Q&A with Cary Balser, Ph.D. student in economics

Author: Carrie Gates

This is the first installment in a monthly Q&A series with Arts and Letters graduate students.

Cary Balser, a second-year Ph.D. student, serves in the Air Force as an operations research scientific analyst. He graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. In 2012, Balser received a master’s degree in economics from George Mason University and returned to teach economics as a junior military faculty member at the Air Force Academy. Balser was selected by the Air Force to pursue a Ph.D. in economics and will return to service afterward.

Cary Balser 600 2Cary Balser

What are your research interests?

My research primarily surrounds how education and family policies affect labor choices, especially within the military. I think both practical experience — trying to manage our own family (with five children under age 6) and work desires — and a recognition of the importance of and changes to family life, structure, and community have led me to these areas of research. 

I would like to help the military form reasonable policies for service members with families, in obtaining education and increasing productivity.

Why is it especially important to be studying education and family policies today?

In the military particularly — but also in the workforce generally — we’ve seen big shifts in who does “the work,” who pursues education, and how families are structured. If the family is the primary building block of society, then it is crucially important to understand the economics of the family in order to understand what policies, via the government or private firms, are best suited to achieve our stated goals. It’s also critical to sustaining the world’s most powerful and effective military force to protect our citizens. The fact that personnel costs are a huge portion of the Department of Defense budget gives it added import.

Cary Balser Family 600Balser with his family.

How did you choose Notre Dame?

I choose Notre Dame because the Department of Economics in particular has many young economists in my fields of interest across applied microeconomics. The University was also open to understanding and addressing my unique needs, strengths, weaknesses, and timeline, and it was a great fit for our young Catholic family. 

What do you see as the strengths of the Economics Ph.D. program?

I think the size of the program and faculty/graduate student ratio are great strengths, along with the quality and interests of the faculty, and the program’s flexibility regarding individual student needs and desires.