Steven Bond-Smith shares insights into being the primary carer for his son, Leander

ContactsSteven Bond-Smith, Research Fellow
Kelly Pohatu, Events and Communications Officer
Published24 January 2019

Steven Bond-Smith is a Research Fellow with the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre and is interested in the economics of innovation, growth and regional economics. As the primary carer for his son, Leander, Steven says that being a parent is wonderful, but the responsibility and time commitment can also be exhausting.

Tell us why you chose a career path in academia.

Following my undergraduate degree I worked for an internet service provider and used applied economics to inform the company’s strategy through a regulatory reform process. As this project came to an end, I was disappointed that the applied economics component in my role would be disappearing and I was inspired to move to a consulting firm where I pursued a PhD in economics part-time.

I also had the opportunity to be a visiting researcher at the London School of Economics, Australian National University, the University of Groningen and Vrije University Amsterdam which gave  me a good insight into working within academia.

Following my PhD, I returned to economic regulation, this time for an industry regulator. I found myself longing to apply economics to broader and more contentious questions involved in academic research, so I applied for a role with BCEC.

What key skills do you need to do your job?

I think one of the most important aspects of academic research is creativity. If specific theories don’t already exist, we have to consider the logical mechanisms that drive the relationships between factors. I believe creativity is required, particularly when there is a counter-intuitive relationship.

For instance, intuitively, new internet technologies would make the world ‘flat’ because we work from anywhere, but in reality, it seems that the opposite is often true. For many industries, it has now become more important to be located in large and connected cities, as it gets easier to share information or sell products to far away markets. Rather than spreading out, cities become increasingly important to economic activity, so the world becomes less ‘flat’ and increasingly ‘spiky’. It’s advantageous for related or similar businesses to be located close together and serve the world, which is why single regions such as Silicon Valley can dominate an industry.

Economists also need to be fluent in the languages of mathematics and statistics – the key tools that economists use to explore and describe economic relationships.

Tell us about something interesting you are working on at the BCEC?

I recently co-authored a report looking into the healthcare industry in WA and Australia. In particular, I explored innovation in healthcare and the rapid changes occurring in terms of how we  consume healthcare services and how they are delivered. This is particularly important in Australia and WA because of our dispersed population. We have some very isolated communities,
and Australian cities are also far apart from each other. We have a great opportunity in Australia to explore new technologies that are enabling remote healthcare delivery over great distances.

This research allows us to think about what this means for the healthcare industry and for the health of people in remote communities and in our cities. We see that there are many technologies used to deliver health care yet we need to keep in mind that these technologies are not perfect substitutes for face-to-face contact with health professionals. The quality of care needs to be sustained or improved, while finding economic efficiencies in the technologies that are used for healthcare delivery.

Your research is centrally concerned with the economics of innovation, economic growth, and regional economics. Tell us more about this.

Innovation is one of the primary drivers of long run economic growth. I like to think about how to model innovation to understand the implications on regions, economic growth and economic policy. For example, an innovator often only has part of an idea and it’s only when they meet someone else who has the connecting part of the idea that it becomes an innovation.

While the internet means you can work from anywhere, the greatest gains in affecting change and innovation are in very large, globally-connected cities. Similar to the case with healthcare, this is because electronic communication is not a substitute for face-to-face meetings, but complementary.

Take a look for yourself – the vast majority of your emails are likely to be from people in the same city as you and usually in the same office as you. So rather than the internet making the world flat; the world of innovation is concentrated in cities. But this theory also implies that innovation is less likely in a place like WA and Australia – because we are far away from the rest of the world and our cities are less dense and more isolated – however we know there is a thriving innovation industry here on our doorstep. So what is it about some regions that make them more innovative
than others and how do innovative regions overcome barriers to innovation such as distance?

I hope my research contributes to developing strategies and policies to overcome these barriers to innovation. For example, the clustering of industries that we’re good at and diversifying into related industries supports regional innovation and inclusive growth.

Tell us about the highlight in being the primary carer for your son, Leander. What are the challenges and how do you juggle this with work?

Being a parent is wonderful, but the responsibility and time commitment can also be exhausting. I took a significant period of parental leave and personal leave when Leander was born and I have  reduced my workload since returning to work in order to spend a day at home with Leander. He changes so quickly and I’m grateful for the privilege to get to watch him grow. It is great to see his personality coming out: he’s very smiley and happy, he only tries things when he’s sure of himself and is very good at letting us know exactly what he wants!

Being a parent also really highlights to me some of the drivers of the gender pay gap that my colleagues at BCEC work on. In particular, if the parenting commitment is not accounted for, then this will be reflected in subsequent career opportunities, even when those commitments reduce as children grow. I now strongly believe that if we do not have flexible and supportive workplaces and labour markets, there is human capital in parents, particularly mothers, which could be lost. This highlights to me the very real economic benefits of reducing the gender pay gap.

What support do you have to enable the success of your research?

My wife is an expert in econometrics and statistics. I’m really lucky that I can ask her a quick question if I need help on something I am working on. Also, when I’m working on something, I can discuss it with her and she knows what I’m talking about. Her support is crucial to me being happy and successful in my work.

What’s the toughest challenge/biggest battle?

I think a common challenge in many fields of research is trying to communicate your research so the general public understands how the research has value and impact. Recently, it feels like people have stopped listening to experts and have turned towards people who seem to ‘tell it like it is’. As academics, we spend our lives dedicated to understanding particular issues and it’s
hard going if the public don’t recognise this expertise.

At BCEC, stakeholder engagement with both academia and industry is important for our research development, and also gives us an opportunity to share research with people who might not usually see it. But we have to be able to communicate our research in ways that connect with real world lives. This is not an easy task for many academics, but having industry experience helps me focus my research to ask how it makes a difference and how can I communicate this most effectively.

What’s the biggest myth about your work?

The biggest myth is that economics is all about money. Everyone assumes an economist knows what to invest in. But in reality most economists don’t work for banks, and instead focus on  interesting questions about how the world works. For example, if I’m thinking about the economics of innovation, I’m looking at the relationships between skills, measures of innovation and the location of both people and innovations: none of those are measured in money.

What advice or words of wisdom would you share with others interested in working within academia?

Research is a most exciting endeavour due to the endless possibilities that lie ahead. But I would say that persistence is absolutely crucial. To thrive in academia, it is important to frequently  publish articles in top journals and this can be challenging. There will be setbacks. The academic job market is highly competitive. Research doesn’t always go to plan. It is easy to feel disenchanted by these aspects, but if it’s your dream to work in academic research, it’s important to look past this and persist with following that dream.