an academic researcher during my undergraduate and even after graduation. So I worked in a bank, so there was a big career change and at first, I did not know how to write a report in English. When I started my Master’s degree at Columbia, the time helped, I tried bit by bit, and even now I still work on my research skills. So I think one of the most important things to do is read a lot, particularly famous papers or books on a specific topic. I think the Dean keeps saying that we need a lot of readings, it is not just important for IR but readings are important for quantitative discipline. Another thing would be that students should not be scared about starting something new, because particularly in the graduate school environment it is really hard for you to find someone who is giving very detailed advice. When I did my Ph.D. degree, no one told me how to use the statistical package, they gave me assignments and I had to Google it a lot. But that practice, trying something new, was the first building block to becoming a researcher. 

Some students might consider the private sector or international organizations, so for that, this advice will work too. If you join a business or private sector, international organization, you will always be asked to do something you have not done – please do not be scared because there is trial and error, so please just do it!

For those interested in the sustainable development field could you please share a reading list?


Poor Economics

Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo


Why Nations Fail

Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson


Thinking, Fast and Slow

Daniel Kahneman

From your perspective in the Sustainable Development field, what are the interesting trends or issues that, if we would like to continue to work in this field, we should be familiar with?

It is good to mention the impact of climate change, by far researchers are people who are interested in climate change and the economy. Nowadays, people in climate change are now trying to find diverse, adverse, impacts – so impacts can be very diverse so for that reason I studied the impact of climate change on fertility. Other people studied the impact of climate change on ecology, the impact climate change on psychology, or social unrest. If you are interested in sustainable development, in particular climate change, it would be good to link any possible area with climate change. 

Do you have any advice or something to say to the students at Ewha GSIS?

I think what I really like about students is that they are really active, so one of the things you can hear about Korean universities is that Korean students are not that engaging

but on the contrary Ewha GSIS students are engaging in class and they really work to make a voice.

So I think my advice would be the earlier the better, if you have any questions please come to the professor, just ask questions right away. One of my favorite quotes is ‘there is no stupid question’, any questions will be appreciated. 

Any last comments?

Professor Jaehyun Jung

I am really happy to join Ewha GSIS!


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