A Financial Markets Analyst at the Fed, Spence pursued the MACRM program to gain advanced research experience in economics, opening doors to future PhD programs or research careers.
Headshot of John Spence
John Spence

John Spence, MACRM Class of 2022, intentionally takes himself outside of his comfort zone to learn new concepts and make a deeper impact. That’s why the summer before he started college, he decided to leave his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, and spend a gap year with Global Citizen Year, a program modelled after the Peace Corps, working as a volunteer English teacher in Ecuador.  

“It was simultaneously the best and the hardest thing I've ever done. I say best because I enjoyed it and grew so much, and I say hardest, because I left behind everything that was familiar to me—my friends, my teammates, being a student—and immersed myself in a completely new culture and role. I was the only English speaker in the town where I stayed, and I had to figure out how to live and be helpful in a completely new context. It was a humbling experience and I grew a lot as a person.”

After his gap year in Ecuador, Spence studied political economy at Williams College, where he was a teaching assistant in econometrics and tax policy. Since graduating in 2019, he has worked as a Financial Markets Analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago, where he assesses risks and market conditions. 

In the midst of pandemic layoffs, as many people worried about financial institutions’ viability, Spence worked with commercial mortgage-backed securities operations while evaluating the health of the market. “We have been incredibly busy during the pandemic rolling out purchase facilities in the effort to prevent the public health crisis from spiraling into a worst-case-scenario financial crisis.”

While working at the Fed, he realized he was interested in understanding the complex underpinnings of economics, and he began to consider pursuing his PhD. “While I felt confident in my transcript, GRE score, and recommendations, I felt that I lacked the academic economics research experience, and it was intimidating to commit to a 4-6 year PhD program." When Spence heard about the MA in Public Policy with Certificate in Research Methods (MACRM), he said it seemed like the perfect fit. "There are a lot of economics programs out there, but very few with PhD level econometrics and micro in such a short timeframe, and very few guarantee a research assistantship. In that sense, the MACRM program really distinguishes itself, and it wound up being the only program I applied to.”

Now an admitted student, Spence enjoyed getting to know his future peers at Virtual Admitted Student Week and looks forward to engaging in the fast-paced, rigorous research environment at Harris. “I’m most excited about the academic challenge—like I honestly just can't wait to be awesome at econometrics. I’m looking forward to those moments where these really complicated things snap into focus and I’ll be able to read these papers on a high level and feel like I’ve opened a window to new knowledge.” 

As far as next steps, Spence is once again willing to step outside of his comfort zone and stay open to new possibilities. “I’m definitely open enough to be figuring it out—whether I want to be a career PhD economist or public policy professional. I think I’d really love to be a professor, combining policy work with mentorship—so that’s the big goal. But I really think it boils down to enjoyment and positive impact. No one person can single-handedly save the world, so the enjoyment part is big.  And I believe the impact we make in individual lives, or the ways we can subtly nudge policy conversations forward can be really powerful.  So I’m searching for that little bit of good that I can do.”