Fall 2015 Student Interview: Young-hwan Byun

Young-hwan Byun successfully completed his Ph.D. at the GC in the fall of 2015, majoring in Comparative Politics with a minor in Public Policy. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Swedish Institute for Social Research, Stockholm University.

André Guzzi: Congratulations on passing your dissertation defense last month! What are the next steps of your career?

Young-hwan Byun: Right after defending my dissertation I moved to Sweden. I received a two-year postdoctoral research position at the Swedish Institute for Social Research at Stockholm University.

AG: What is your dissertation about?

YB: My dissertation research is about an understudied yet increasingly widespread type of income inequality—middle class decline or income polarization. Whereas prevailing economic theories attribute the decline of the middle class to common developments in industrialized democracies such as globalization or technological change, I found significant national variation. I explain why the middle class has declined in some countries but grown in others since the 1980s, and I argue it is contingent on the type of right party that is dominant in the country.

AG: What were the most challenging aspects of completing your dissertation, and how did you overcome them?

YB: To me, the most challenging part was to get funding for the last year, the sixth year of my study. But thanks to the support from the department, especially from Alyson Cole, I was able to get a WAC fellowship, which allowed me to finish the dissertation. Academically, the most challenging moment was when I received really harsh feedback from Gøsta Esping-Andersen, one of the most famous scholars of welfare state studies. This came just a few months before my defense and I could not sleep for several nights until I crafted solid answers to his critiques. But that experience helped me build confidence in my work.

AG: What was the most valuable experience you had during your years at the GC?

YB: My greatest experience at the GC was getting to know and study with the most amazing friends and colleagues. Being an international student from South Korea, the department provided all the support that I needed. One of the best things I have ever done was to form a comparative politics study group with my classmates in my first semester. Thanks to the amazing effort of my friends, especially Mike Miller, the group continued and supported me through the entire process of conducting research and writing the dissertation.