The Philosopher Economist: How Pablo Andres Gonzalez found his way to academia.
By Sarah Fister Gale
Pablo Andres Gonzalez is now a doctoral student in the John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought, but like many fellow students, his path included stops along the way that influenced his long-term career aspirations.
After studying humanities in his hometown of Santiago, Chile, and later completing a bachelor’s degree in linguistics and cognitive science at NYU, he thought he wanted to pursue a life of politics. At NYU, Gonzalez spent much of his time at the Center on Latin American Affairs, headed by Jorge Castañeda, which brought important leaders and intellectuals from Latin America. “In attending those events I acquired an interest in Latin American politics at the regional level,” he says. It gave him new insights into a regional approach to the political landscape.
In 2007, he landed a full scholarship from the Chilean government to pursue a master’s degree at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies in Washington DC, where he concentrated on Latin American Studies and Development Economics.
It was a leap for Gonzalez, who had never studied economics before, and lacked the quantitative training that his peers would bring to the program. So he arrived early and spent three months teaching himself introductory economics and calculus through university tutorials.
It was challenging to compete with students who had spent years studying economics, but in the long run, he believes his combination of political sciences and economics training gave him an edge. “You can’t talk politics if you don’t understand the economy, and you can’t understand the economy without some quantitative training,” he says.
During the program, Gonzalez secured an internship at the World Bank in Mexico, where his tri-lingual skills (French, Spanish, and English) distinguished him as a key asset on the team. He spent his days talking with government officials and translating for foreign ministers. “It was an thrilling experience to be trusted with important responsibilities as an intern,” he says.
When he graduated, he pursued a series of consulting roles with the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington DC, which he found professionally rewarding. The positions paid well and were contract-based, so he often found himself with time off to travel and to pursue other interests. However, excessive institutional bureaucracy and not having a position that involved fieldwork eventually started to lose its charm.
“I always knew that deep inside me I prefer the intellectual life. Life gives you few opportunities to make radical changes and I knew the moment had come,” he says, and in 2015, he left his corporate life to pursue his current studies at the University of Chicago.
Gonzalez applied to several universities, but he found that Social Thought was the perfect fit for his combination of skills and interests. Where many programs are rigidly focused on a narrowly defined approach to economics, he likes that this program offers an interdisciplinary approach with emphasis on conceptual foundations.
“It’s a flexible program where I can learn to think rigorously, philosophically, and acquire the tools to trace the history of ideas. I can add to that my background in development economics,” he says. “It’s a place where I can discover and pursue an intellectual passion without constraint.”
Gonzalez also appreciates the freedom that the program allows in shaping his studies, and how the Committee welcomes students from diverse academic backgrounds in social theory, philosophy, literature or religious studies. “It is highly regarded as an elite program that is quite unique,” he says.
Gonzalez will begin work on his dissertation in the fall, which will focus on an element of the intellectual history of economic development, and he looks forward to continuing his education at UChicago. “The faculty in the committee do unique work that oversteps conventional disciplinary boundaries, and they are part of an interconnected global community of scholars,” he says. “My experience here has surpassed my expectations.”