Cong aims to use quantitative research to pursue development policy in post-conflict settings.
Headshot of Bryant Cong
Bryant Cong

It was during his sophomore year at the University of Southern California (USC) that Bryant Cong, MACRM Class of 2022, first combined his interests in math and international affairs. “I was working with Professor Erin Baggott-Carter, who had created a database that tracked Chinese lobbying in the United States,” Cong said. “We analyzed her data with R to see various lobbying efforts by category and understand how the data changed over time. It was one of the first quantitative experiences I had, and now I can see how it set me on my path to Harris.”

Cong subsequently used the research to write Chinese Lobbying Practices: Comparing the Hu and Xi Regimes, which won third place at the USC Undergrad Research Symposium. “It was rewarding that the research was subsequently used by U.S. government officials.”

Then, while studying abroad at Australian National University, Cong did research for the Australian Navy. “They were trying to figure out how best to improve humanitarian aid to neighboring countries. I interviewed Australian government and military officials and created a policy report for the Sea Power Centre.” This experience, Cong said, showed him that he wanted to work in international development, but he wasn’t sure exactly how.

“During my senior year at USC, I realized I wanted to use public policy, economics, and econometrics tools to address problems in international development. I saw that the theories I had been learning about in my math and economics classes could make a difference in how development is done.” As he researched graduate programs and schools, the strong quantitative curriculum of the UChicago Harris MA in Public Policy with a Certificate in Research Methods (MACRM) made the school his top choice.

“Harris has established expertise in international development, and when I read Professor Chris Blattman’s blog post about the MACRM program, I got excited about it. I am really looking forward to the research component of the degree—the chance to learn from experts in development is what drew me to Harris.”

While at Harris, Cong wants to focus on governance and politics in economic development—more specifically, how to pursue development policy in post-conflict settings. This interest, he said, came out of a summer spent in Guatemala."I saw how the country was still struggling to rebuild after its civil war that ended in 1996. For the MACRM program’s research requirement, I’d absolutely love to do research with Harris professors working on this topic, such as Dr. Chris Blattman, Dr. Oeindrila Dube, and Dr. Scott Gehlbach. I hope to also learn from the events of, or do research with, The Pearson Institute." Outside of class, Cong, who was a member of the USC Triathlon, wants to participate in the University of Chicago Triathlon Club. 

After graduation, Cong said he plans on working in development for a few years while he decides whether to pursue a PhD.

“I love that the MACRM is a professional degree and has the research component. Since I am uncertain about my next steps after Harris, the program will give me the time and space to get the best of both worlds in one program,” he said.

Cong also has a personal reason for being excited to study in Chicago. “My parents immigrated from China to Chicago for graduate school right after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. They felt they had to study engineering to secure jobs, and it was a hard time for them. I am lucky that I am able to go to Chicago and study public policy when my parents’ opportunities had been so limited given the political situation at the time. I feel lucky that I can pursue my interests,” Cong said.